Playing Piano Chords for Beginners:
Piano sheet music is a little overwhelming when you start to practice, but it’s not something you can’t handle. In fact, you can learn to play piano completely on your own, and you can sound awesome when you do! So follow along as we explain piano chords for beginners, and we’ll get you playing Piano Man like Billy Joel in no time!
Piano Chords: The Basic Terms
When you start to learn your piano scales, songs, and chords, you’ll notice that the left hand generally plays the chords while the right hand will usually incorporate the melody.
However, before we dive into the basic rules of piano chords for beginners, we want to give you some definitions so you know what we’re talking about. Piano chords are any set of three (though sometimes two) or more notes played simultaneously (what really gets confusing is when you’re asked to play broken chords which aren’t played together, but that’s for a later tutorial!). Chords will frequently be repeated throughout the song, so once you get it down, you can play an entire piece easily.
Piano chords are different than piano notes which are the sounds you’ll produce from hitting the individual keys on the piano. Piano notes run from A to G (or from C to G and then continuing on to A and B, depending on what key you’re in), and each one emits a slightly different sound. The pattern repeats itself across the entire length of the piano. So starting from C, we’ve got C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E…etc.
Basic Piano Chords Chart
So far so good? Great! Let’s move onto the basic piano chords. There are several types of piano chords including diminished, augmented, major, and minor, but today we’ll only focus on the basics. If you can skip numbers, then understanding the minor and major chords is pretty simple. If I told you to count to five by odd numbers, you’d count 1-3-5, and that’s how you’ll recognize piano chords as well. For the basic chords, you’ll use your first, middle, and pinky fingers on 3 alternating notes.
To understand what “alternating” means, you need to understand the difference between a full-step and a half-step. A half-step is when you go from one note directly to the one above it. If, for example, you’re on a C, the half-step up would be a C# (that’s the black key), and then a full-step would be to the next one, which is the D. But if you’re starting on an E, then the next half-step up would be an F, which is a white key (and which is also called an E#), and then the full-step would be to the F# (black key).
So here’s how it works: to make your major chord, you’ll choose a note – let’s say C for a major-C chord – and then more 2 full steps above that. That’s a half-step to C#, followed by a half-step to D and then D# and then E. Now you put your middle finger on the E. To complete the chord, you’ll need to now go another 1.5 steps – E, F (which is E#), F#, and then to the G, which is where you’ll put your pinky.
So that’s 2 full steps and then 1.5 steps for a major chord. C-E-G – your first major chord!
A minor chord is the opposite. You’ll start with 1.5 steps first, and then follow that with 2 full-steps. A C-minor chord would be C, go up 1.5 steps to D#, and then take 2 full-steps to G. (Another way to look at this is to take your major chord and bring the middle note back a half-step.) So now we have C-D# (which is also an E♭)-G – your first minor chord!
Complex Piano Chords
There are even more involved chords that you can really start to appreciate once you’ve mastered this challenge. Diminished chords are made up of the root, a minor third, and a diminished fifth, so the sound is dramatically different than your standard chords. With such an unusual sound, diminished chords have gotten the reputation for either being loved or hated by the musical ear.
Augmented chords have a root, a major third, and an augmented fifth. It’s a lighter, more upbeat version of the diminished, so people generally like it more. Finally, a suspended chord has a root, a suspended second/fourth, and a perfect fifth.
Now that you’ve got the basics of piano chords for beginners down, get out there and make some music!
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