If you’re a beginner pianist who’s wanting to learn how to play the A major chord on the piano, then you’re in the right place! In this article, we’ll learn about the A major piano chord, including where the chord comes from, how it appears both on the keyboard and in written music, how to play it with correct fingerings, and how to make its inversions.
Where the A Major Chord Comes From
A chord consists of two or more notes which are played simultaneously to create harmony. While melodies are the memorable, main sequences of notes you’ll hear in a song, (i.e., the part you sing along to), harmonies are the support and bring depth to a song.
In written sheet music, chords often consist of three notes stacked upon each other in a column. All of the notes in one column or chord should be played together before moving on to the next column or chord.
The A Major Scale
The term “A major chord” comes from the A major scale, which consists of a set sequence of tones that are used to build harmonies and melodies. Like in all major and minor scales, the A major scale has seven notes, and the final eighth note, the A, is repeated to complete an octave.
The A major scale is named as such because it begins and ends on the note A. The key signature, or symbols ♯ on the C, F, and G lines means that the scale has three sharps —C-sharp, F-sharp, and G-sharp. Even though notes on the staff may appear as the white (natural) C, F, and G keys, these symbols are to tell you that you should go up a half-step and play the black (accidental) C♯, F♯, and G♯ keys instead.
The notes get higher on the keyboard as you move up the scale and they get lower as you move down the scale. If you’re a visual learner, this staff-keyboard alignment is particularly helpful to note.
The scale below is written in the treble clef and bass clef:
All major chords consist of three notes and are called triads. The three notes in a major chord come from the first, third, and fifth notes of the major scale and are named by the first note, or the root note. The first, third, and fifth notes of the A major scale are A, C♯, and E, so the chord is AC♯E, and its name is A major.
This chord is in its root position, so it will likely appear with the Roman numeral notation I or Ia.
How to Play the A Major Chord
Locating the Chord on the Piano
If you’re having a difficult time locating the A major chord on the keyboard, check out this image:
The A key is a white (natural) key directly between the second and third black (accidental keys).
The C♯ key is a black (accidental) key. To find this key, move two white notes up the keyboard from A and then look for the black key directly above.
The E key is also a white (natural) key and is four white notes up the keyboard from A.
Playing the Chord and Fingerings
So we’ve found the keys on the keyboard. Now let’s talk about fingerings.
If you already have some experience with piano find scales and chords difficult to play quickly, you may need to revisit your fingerings to stop tripping over your own fingers!
Fingerings are standards recommended by professional pianists when it comes to playing scales and chords. Specific fingers are supposed to play specific notes, and although it might seem trivial at first, fingerings are meant to improve hand technique and help you build muscle memory. As you advance, you’ll be able to play scales and chords more quickly and more smoothly.
Each fingering consists of a set of numbers. Each number corresponds to a particular finger—thumbs are 1 and pinkies are 5. Occasionally, you’ll see fingerings written directly onto a sheet of music. However, it’s more common not to see them, because as you advance, it’s assumed that you memorized the fingerings as a beginner.
These are the fingerings for AC♯E, the root position of the A major chord:
Luckily, the chords in A major are some of the easiest to play with these fingerings. Our middle fingers are naturally longer than our thumbs and pinkies and are better able to reach those black (accidental) keys.
Place your hands on the keyboard and double check your fingering. Your thumbs, middle fingers, and pinkies should be on A, C♯, and E. Now press all of the keys down at the same time!
Congratulations! You’ve just played the A major chord!
A Major Chord Inversions
AC♯E is what’s known as the root position. But like all major triads, there are other common variations to the A major chord. In these inversions, the order of the notes in the chord is rearranged or inverted.
1st Inversion (A/C♯)
In the first inversion, AC♯E becomes C♯EA. Start with the root position and move the bottom note, the A to the top of the chord.
When you make the first inversion, the fingering changes in the right hand:
The first inversion will likely appear with the Roman numeral notation I6 or Ib. The third note of the A major scale, the C♯, is the lowest note in this inversion, so it’s also known as the A/C♯ chord.
2nd Inversion (A/E)
In the second inversion, AC♯E becomes EAC♯. Start with the root position and move the bottom two notes, the A and the C♯, to the top of the chord.
When you make the second inversion, the fingering changes in the left hand:
The second inversion will likely appear with the Roman numeral notation I64or Ic. The fifth note of the A major scale, the E, is the lowest note in this inversion, so it’s also known as the A/E chord.
- Tip: Think of the number of notes you need to invert to remember which inversion you’re making. If you need to make the first inversion, move one note from the bottom of the chord to the top. If you need to make the second inversion, do the same but with two notes.
Review of the A Major Chord
The A major chord starts with A, the root of both the scale and chord. It consists of the first, third, and fifth notes of the A major scale to form the root position chord AC♯E. When you play this chord, make sure you have the correct fingering (including the sharp), and play all of the notes simultaneously.
The first inversion is the chord C♯EA and is formed by taking the A and moving it to the top of the chord. The second inversion is the chord EAC♯ and is formed by taking the A and the C♯ and moving them to the top of the chord. There are only two inversions, and the fingerings change in each.
Look out for the A major piano chord and its inversions. Pretty soon you’ll be able to play “River Flows in You”—for better or for worse.
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