When you begin learning how to learn to play the piano, you eventually will need to know what an E minor triad is and how to play it. So in this article, we’re going cover exactly this topic, and hopefully you’ll walk away with a better understanding of how to play this particular triad.
What is an E Minor Triad?
Musically speaking, a “triad” is a group of three notes made up of a “root”, a third, and a fifth.
What all of that means is that using any given musical “scale”, you can make a triad by taking the first note (the root), the third note, and the fifth. This can also be called a chord.
An E minor triad would be made using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th tone from the E minor scale, and that is what this article will be teaching. Here is a quick look at that E minor scale.
The notes we will be using are E, G, and B. Because our scale is “minor”, it will not quite sound like the scales of the “do, re, mi” variety that you may have learned when you were younger.
That’s because, in music, minor refers to any chord, song, etc. set in a tonality that invokes a feeling of sadness, anger, or melancholy, as opposed to the happier sounding pieces in “major” keys.
The difference comes from lowering the third tone in the scale by one semi-tone. Sometimes the sixth and seventh tones can be altered too. As you can hear, such small changes really do make quite a bit of difference.
And now that you know what an E minor triad is, we are going to learn how to find it on the piano keyboard.
The Piano Keyboard
As explained earlier, the notes of the E minor triad are E, G, and B. In order to play this on the piano, we first have to know where to look.
Whether you are playing on an upright or a digital, your keyboard is made up of black and white keys. If you take a closer look, you will notice that those black keys (excluding the one on the very left on a full-size keyboard) are separated into groups of two or three.
This is going to be a very important tool that we will use to help navigate the keyboard. Check out the picture below. To make things a little easier, I have circled the sets of two in blue and the sets of three in red.
A triad or chord can be played using any combination of the notes that it is made of, but for this article, I will be teaching you how to play it in root position — that is with the E on the bottom. To find an E, first look for a set of two black keys. It will not matter which set of two that you use, since all E’s look the same. If you are looking for a lower sound, find a set of two on the left side of the piano and for a higher sound, find a set of two on the right side of the piano.
It is easier however, and more comfortable, to start in the middle. Pianists orient themselves at the keyboard using middle C.
It’s called middle C, because it is almost the exact middle of the keyboard. If you start with the E to the right of that, you’ll be in the most natural place to start.
Once you find a starting place, find that set of two black keys and put your finger on the black key on the right. Slide your finger to the white key to its right and you have found the E. It looks like this:
That’s our root. Now, the next note in the triad is the third. Head up two white notes to the right to find the G. We are now venturing into the group of notes that touch the set of three black keys. Another way to locate a G is to just find a set of three black keys and look between the first and second. The G looks like this:
One more note to go! Using the set of three black keys where the G is, put your finger on the black key farthest to the right in that group. Then, just as you did to find the E, you’ll slide your finger to the right, to the very next white key. That key is B, the 5th in our triad.
All together the E minor triad looks like this:
Every other white note! Not all triads and chords will only use white notes, but since E minor happens to be one of the easier keys to play in, it will.
Now that we can locate the triad on the piano, let’s take the next step and learn how to play it.
E Minor Triad on Piano
Unlike many other instruments, a pianist uses all ten of their fingers to play the keys. To keep things a little more organized, pianists number their fingers like the chart shown below.
When using sheet music, there are often markings above the notes with numbers to indicate which finger should be used. If you follow these suggestions, it will put your hand in the most efficient and easiest way to play a certain section of music. This strategy of indicating what fingers to use is called the music’s “fingering.”
To play the E minor triad as efficiently as possible, I highly recommend using the fingering that I am going to describe.
Let’s begin with the right hand. Place your 1st finger on the E of your choice.
Take note of the hand shape shown in the picture above, as well as the way the thumb is laying on the key. It is very important to keep your hand nice and rounded and the heel of your palm off of the keyboard. It may not make much of a difference playing this one triad, but if your goal is to play entire songs or scales and arpeggios, you definitely want to use the proper technique to make the learning process as smooth as possible.
Now that we’ve got our E, our hand is in position to play the rest of the triad. The next two notes are G and B and you will play them with your 3rd and 5th finger, like so:
And that is the E minor triad in your right hand! When you press note your notes, be sure use the weight of your hand instead of your individual fingers. This will ensure that all notes are pressed at the same time and ring out simultaneously.
Alright, halfway there! Let’s get to the left hand now!
Your left-hand fingering will be the opposite of your right since your hands are mirror images of each other. Your left pinky (5th finger) will play the root this time.
Find the E of your choice and put your 5th finger on it, like so:
Again, make sure your hand stays nice and rounded and that you are developing your finger strength by using your fingertip and not letting your pinky bend at the first joint. That will definitely make things easier for you in the long run.
Okay, we’ve got the root and now we are in position to play the rest of the triad. The next two notes are the E and the B and they will be played with the 3rd finger and the 1st finger just like the picture shows below.
That’s all there is to it! Congrats! Now you can play the E minor triad in both hands!
The Next Step
Once you’ve gotten the hang of locating and playing the E minor triad with both hands, why not take the next step? Play around with the notes! Try playing the triad broken, as in playing the notes separately instead of all together. Try playing the triads in different octaves! See how many E minor triads, you can find on the piano!
You can also try an inverted triad. Fancy name, but all it means is starting the triad with a different note on the bottom as in GBE or BEG, instead of the root position we learned in this article.
Triads also sound great with the pedal! For a nice effect, put your foot down on the right pedal of your piano. This pedal is called the damper or sustain pedal and it keeps the hammers (both physical and digital) from landing back on the string after you strike a key, letting the note ring out long after you’ve released. Pianos have either two or three pedals, but the damper pedal is always the one on the right.
If you’re playing a keyboard, don’t worry about being left out! If you’d like to introduce a pedal to your playing, there are digital pedals available in all shapes and sizes that hook up to your instrument via audio jack. Check out the hookups at the back of your keyboard to make sure the pedal you buy is compatible with your instrument. Check out this link for more pedaling techniques!
Pop Songs in E Minor
Here are some popular songs originally composed in the key of E minor:
Come As You Are by Nirvana – Get your flannel out, it’s time to go grunge! This Nirvana favorite starts with a guitar riff leading up to an E minor chord!
Another One Bites the Dust by Queen – Stomp, stomp, clap! Stomp, stomp, clap! Another classic that starts with one of the most iconic bass guitar riffs in rock! This one starts right on an E minor chord!
Nocturne in E Minor Op. 72, No. 1 by Frederic Chopin – A beautiful piece from my personal favorite piano composer. This is one of those classical pieces that some know and some don’t, but it is definitely worth a listen. You may have heard it if you’ve seen the movie Tombstone. It’s the piece Doc Holliday plays on the piano in the saloon! I’m your Huckleberry, indeed.
Now that you’ve know where an E minor triad is and how to play it on the piano, go forth and play! With practice you can slowly add on to the chords and triads in your arsenal! And the more of those you can get down, the more songs you can confidently add to your repertoire. That does it for this article!
Happy practicing, readers! And when you’re ready, we will see you in the next article!
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Triad – three notes, consisting of any given note combined with the notes three and five notes higher in the corresponding scale.
Root – note that establishes the tonality of a musical key, chord, or scale and gives it its name.
Scale – graduated sequence of notes dividing what is called an octave
Major – tonality based on a major scale, the 3rd tone being a major third above root. “Happy” sounding.
Minor – tonality based on a minor scale, the 3rd tone being a minor third above root. “Sad and Melancholy” sounding.
Fingering – the placement of fingers in the most suitable and efficient way to play a series of notes.