How many chords do you need to play music?
Have you ever wanted to know the mystery piano chords behind hundreds of pop songs? Did you know that literally hundreds of songs that you know and love all follow the same exact chord progression? Did you know that these basic piano chords are some of the best piano chords for beginners to learn? All it takes is a couple minutes to learn to play these basic piano chords and you will be well on your way to pop superstardom!
In the post you will learn:
- What are the four basic piano chords that make up hundreds of songs
- How to play these basic chords for beginners on the piano
- How to use these basic piano chords to play a few different songs from Skoove lessons
Remember, to get the most out of these posts, you should really consider trying out Skoove Premium. It’s the premier way to learn piano on the internet. With over 400 lessons tailored to all experience levels and musical tastes, Skoove Premium is a great way to learn to play piano. Don’t forget, you can always try out a free seven day trial, just to get a feel for the program. You won’t regret it!
Our ears love recognizable patterns
Have you ever heard a song and recognized the chord progression from another song? In popular music, there are a few different formulas for chord progressions that are extremely successful. These chord progressions have a certain nostalgia, power, and feeling to them. They are used so frequently that the listener has a subconscious expectation of what is coming next, which delivers a feeling of satisfaction.
The main chord progression that we will talk about here is especially common in popular songs from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, but is also common in contemporary popular music and is featured in many lessons on Skoove Premium.
So what are the four chords you need to learn to play?
The four piano chords you need to learn how to play to unlock literally hundreds of songs are: C major, A minor, F major, and G major. That’s it! I just gave you the secret formula for the successful careers of many popular songwriters from the hits of Ben E. King and the Righteous Brothers all the way to Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran. So how can you learn to play these basic major and minor chords? Check out the diagrams and examples of these piano chords for beginners below to get started!
How to make a C major chord
The first piano chord you will learn how to make is called C major. Remember that piano chords can be called major and minor (and a lot of other things too). Descriptions like major and minor chords refer to the sound and shape of particular chords, not to their relative importance.
Check out the diagram below to see a C major chord on the piano:
To play this chord with your right hand, place your first finger on C, your third finger and E, and your fifth finger on G. Then, push down all three notes together. Voilà! You have learned how to play a C major chord!
To play this chord with your left hand, place your fifth finger on C, your third finger on E, and your first finger on G. Once again, push down all three tones at the same time.
How to make an A minor chord
An A minor chord shares two notes in common with the C major chord, C and E. Check out this diagram to see an A minor chord on the keyboard:
To play this A minor chord with your right hand, place your first finger on A, your third finger on C, and your fifth finger on E and push down all three notes. To play this chord with your left hand, place your fifth finger on A, your third finger on C, and your first finger on E and again push down all three keys.
How to make an F major chord
Check out this diagram below to see and F major chord on the piano:
The F major chord shares two notes with the A minor chord, A and C. To play this F major chord with your right hand begin with your first finger on F, your third finger on A, and your fifth finger on C and push down all three keys. To play this with your left hand, use your fifth finger on F, your third finger on A, and your first finger on C. Nice work!
How to make the G major chord
To learn how to play the G major chord, check out this piano diagram below:
To play this piano chord with your right hand, push down G with your first finger, then B with your third finger, and finally D with your fifth finger. To play this piano chord with your left hand, place your fifth finger on G, your third finger on B, and your fifth finger on D and push all three keys down. Great job!
Did you notice any patterns between these four basic piano chords for beginners? All four chords use the same fingers in the same positions. Your third finger always plays the middle note in both hands. C major and A minor share two notes. A minor and F major share two notes. In both cases, the bottom two notes of the first chord become the top two notes of the second chord. Wild! G major does not share any tones with any of the other chords.
How to use these four basic piano chords in some songs
Now comes the moment you all have been waiting for: how to use these four basic piano chords in the context of a song!
Here is a short list of popular songs that use these four chords:
- “Baby” by Justin Bieber
- “Mandy” by Barry Manilow
- “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga
- “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes
- “Return To Sender” by Elvis Presley
- “True Blue” by Madonna
- “Blue Moon” by Richard Rogers
- “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles
- “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers
- “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
- “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
- “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
- “You Are Not alone” by Michael Jackson
- “Last Kiss” by Pearl Jam
- “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by The Beatles
First, check out the progression of “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers. You can find this tune in the Beginning Song Course in Skoove Premium. Checking out these Song Courses on Skoove Premium is a great way to learn piano.
In this lesson above, you can see the melody notated in treble clef (played by your right hand) and the root note of each chord notated in the bass clef (played by your left hand). Do you notice those letters and symbols above the staff like C, Am, F, G? Those are called chord symbols. Here is a recording of the song for reference:
Here is another example from the Beginner Song Course on Skoove Premium, the classic tune by Ben E. King, “Stand By Me”:
Try to apply the same approach in “Stand By Me” that you did with “Unchained Melody.” First, get a grasp of the melody with your right hand and the root note with your left hand. Then, try to sub out the root note in your left hand for the chord notated with the chord symbol above the measure. Here is a recording of the original song for reference:
Now let’s try another song, “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran in Skoove’s Beginner Song Course:
Did you notice anything different in “Perfect” from the previous two songs, “Unchained Melody” and “Stand By Me”? In “Perfect”, the chord progression begins with G major and then moves from there. In the “Unchained Melody” and “Stand By Me”, the chord progression begins with C major and moves away from there. Here is a recording of the original song for reference:
Also, there is an additional chord symbol in “Perfect” in the last measure. Gsus4 is spelled G – C – D and looks like this on the keyboard:
To play this Gsus4 chord with your right hand, place your first finger on G, your fourth finger on C, and your fifth finger on D. To play this chord with your left hand, place your fifth finger on G, your second finger on C, and your first finger on D. A sus4 chord is a common chord to play at the end of a piece just before the last chord happens.
Nice work today on the piano! You learned four basic piano chords: C major, A minor, F major, and G major. You learned how to spell each of the chords and you learned how to play them on the keyboard with both hands. Next, you learned how to apply these piano chords to a handful of different songs. These four piano chords can be used to play literally hundreds of songs.
Many of these songs are available to learn with Skoove Premium. Remember, with Skoove Premium you have the opportunity to play along in real time with music and get in-depth feedback on your performance. It is a great way to learn!
Author of this blog post
Eddie Bond is a multi-instrumentalist performer, composer, and music instructor currently based in Seattle, Washington USA. He has performed extensively in the US, Canada, Argentina, and China, released over 40 albums, and has over a decade experience working with music students of all ages and ability levels.