Common Piano Chords And How To Use Them
The piano is a harmony instrument. Unlike solo line instruments such as horns or the voice, the piano can play multiple notes at once to create harmonies.
Probably the easiest way to create good-sounding harmonies on the piano is to play chords, which are special combinations of notes played at the same time. Chords are used in everything from classical music to rock music, and often create the harmonic groundwork over which the melody happens.
Using the piano to play chords is a very natural and common way to use the instrument, but it can be daunting to try and figure out how to play chords, and which chords to play. Fortunately, we see many of the same combinations of chords in lots of songs and pieces, so you can actually learn the chords for a lot of music by learning a select few chord combinations.
In this article, well show you the basic construction and method of playing chords on the piano, and show you some of the most common chord combinations used in songs.
Know The Keys Of The Piano
Ive made this point many times before, but its worth mentioning again that the keys of the piano all repeat themselves up and down the piano in a way thats very memorable and intuitive. For instance, the accidentals like sharps and flats are represented by the black keys and then the white keys represent then natural notes.
In this way, you can actually jam in the Key of C Major up and down on the piano without thinking about it because regardless of what white key you use, youll still be in the key of C Major. Additionally, if you build chords by pressing notes together, youll get chords that belong in that scale as well.
That said, it does take some work to memorize the notes of the piano because there are still 12 of them within each octave. For me, personally, I still use the white notes as a frame of reference for determining what the black keys are.
For example, If Im looking for B-flat, I first look for the B-note, and then I go one half-step down from there to know that I have B-flat. The reason for that is that Im a guitar player and not a piano player by trade, so my understanding of the keyboard isnt as thorough.
Moving on though, so how would go about learning the notes of the piano? What I would do is I would print off a sheet or a picture of one octave on the keyboard and hang it somewhere where you can see it. From there, I would approach it the same way that I approach learning the notes of the fretboard which is to make triads and chords.
What About The Left Hand
If you play the traditional way, the left hand is going to play chords much of the time, while your right hand plays melody. To be honest, Im not a big fan of chords in the left hand. Because the left side of your instrument has much lower notes, chord combinations can sound a lot more muddled and chaotic there.
My chord-based approach keeps things a lot simpler and brighter sounding. Thats because I keep chords mostly in my right hand. Then I use my left hand to play octaves as bass notes, plus add in a variety of improvisation techniques.
I recommend that you play octaves in your left hand with the root note of the chord you play in your right. So if you are playing an F chord with your right hand, youll play 2 lower F notes in your left. Its simple, and it sounds good!
In my opinion, this is the easiest way to add more depth to your sound while still avoiding a muddy effect. It also leaves plenty of room for added flourishes and improv later. Speaking of which
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What Piano Chords Go Well Together
Weve talked about major, minor, seventh, diminished, and diatonic chords. Wow, thats a lot of chords!
This can be very overwhelming for a beginner, which is totally understandable.
But heres a secret: if you just want to start playing songs on the piano and have fun, you really only need to know a handful of specific chords. In fact, there are four chords that appear over and over again in pop songs. These chords are: C, G, Am, and F.
Heres how to play them on the right hand with the bass note on the left.
THESE are your four secret ingredients! You can literally play dozens of songs with just these chords.
Dont believe us? Here are some famous songs you can play right away:
Let It Be
Let It Be is one of our most popular song tutorials ever, and for good reason. Almost everyone knows this classic, its easy to sing, and its simple to play. We have a full free tutorial for this song that remains one of our biggest crowd-pleasers.
This is a campfire classic from everyones favorite a capella movie, Pitch Perfect. You can download the free chord chart here and make sure to check out our 4 Easy Piano Songs tutorial where we feature this song. Once you can play the piano part, why not grab a friend to play the cups and duet together?
How To Make Open Chords On The Piano
To understand how open chords work on the piano, lets use C Major as an example. Here is a super simple C Major triad played on the left and right hands:
In this example, we play C-E-G on our left hand and C-E-G on our right. It sounds fine and dandy, but we can take these exact same notes, re-arrange them, and create a totally different sounding chord.
Now lets try this.
This is the C chord in open chord voicing. As you can see, the notes are re-arranged between the hands, and the distance between them is larger .
And I think this arrangement sounds incredible! It also has a different sound and feeling than the basic C chord.
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G# Chord Piano Finger Position
Another important aspect of learning chords is fingering. Dont ignore this step now, because fingering plays a big role in learning the piano. You will save yourself pain later if you do fingering now.
In fact, if all my students would focus on fingering, they would practice right instead of wrong!
The nice thing is that the fingerings for major chords are always the same. Yes, even for the sharp chords! Even though this chord feels different because of the sharps, you will still use the same exact fingering.
Right hand fingering: 1 3 5Left hand fingering: 5 3 1
Dont forget that finger 1 is your thumb, finger 3 your middle finger, and finger 5 your pinky.
Chords Are Just The Beginning
Everything youve learned here today is the basis of chord-based playing. With this knowledge alone you can begin playing many modern songs of your choice. And with some practice, it will probably sound pretty good. I love how much progress my students can make with just this basic info alone.
But chords are just the beginning. They are a foundational part of music. If youre interested in adding nuance, interest and variety to that foundation, you have lots of options. Here are some of those options:
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Learning piano doesnt have to take years. You dont have to labor over boring practice and tedious drills. You dont have to only play songs from hundreds of years ago. Learning piano can be faster, more fun, and easier than you thought. Let me show you how.
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Choose A Key Signature
According to Hook Theory, C Major and its relative minor, A Minor, are the most commonly used key signatures in music. The reason, as I said before, is because all of the notes on the keyboard are in the key of C Major if you dont press any of the black keys. Additionally, I imagine its because this is an easier key to sing in.
What key signature you choose to work with is up to you, but I would say that C Major or A Minor is a good choice because, as I said, theyre very easy to work with because they dont have accidentals. Going forward, lets actually choose A Minor, and then Ill show you the chords of A Minor as well as how to play them.
Primary Chords In C Major
What is a chord? A chord is three or more notes played together at the same time. Chords are built on a single note called the root. The chords we are looking in the lesson are called triads. They contain only three notes.
The major scale consists of seven different notes: C D E F G A B.
The first chord we will look at is the C chord whose root is C. The C chord consists of first, third and fifth tones of the C major Scale. Because we build this chord on the first degree of the scale, it is often referred to as a I chord.
Practice playing a C chord with both your left hand and right hand by using fingers 1, 3 and 5. Then, find all the C chords on the piano. If you are playing on a keyboard has 88 keys, you should be able to find and play seven C chords in all.
Now lets learn to play the C chord in the left hand while playing a melody in the right hand. Here we have the childrens song, Frère Jacques. As you will notice, the melody is in the right hand and C chords in the left.
Play the left hand first while counting in time, remembering to hold the chord for a full four counts. Then play the melody with your right hand, following the suggested fingering. Finally play the song hands together, making sure to keep the chord held down the full measure while your right hand continues to play the melody.
The next chord we will look at is the G Chord. The G chord is made up of the notes G B and D. G is the fifth note of the C major scale, so it is often referred to as a V chord.
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The Basics Of Piano Chords
Before you begin learning about piano chords, you should make sure you know your scales well and can play them with both hands. Because chords consist of notes in a scale, this is very important. Review this post about piano scales for information on where to start.
What is a chord? A chord must have at least three notes . These notes are called the root, the third and the fifth. A chord may have more than three notes, but every cord consists of a minimum of three notes.
When you are learning about chords, its important to realize that every chord can be labeled in two ways. The two chord names are called enharmonic equivalents, as they sound exactly alike and consist of the same keys on the piano but are notated differently in sheet music. Think about it E and D are the same note, so an E major chord sounds, and is played, exactly the same as a D major chord. Another example of an enharmonic equivalent note is C and B . A more complete list of enharmonic equivalent notes may be found here.
Guide To Playing The Piano With Only Chords
I would argue that the first step to learning how to play the piano while using just chords is to know what major and minor triads are and then have the ability to map them out on the keyboard. The C Major scale, particularly the Major scale, is the basis on which the rest of Western music theory is based. For that reason, a lot of teachers will start out teaching the C Major scale right away in addition to some of its major chords.
For instance, a more traditional piano teacher will probably start with the I, the IV, and the V chord which are C Major, F Major, and G Major. These are called the 1, 4, and 5 chords, as the roman numerals indicate, and together they represent probably what is the most commonly used chord progression of all time. Its one of the many progressions that I listed in my songwriting tips article.
That said, there are different ways to approach teaching the piano. Robin Butlers PianoForAll, for instance, does a great job of getting the piano player accustomed to the instrument right away by teaching the notes of the keyboard, which is the part were about to get to next.
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Four Note Chords: Sevenths
The 7th chord is a four-note chord. It has a root, a third, a fifth, and a seventh. Starting from the root , the third , the fifth , and the seventh .
This is a 7th chord in the “root” position:
- A regular 7th chord, also called a Dominant 7th chord , is made from a major chord plus a minor third on top. That would make the thirds stacked like this : major third, minor third, minor third.
- A Major 7th chord is a major chord with an added major third on top. The thirds are stacked like this: major, minor, major.
Tip: A chord book is a useful tool when you start learning about chords.
How Do We Harmonize A Melody
How do we harmonize a melody? How do we know which chords to use? Below is the melody of
The first thing to do is to determine what the key is. In this example, we are in the key of G major. We know this because we have a key signature of one sharp.
the next thing we need to do is to note the primary chords in the key of G major, which we already know to be G, C and D major.
Now lest start looking at the melody. Lets determine what parts are similar and what are different. This piece is eight measure in length. If you look at measures one through three, you will see that they are identical to measures five through seven. This is a good thing to keep in mind as it will make things much easier as you will see later.
The first measure contains four quarter notes: B A G A. When it comes to harmonizing melodies, it is always a good idea to look at the notes that fall on the strong beats. Regardless of what the time signature is, the first beat is always considered a strong beat. Furthmore, In 4/4 time, the third beat is also considered a strong beat. So the notes that fall on the strong beats in the first measure are a B and a G. Which of the three chords contain G and a B? Its G chord.
The second measure contains three Bs. Repeating notes are always helpful to hinting at which chord to use. Which chord contains a B in it? The only chord that fits this description is the G chord. So far, the first two measures would be harmonized with a G chord.
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How To Play Piano Chords For Beginners
In this instructable, you will learn how to play any major or minor chord on piano.
What is a chord ?
A Chord is a combination of notes played at the same time. There are different chord types but major and minor chords are the most common and easy to learn for beginners.
Major and minor chords are both triads, meaning they are made up of 3 notes: the lowest note , the middle note and the top note .
A major chord sounds happy and a minor chord sounds sad.
In this instructable, you will learn how to play any major or minor chord.
If you are not familiar with piano notes, go to my instructables How to Play Piano and Easy Piano Songs for Beginners.
You can find more details and piano tutorials on my website:
What Is A Minor Chord
Now were going to find the other type of piano chordthe minor chord. Well start on the same note, C. This time, youre going to count up 3 notes, which brings you to E flat, then count up another 4 notes and youll be on G. Now play those three notes together at the same time and notice the sad sound it has. That is a C minor piano chord.
Every piano chord is built in this way, whatever the starting note. Lets try another one. Step down to the nearest black note from C, youll land on B flat. Count up 4 notesthen 3. You should have the notes B flat, D and F. That is a B flat major piano chord. Check the diagram below.
Now for a B flat minor piano chord. Start on B flat again. Count up 3 notes, then 4 and youll have made it into a Bb minor chord. Notice that all youre doing to change a major chord into a minor chord is moving the middle note down one step.
If you thought that playing the piano would involve hours of playing boring scales and learning to read music, think again. Of course those are good skills to have and its great to learn them. However, you dont need to do all those hours of work to play basic piano chords and sing your favorite songs.
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