Guide to Piano Chords for Beginners

Don’t let your piano gather dust while you worry that learning how to play is too time consuming or complex.  You can learn piano chords easily by understanding the theories related to piano playing. 

If you are looking for a jumping off point for learning piano, then it starts with understanding concepts about chords while focusing on beginner piano lessons.  With simple techniques, you will easily be able to progress quickly and play your favorite hits. 

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Piano Chords for Beginners

When someone looks at the piano, they see white keys with black keys above some of these keys.  The layout of the piano was measured like this to decipher specific tones that sound lower or higher while developing certain pitches. 

You will want to look at the layout of the two black keys first.  Beneath the first black key is the note C.  This is the main tone and frequency played.  If you go from one C to another, you will notice that it sounds lower or higher while keeping the same tone.  These are known as octaves and repeat after every eight notes. 

Once you know where the C is on the piano, you can find any note.  You can simply go up the alphabet on every white note to find the next tone.  When you get to G, jump back to A.  The white notes will follow the layout of C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C.  When you are learning each note, focus on the relationship to the black keys.  These serve as a reference point to make sure that you are able to find the notes on any octave of the piano. 

The black keys on the piano are known as sharps (#) or flats (b).  If it is a sharp, then it is up a half tone from the C.  The black key above the C is referred to as C#.  If the tone is down a half step, then it is referred to as a flat.  If you move down a half step from D, then it is Db.  You will notice that the sharps and flats are the same key.  The difference is in the music you are playing and the types of tones that are used.  To begin, focus on the basic mechanics of how the music formulates from the layout of the piano. 

Practice This: Without thinking, take your finger and place it on any note on the keyboard.  Check what note this is.  Make sure to assess this by looking at the relationship to the black keys or other white keys.  Try a different method to become familiar with your notes:

  • Find all of the similar notes in different sections of the keyboard
  • Find all of the #s on the keyboard and name them
  • Find all of the bs on the keyboard and name them
  • Play all of the Ds on the full range of the piano.  Repeat with every note
  • Hit random notes and name them.  Pay attention to the feel of the note, sound and the placement.

Keep familiarizing yourself with the different notes through these challenges.  Memorizing where the keys are and using this as your foundation to learning will make it easier to play the piano your favorite pieces of music later. 

Your First Musical Piece

Understanding the layout of your piano naturally leads to learning new songs and chords.  The easiest way to start is to find sheet music that has a chord chart.  You can follow the chart for the basics and to learn the structure of different songs.  Jazz, pop, rock and other contemporary pieces of music all come with similar chords as sheet music, making it easy to follow and learn the piano. 

When you look at the sheet music, you will notice that there are general notes that are written.  Below this, you will see the notes, such as “C”, being used.  This lets you know the bass or root of the chord that you will want to follow.    

Practice this: Find a piece of sheet music you are interested in learning.  Find the root of the chord in each chart.  Follow the notes on the piano, matching the notes with the chord chart.  You will want to learn how to match the sheet music with the motor skills on your hand, specifically to become familiar with the music you are learning and to become comfortable with the sheet music and piano.


Adding In Full Chords

Once you have the root notes, you can begin shaping your chords.  This will help you to formulate each song while adding in substance to the music you are learning.  The first step to this is adding in the second note of the chord. 

Each chord and scale forms from a series of intervals, or the space between each note.  The intervals are formulated by half steps and whole steps to create the sounds of each chord.  A half step builds on the keys that you have learned on the piano.  If you go from a C to a C#, or a white note to a black note, then you have formed a half step.  If you skip the sharp and go to D, (C – D), then you have formed a whole note. 

The second note of the chord equals four half steps, or two whole steps.  Count from C a total of four half steps and you will be on the note E.  This is the third of your chord and helps to form the main tone of the music.  Start on any note and follow the same process.  You now can play the main harmony as a chordal structure. 

Most of the basic chord structures have three notes in them.  The next addition is the fifth of the chord, which equals four half steps above the last note you formed.  You can also count up seven half steps to find the same note.  If you are in the key of C, the fifth will be the G.  Your complete chord will be C – E – G. 

Practice this: Try four chords in a row for a basic jazz sequence.  C – G – F – C.  Continue to practice the chords for perfection.  This is known as a chord structure and is a common approach to learning different types of music.  Your basic chords will include these notes:

C – E – G

G – B – D

F – A – C

C – E – G

Reading Your Chord Sheets

Deciphering information with chord sheets offers a breakthrough with the music you are playing.  It also allows you to form the chords at a faster pace.  When you look at the beginning of any chord sheet, you will notice that there are markings on the left hand side.  The first is a 4/4 or 3 / 4.  This is the time signature of the song, letting you know how many counts to take.  You will see lines that are in between chords or notes.  These are known as measures and indicate when the last beat and first beat is of a rhythm. 

Practice this: Look at the beginning of each measure.  Find the chord that is on the first beat.  Play only this chord while you are counting.  For instance, if your song begins with a “C” and has the time of 4/4, then play only the C while counting, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 at an even pace.  On the beat of 4, move to the next chord.  When you get to “1”, you are on the first chord of the measure. 

You will also notice that there are #s or bs at the beginning of the music.  Composers use this to tell you what the scale is in the music, or which intervals are used.  You can use this as a reference when you are learning the chords.  The sharps are always listed in the same order, of F, C, G, D, A, E, B.  If you see three # signs, then it will always be F#, C#, G#.  Flats use the opposite sequence of B, E, A, D, G, C, F.  If you see four b signs, then it will always be Bb, Eb, Ab, Db.

Practice this: Find sheet music that has #s or bs at the beginning.  Go to the chords that are in the music and match the #s or bs with the chord.  You will notice that the key signature is designed to communicate the half steps needed for the chords.  Keep matching the #s and bs in your chords with the key signature at the beginning. 

Adding in Unique Chord Structures

You may notice that the basic chords will have different structures based on the half steps.  For instance, if you start on D, then the second note of four half steps will be F#.  You will want to follow the same theory and apply the same approach to keep the intervals the same with each piano chord.  When you look at the chord structures, you may notice that there are some different applications for the notes you are playing. 

The first common notation is a large M or lower case m.  The large M means major, meaning that you will keep the four half steps in between each note.  The lower case m means minor and is often described as the “sad” sounds with the music being played.  The only difference with this type of chord is a lower third.  Instead of taking four half steps between the first and third note, you will take three.  If you are in the key of C, you will play C – Eb – G instead of C – E – G. 

You may also find additions such as a number by the chord.  The most common is the “7” that is a part of the structure.  Similar to the structure of the basic structure, you will count four half steps from the last note, or the fifth.  If you are in the key of C, this would be C – E – G – B.  You can use the same application when you see a “9”, allowing you to create distinguished sounds that are common in jazz and pop music. 

Practice this: Find chord structures in your sheet music that have unique markings.  Define if they are major, minor, 7th or 9th.  Begin to practice the different forms of the chords with your basics so you become comfortable with the differences. 

With these simple tricks, you can begin playing your favorites now.  Don’t keep your piano in the corner waiting for practice.  As little as 10 minutes per day and a little practice can help you to learn your favorites.  The basic theories will help you to decipher what you need to know for music you want to play.  By applying these concepts with piano for beginners, you will easily be able to progress rapidly with the music you want to learn. 

  • If you’re still interested in learning how to play piano or keyboard, get your copy of Piano for All today, which features 10 eBooks, 200 video piano lessons and 500 audio piano lessons!

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You Might Also Want to Read:

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