In this article, we are going to learn absolutely everything you could ever need to know about the C major piano chord. You’ll not only learn what it is, but I’ll also provide some awesome visual aids to best help you identify how to successfully play the piano chord properly.
What is a C Major Chord?
Technically speaking, a major chord contains any variations of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of any given major scale. To play a C major chord, we will be using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of the C Major scale, which is as follows:
C D E F G A B C
Like all scales, the C major scale is eight notes in total, starting and ending on the letter it’s named after. This starting note will hereby be known as the “root” note for the remainder of this article. This root note will repeat eight notes, or an “octave” later to end the scale.
Notes for a scale will always start on the root and then go up or down an octave, one note at a time and following the musical alphabet. The musical alphabet is a lot like the regular alphabet, except it only has seven letters (A B C D E F G) that repeat indefinitely.
More on that a little later.
For now, we are working with the C major scale. Take a look at the scale above and you will note that the 1st note is C, the 3rd is E, and the 5th is G. We’ll call this a “triad.” And because we are playing a major triad, the chord will sound “happy” to our ears.
Now that the theory is out of the way, let’s figure out how to translate our newly acquired knowledge to the piano keyboard.
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Navigating the Keyboard
We now know that C, E, and G are the notes that make up a C major triad. Major chords can be played using any variation of the notes that make up the triad but, for this article, we will always be starting on the root.
Since the root of a chord is always the first tone of the scale and we want to play a C major chord, let’s first find a “C” on the piano.
Pay close attention to how the black keys are arranged on the piano from left to right, and you’ll notice a pattern. If you have a piano or a full keyboard, you’ll notice that the pattern (aside from the very first black key on the left) is two black keys, followed by three black keys, then two black keys, then three black keys. Kind of like this:
I’ve circled the sets of two in blue and the sets of three in red. This “two-three” pattern will repeat itself seven times on a full keyboard. If you’ve got a digital instrument with a smaller keyboard, the pattern is still there, it just won’t repeat the full seven times or it may start with a set of three instead of a set of two. No matter how times this pattern repeats, this is still a very handy road map of sorts to help us locate our notes.
To find a C, first find a set of two black keys.
Then find the white key to the left of that set of two.
That is C. And to make matters easier, all C’s (with the exception of the very highest one) will look just like that—to the left of a set of two black keys.
To play a lower sounding C major chord, start with a C in a lower octave towards the left of the keyboard and to play a high sounding one, start with a C in a higher octave towards the right of the keyboard. For this illustration, I will be using the C right in the middle of the keyboard, hereby known as “middle C.” If you’re sitting at the piano, it will be the set of two black keys right in the middle or fourth from the left.
For most, this is the most comfortable and natural place to start.
C Major Chord on the Piano Keyboard
Now that we’ve found the root, let’s pick out the rest of the chord. C major is commonly the very first key students begin learning in, because the C major scale uses only the white keys. Let’s review that C major scale again.
C D E F G A B C
Remember how the notes of a scale will always follow the order of the musical alphabet? The white keys of a piano follow this order as well, repeating that seven note A-G musical alphabet over and over again. On the piano it looks like this:
We first pick out the root of the chord we want to play; C in this case. We need the root, the third, and the fifth to play the C major chord. Pianists number their fingers from one through five, with your thumb being one and your pinky being five.
To play this chord in your right hand, I strongly recommend using your first finger to play C, your third to play E, and your fifth to play G. Put your thumb (1st finger) on a C, then let the fingers of your right hand each occupy the next four white keys, leaving your 2nd finger on D, your 3rd on E, 4th on F and 5th on G. Push down your 1st, 3rd, and 5th fingers, or every other white key, for the C major chord.
Since your left hand is a mirror image of your right, the opposite will be true of your left hand; 1st finger on G, 2nd on F, 3rd on E, 4th on D, and 5th on C. Again, push down your 1st, 3rd, and 5th fingers for the C major chord.
And that’s it for locating a C major chord on the piano! All that’s left to do is to make sure your posture is correct while you play it. Good posture will not only keep your back from getting sore after long sessions at the piano, it will help you both learn and strengthen your fingers much faster.
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Perfect Piano Posture
For perfect posture, sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor, your shoulders relaxed, and elbows at your side but not touching your body. You should be sitting towards the front of your bench, (or chair, or apple crate) close enough to the piano that your elbows have a natural bend, but not so close that your arms are pressed against your biceps.
Your fingertips should all be touching their own key, regardless if that key is being used or not. Pretending there is a tennis ball in your palm is a good way of getting the correct rounded hand shape you need to play the piano.
Press each key down firmly, making sure that the fingers not in use aren’t floating in the air and the finger in use isn’t bending like a flat tire.
With time, your finger strength and dexterity will improve.
Now, all that’s left to do is practice, practice, practice! Practice with your left hand and your right, both together and separately. Practice playing all notes of the triad at the same time for a chord, or practice playing them one at a time (an “arpeggio”), being careful not to let one note bleed into the next. That’s all there is to it for the C major piano chord! Happy practicing and we hope to see you in the next article!
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Vocabulary in This Article
- Chord – group of three or more notes sounded together
- Scale – graduated sequence of notes dividing what is called an octave
- Root – note that establishes the tonality of a musical key, chord, or scale
- Octave – series of eight notes between, and including, two given notes
- Triad – chord made up of three tones: 1st, 3rd, and 5th of a scale
- Middle C – C in the middle of the piano keyboard
- Arpeggio – a chord played by striking notes one by one, rather than all together