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Beginner’s guide to piano chords: mastering the basics

piano chords

Learning to play the piano can be a rewarding experience for people of all ages. One of the most important aspects of playing the piano is understanding piano chords. Piano chords are a group of two or more notes played together to create a harmonious sound. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over all the basics of piano chords and explain them in detail for beginners.

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Basic piano chords for beginners

When starting your piano journey, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with some basic piano chords that form the backbone of most songs. Some beginner-friendly chords that you should learn include: C major, D major, E major, F major, G major, A major, B major, C minor, D minor, E minor, F minor, G minor, and A minor. Learning these chords will help you play many songs.

Basic piano chord charts

Let’s take a look at some beginner-friendly piano chords notated using piano chord charts. Piano chord charts are an easy visual representation of the notes of each piano chord. For example, check out the C major piano chord chart below:

C major piano chord

 

In this chart, we see the notes C – E – G. These are the three notes of a C major chord. See how many places you can find the notes in this order on your piano.

Now that you understand the basics of how a piano chord chart works, take a look at these piano chord charts for D minor, E minor, F major, G major, and A minor piano chords:

D minor

The D minor chord is built from the notes D – F – A. With both hands, use your first, third, and fifth fingers to play the chord.
D minor piano chord

E minor

The E minor chord is built from the notes E – G – B. Likewise, you can use your first, third, and fifth fingers in both hands to play this chord.
E minor piano chord

F major

The notes F – A – C make up an F major chord. You can use the same finger pattern of 1 – 3 – 5 in your right hand and 5 – 3 – 1 in your left hand.
F major piano chord

G major

The G major chord is spelled G – B – D. You can use the same finger pattern for this chord as well.
G major piano chord

A minor

The A minor chord is spelled A – C – E. Again, you can use the same finger pattern as all these other chords. That makes things nice and simple, right?
A minor piano chord

What are piano chords? 

Piano chords are a fundamental element of music that provide the harmonic structure to support the melody and lyrics. They are created by playing two or more notes simultaneously, and are an essential component of many different genres of music. Chords can be made up of any combination of notes, and the specific notes used determine the quality of the chord.

How do we build piano chords?

Each of these chords consists of three notes called the root, third, and fifth. The difference between major and minor chords lies in the third note, with major chords having a major third and minor chords having a minor third. By mastering these chords, you’ll unlock the ability to play a wide range of music and develop a solid foundation for your future piano studies.

The ABCs of piano chord charts: a starter’s tutorial

Learning to read a piano chord chart can seem daunting at first, but with a step-by-step approach, it becomes significantly more manageable. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Identify the root note: The root note is usually mentioned at the top or left of the chart. This is the note on which the chord is based.
  2. Recognize the chord type: This is usually denoted alongside or below the root note and indicates whether the chord is major, minor, augmented, diminished, etc.
  3. Look at the keys: The chart will highlight or mark the piano keys that need to be pressed to play the chord. This often includes both the white and black keys, corresponding to the natural, sharp, or flat notes.
  4. Understand the chord shape: Some charts may also show the shape of the chord, helping you visualize how your fingers should be placed on the keys.

By following these steps, you can use a piano chord chart to quickly learn new chords and expand your piano playing skills. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep at it until you can identify chords quickly and accurately.

:bulb:Learn how to play piano chords with the help of our piano chord charts. This is a great place for beginners to start!

Piano chord chart

Why master piano chords?

Mastering piano chords is crucial for beginners, opening the gateway to understanding and creating music. Here’s why they’re significant:

  • Foundational knowledge: Chords form the structure of most music. Grasping how they work enables you to decode musical compositions, predict patterns, and understand the emotional context conveyed by various chords.
  • Expanding repertoire: Chord knowledge equips you to play across genres. You’re no longer restricted to simple tunes but can produce intricate, harmonious sounds across classical, jazz, pop, blues, and more.
  • Sight-reading skills: Recognizing chords simplifies sight-reading. Frequently, chords repeat within music pieces. Spotting them can make sight-reading easier.
  • Creative license: Knowledge of piano chords paves the way for improvisation and composition. You can experiment, add personal flair to covers, or even create unique music, cultivating your unique musical voice.
  • Growing confidence: With increasing chord proficiency, your confidence will surge. You’ll effortlessly progress from basic to complex chords, taking your piano skills to new heights.

Essential elements of piano chords: a beginner’s breakdown

Piano chords might initially seem complex, but they can be understood through a few key elements. Here is a breakdown of these basic components to help you build a solid foundation.

The role of piano intervals in chord formation

Piano intervals are the foundation of chord formation. An interval refers to the distance between two notes. This distance can be measured in terms of semitones (aka half steps) or whole tones (aka whole steps). For example, the interval from C to D is a whole step (or two semitones), while the interval from C to C♯ is a half step (or one semitone). The terms semitones and half steps are used interchangeably as are whole tones and whole steps. 

Different combinations of intervals create different types of chords. Major chords, for example, are formed by combining a major third (four semitones) with a minor third (three semitones). In the case of a C Major chord, the interval from C to E is a major third, and the interval from E to G is a minor third.

Root 

The root is the base note of the chord and determines its name. For example, in a C major chord, the root note is ‘C’. It’s the foundation upon which other notes are stacked to form the chord.

Third

The third is the second note in the chord and is usually a third above the root in the scale. It determines the quality of the chord, i.e., whether it’s major (if it’s a major third from the root) or minor (if it’s a minor third from the root). In a C major chord, ‘E’ is the third.

Third

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Fifth 

The fifth is the third note in the chord and is typically a fifth above the root in the scale. It adds fullness to the sound of the chord. In most chords, the fifth is a perfect fifth from the root, but in diminished or augmented chords, it can be a diminished fifth or an augmented fifth respectively. In a C major chord, ‘G’ is the fifth.

Fifth

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Quality

This refers to the type of the chord: major, minor, diminished, or augmented. The quality of a chord is determined by the intervals (distances between the notes). For instance, a major chord comprises a major third interval followed by a minor third.

Quality

Inversions 

Chords are often played in different arrangements known as inversions. For every triad, there are three possible positions: root position, first inversion, and second inversion. In root position, the root note is the lowest sounding note (C – E – G). In the first inversion, the third is the lowest sounding note (E – G – C) C major piano chord

And in second inversion, the fifth is the lowest sounding note (G – C – E).

second inversion

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Mastering the basics: beginner piano chords to learn

Before you can start creating harmonic progressions, there are several types of chords that you should familiarize yourself with. Each one carries a unique sound and plays a distinctive role in music composition. Let’s take a closer look at these fundamental piano chords for beginners.

Major chords

Major chords are characterized by a joyful and strong sound. They are formed by combining a root note, a major third, and a perfect fifth. For example, a C major chord is formed by combining the notes C, E, and G as we have seen.

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Minor chords

Minor chords, often associated with a somber or melancholic tone, are created using a root note, a minor third, and a perfect fifth. An A minor chord, for instance, includes the notes A, C, and E.

Minor Chords

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Augmented Chords

Augmented chords have a tense and unresolved sound. They consist of a root note, a major third, and an augmented fifth. A C augmented chord, for example, contains the notes C, E, and G♯. An augmented chord is composed of a major third interval followed by another major third interval.

Augmented Chords

Diminished Chords

Diminished chords, characterized by a dissonant or unstable tone, are made up of a root note, a minor third, and a diminished fifth. For instance, a B diminished chord comprises the notes B, D, and F. A diminished chord is composed of a minor third interval followed by another minor third interval.

Diminished Chords

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Notation of piano chords

Understanding the notation system used for piano chords is essential for songwriters, producers, and musicians who want to create impactful and memorable music.

How piano chords are notated

Piano chords are notated using a system of letters and symbols. The letters represent the root note of the chord, while the symbols indicate the quality of the chord. For example, a C major chord is notated as C, while a C minor chord is notated as Cm.

The symbols used to indicate chord quality include major (M), minor (m), augmented (+), and diminished (°). A major chord is often indicated by the absence of a symbol, while a minor chord is indicated by the lowercase letter “m”. An augmented chord is indicated by the “+” symbol, while a diminished chord is indicated by the “°” symbol.

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Converting minor chords into major chords

Converting a minor chord into a major chord is a simple process. To do this, you need to raise the third note of the chord by a half step. For example, to convert a C minor chord (Cm) into a C major chord (C), you would raise the third note (Eb) to E natural.

:bulb:The step-by-step process for converting a minor chord into a major chord is as follows:

  1. Identify the root note and chord quality of the minor chord.
  2. Locate the third note of the chord.
  3. Raise the third note by a half step.
  4. Play the resulting major chord.

Converting major chords into minor chords

Converting a major chord into a minor chord is also a simple process. To do this, you need to lower the third note of the chord by a half step. For example, to convert a C major chord (C) into a C minor chord (Cm), you would lower the third note (E) to Eb.

:bulb:The step-by-step process for converting a major chord into a minor chord is as follows:

  1. Identify the root note and chord quality of the major chord.
  2. Locate the third note of the chord.
  3. Lower the third note by a half step.
  4. Play the resulting minor chord.

The role of piano chords in music composition

Piano chords serve as the backbone of music composition, shaping the melody, setting the mood, and providing a harmonic framework for the piece. They allow for the creation of diverse sounds, from joyful and bright to somber and melancholic.

Case study: the impact of chords in “Let It Be” by The Beatles

Consider the iconic song “Let It Be” by The Beatles. This song provides a clear illustration of the power and impact of piano chords in music composition.

  • C major Chord (C-E-G): The song begins with a C major chord, introducing the song with a strong, happy, and uplifting mood.
  • G major Chord (G-B-D): The next chord is G major, which maintains the positive vibe and serves as a perfect transition chord due to its shared notes with the C major chord.
  • A minor Chord (A-C-E): The song then transitions to an A minor chord, introducing a touch of melancholy and deepening the emotional complexity of the song.
  • F major Chord (F-A-C): Finally, the F major chord is introduced, resolving the minor tension and bringing back the positive mood to round up the verse.

If you’re interested in learning how to play “Let It Be” on the piano, you can check out the Let It Be piano tutorial on Skoove’s blog.

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Exploring other types of chords and terms

As your piano skills develop, you will encounter more complex types of chords that can add richness and diversity to your music. Let’s explore some of these intriguing varieties and terms.

Diatonic chords

Diatonic chords are formed using the notes of a musical scale without any alterations. They consist of seven chords for each major or minor scale. Each note in the scale can act as the root of a chord. In the key of C major, for instance, the diatonic chords would be C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, and Bdim. We call the combination of all the chords inherent in a scale a chord scale.

Diatonic Chords

Slash chords

Slash chords are another way of notating chord inversions. They are written as a fraction [chord]/[note], for example, C/E. This means a C major chord should be played with ‘E’ as the bass note. These chords add variety and smoothness to chord progressions.

Slash Chords

“Sus” chords

“Sus” stands for suspended, referring to chords where the third is replaced with either a second or a fourth. There are two types: sus2 and sus4. For example, a Csus2 chord includes the notes C, D, and G, while a Csus4 chord includes C, F, and G. These chords create a suspenseful sound that resolves nicely back to the original chord.

“Add” chords

“Add” chords are basic major or minor chords to which an additional note from the scale is added. They are noted as [chord]add[note], for example, Cadd9. In this case, the C major chord (C, E, G) is played with an added ‘D’ (the ninth note of the scale), resulting in C, E, G, D. These chords add richness and complexity to the music.

Add Chords

Piano chords generator

This piano chords generator helps you to find any chord you need and will come in handy if you forget any chords along your way!

If you are reading this from a mobile device, rotate it to display the tool in full width.

 

1. Click on “Chords”
2. Choose the “Root” of the chord
3. Choose the “Chord qualities” (major, minor, etc.)
4. Click “Display”

* You can do the same with scales.
** You can invert chords and scales

Practical guide: playing and composing with piano chords

Understanding piano chords is one thing, but being able to effectively incorporate them into your playing is another. This section serves as a practical guide to help you confidently apply your knowledge of chords in music.

Incorporating chords into melodies

Chords form the harmonic backbone of any piece of music, acting as a support system for the melody. To incorporate chords into melodies, start by identifying the key of your melody. Then, experiment with different chords from the same key to see how they sound with the melody. Remember, a melody note usually belongs to the chord played simultaneously.

For instance, if your melody includes the notes C, E, and G, a C major chord would likely fit well. Try adding the chord at different points in the melody, and see how it changes the overall sound. With practice, you’ll become more adept at determining which chords fit best with your melodies.

Transposing songs to different keys using chords

Transposing songs to different keys can help you adapt a piece of music to your vocal range or make it easier to play on the piano. To do this, you need to shift every note (both melody and chords) by the same interval.

For example, to transpose a song from C major to D major, you need to shift every note up by a whole step. If you have a C major chord (C, E, G), it becomes a D major chord (D, F♯, A) in the new key. Remember to maintain the structure of each chord as you transpose it.

Composing your own songs with chords

When you’re ready to compose your own songs, chords will be your foundational building blocks. Start by choosing a key for your song. From there, experiment with different chord progressions to find one that resonates with you.

A popular progression in many songs is the I-IV-V progression. In the key of C major, this would be C major (I), F major (IV), and G major (V). Once you have a progression, try creating a melody that fits well with your chosen chords.

Incorporating, transposing, and composing with piano chords may seem daunting initially, but with practice, you’ll soon find these skills becoming second nature.

FAQ

Common mistakes include neglecting proper finger placement, neglecting proper posture and hand position, not using the correct fingering for chords, and rushing through chord changes without proper accuracy and timing.

Regular practice is key to memorizing piano chords. Start by practicing chords slowly and accurately, gradually increasing your speed. Practice chord progressions, both in isolation and within songs, to reinforce your chord knowledge.

Smooth chord transitions require practice. Start by practicing each chord individually, then gradually work on transitioning between two chords at a time. Use common fingers or pivot fingers to maintain continuity.

Absolutely! Keyboards and digital pianos are excellent instruments for learning piano chords. They often have built-in features, such as chord modes and visual aids, that can assist beginners in learning and practicing chords.


Author of this blog post

Edward Bond

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.

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  • Enjoy interactive piano lessons - Learn with courses that help you master everything from music theory, chords, technique and more.
  • Get real-time feedback - Improve your practice with rich feedback as Skoove listens to your playing and highlights what went well and areas for improvement.
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