Basic and Advanced Piano Chords for Beginners

Learn how to put together any chord you want on the piano

Last Updated: Oct 2020

If you’re looking for a straight-forward guide on how to play any piano chord you want, this is the beginner’s guide for you.

We’ll show you basic piano chords for beginners and a few more advanced ones too!

Let’s get it…

Basic Piano Chords for Beginners

What You Need to Know First

If you’re not familiar with the basics of how to play piano, read that guide first. Why? Because you need to know how to put together scales and other absolute fundamentals to playing piano.

Alternately, scroll to the bottom of the chord diagrams below to learn more about the fundamentals of piano chords.

You only need to know how to put together major scales for this guide, but it’s good to know other piano scales for beginners too.

The Major Scale and Number System

Start on any key and follow this pattern: (R) – W – W – H – W – W – W – H

W = whole step, H = half step

Next, assign a number to each note: (1) – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8

So if we started on the C note, we’d end up with a major scale that looks like this:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8

Cool? Dope… let’s get to the chords

(If you really want to learn dope chords, though, take some online piano lessons)

How to Form Basic Piano Chords – Triads

The most basic chords you’ll come across

There are 4 different types of triads:

Basic Triads on Piano
  • Major triads (1 – 3 – 5)
  • Minor triads (1 – b3 – 5)
  • Diminished triads (1 – b3 – b5)
  • Augmented triads (1 – 3 – #5)

You put these chords together by taking some version of the 1, 3 and 5 notes of any major scale.

So for example, using the C Major scale, we’d form a major chord using C-E-G. But for a minor chord, we’d use a flat 3 note by lowering it a half-step, making it C-Eb-G.

For the diminished chord, we also flatten the 5 note, becoming C – Eb – Gb. Alternately on the augmented chord we’d just make the 5 note sharp by raising it a half-step. We end up with C – E – G# for a C augmented chord.

Remember, you can use this same technique on any key of the piano. You just need to figure out the major scale, and put numbers to each note in that scale. (hint: use the shortcut/pattern at the top of this page.)

Beginner Piano Chord Extensions

Go beyond the 3 note triad to form fuller, more beautiful chords.

The next few chords we go over contain 4, 5 or more notes. You’ll see we introduce the 7th note into the mix and also the 9th note.

Piano Chord Extensions for Beginners

But we only numbered 8 notes in total. So how do we get the 9 note? We just continue the numbering up the scale.

So if the C Major scale is:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8

Then we just keep going up the keyboard to the next octave:

…D=9, E=10, F=11, G=12, A=13, B=14, C=15

Simple right?

The chords in this section are:

  • Major 6 (1 – 3 – 5 – 6)
  • Major 7th (1 – 3 – 5 – 7)
  • Minor 7th (1 – b3 – 5 – b7)
  • Dominant 7th (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
  • Major 9th (1 – 3 – 5 – 7 – 9)
  • Minor 9th (1 – b3 – 5 – b7 – 9)

The same concept used above applies to these chords.

A C Maj 6 would be C – E – G – A, while a C Min 7 would be C – Eb – G – Bb, etc.

7th and 9th chords are full sounding and provide a complex emotion – you see them often in jazz, soul and R&B music.

Two Hand Chords

Let’s add even more notes to the above extensions.

The next four chords are going to require both of your hands.

They’re the 11th and 13th chords. And you’re NOT going to see these chords come up often in music. Maybe in some crazy jazz piece, but only rarely in popular music.

Here they are:

  • Major 11th (1 – 3 – 5 – 7 – 9 – 11)
  • Minor 11th (1 – b3 – 5 – b7 – 9 – 11)
  • Major 13th (1 – 3 – 5 – 7 – 9 – 11 – 13)
  • Minor 13th (1 – b3 – 5 – b7 – 9 – 11 – b13)

These are VERY full chords, almost to the point of too much. But once you learn about chord voicings (an advanced topic), you can often find ways to slip these into your chord progressions.

Two Handed Piano Chords

Other Dope Piano Chords

Advanced Chords that Sound Interesting

Now that you know the basic piano chords every beginner should know, here are a few other ones that we really like.

You’ll notice that these “advanced” chords don’t necessarily have a lot of notes in them. But the way the notes work together give you an interesting emotion.

You build these chords using the same technique that we’ve been using all along. Number the notes of the scale you’re working in, then play the notes listed by the type of chord you want.

Note: Sus chords are actually called “suspended chords”

Here they are:

  • Sus2 Chord (1 – 2 – 5)
  • Sus4 Chord (1 – 4 – 5)
  • Dominant 7, add 9 (1 – 3 – 5 – b7 – 9)
  • Major 6, add 9 (1 – 3 – 5 – 6 – 9)
  • Minor 6, add 9 (1 – 3 – 5 – 6 – 9)
Advanced Piano Chords

There you go. With the information above, you’ll be able to create pretty much any chord you want. There are a ton of options. Just pick a key, find it’s major scale and follow the rules above to build you chord out.

It’s that simple!

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More About Piano Chords

If you want to learn to play the piano for a band or your personal enjoyment, you should know some basic piano chords. Learning the chords makes it easier to learn songs if you cannot read music on a staff. Popular songs list chords along with the individual notes, so you could play either way. 

Several chords are much easier to play because they have fewer sharps and flats that others: take the C chord when compared to the F-sharp chord. After you learn the easy chords, you can move on to the more challenging ones. 

Basics of Piano Chords

When you play the piano, you can play one note at a time, or you can play several at once. When you press several keys at once, you are playing a chord. There are several types of basic piano chords, and they all have a root, which determines the name of the chord. 

In the musical world, pianists consider the triad – a three-note chord – the most commonly played. This type of chord has a root with three notes, usually the third and fifth notes to its right. 

To play a triad with your right hand, you play the root with your thumb, then the top two notes with your middle finger and little finger. With your left hand, you play the root with your little finger and the other two keys with your middle finger and thumb. Use that handshape to play most triads. 

Get to Know Intervals

To better understand how to play basic piano chords, you should learn about intervals. The space between one key and another are known as half-steps and whole-steps. These intervals create the type of sound that keys make together. 

A half-step is one key to the left or right of the root. When you play a half-step interval, the sound will be minor in tone. 

A whole-step is two half-steps away from the root. The standard intervals are four half-steps away from each other. When a pianist plays a triad with four half-steps between the notes, the sound is called a major third. 

Learn the Piano Keys

There are 88 keys on a standard piano, and they include 52 white keys and 36 black ones. The piano has seven octaves – a collection of eight white keys. Oddly, the octaves technically begin with C. The first note pianists learn is middle C, then they work to the right and left of it. 

The standard notes repeat several times. They include a group of two black keys, then a group of three black keys. In its various octaves, the notes C, D, and E surround the two black keys. Then, F, G, A, B, and C surround the group of three black keys. The white keys are the notes, while the black keys are sharps and flats. 

If you move to the right to play a black key, it is called a sharp. If you move to the left to play a black key, you are playing a flat. A sharp is designated by placing the “#” to the right of the key you are playing. So, F-sharp looks like this: F#. A flat is designated by a shape that looks like a lower-case b. So, D-flat looks like this: Db. 

Chords are named for the root note. So if you play a Db chord with your right hand, your thumb will begin on the black key to the left of the white D key. If you use chord charts instead of musical notes on a staff, your chords will be labeled with the root note. Some have a major or minor notation.

What is a Major Chord?

Many of the first chords pianists learn are major ones. They have a bright sound where the notes seem to belong together. The three-note major chords are common in popular music. You begin these by starting with a root note. The second note (the third) is four half-steps up the keyboard, with the top of the chord (the fifth) is three half-steps above the third. 

Playing these three notes together will make the major chord sound. These are five common major piano chords:

  1. C major (C). C – E – G
  2. C# major (C#). C# – E# – G#
  3. D major (D). D – F# – A
  4. Eb major (Eb). Eb – G – Bb
  5. E major (E). E – G# – B

In a major chord, the two notes above the root have specific names. The third is a “major third,” and the top note is a “perfect fifth.” The perfect fifth is always seven half-steps from the root. 

What is a Minor Chord?

A major chord has a bright, happy tone, and the minor chord has the opposite sound that is a bit dark and gloomy. The intervals are slightly different, which adds a bit of interest to the minor-chord sound. 

These chords also have three notes, beginning with the root. The third is three half-steps away from the root. The fifth is four half-steps away from the third. These intervals are called a minor third and a perfect fifth. That half-step change in the third is what creates a minor tone.

Five common minor chords include: 

  1. C minor (Cm). C – Eb – G
  2. C# minor (C#m). C# – E – G#
  3. D minor (Dm). D – F -A
  4. Eb minor (Ebm). Eb – Gb – Bb
  5. E minor (Em). E – G – B

Other Types of Chords

Major and minor chords aren’t the only options for piano players. There are diminished and augmented piano chords. 

Diminished Piano Chords

To get the diminished sound, you begin at the root, then move up three half-steps to the third, and three more half-steps to get to the fifth. This type of chord is popular on Halloween, but they commonly serve as transition chords in popular music. 

Augmented Piano Chords

These are used less frequently than all other chords. This type of chord has an unexpected sound that is not necessarily pleasing to the ears. The chord includes a major third that is four half-steps up from the root. The augmented part is the fifth, which is eight half-steps away from the root.

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