How To Play Piano Chords

How to Play Piano ChordsA piano chord is a set of two or more notes played together at the same time. These aren’t just random notes played together, though. These are notes that go well together (sound harmonious together).

It should be fairly easy to learn how to play piano chords, especially if you’ve memorized your piano scales in the previous section.

There are a lot of different types of chords and I can’t go through them all here – hell I don’t even know them all yet. Courses like Rocket Piano and HearAndPlay go into this pretty well. But I will give you some basics about creating triad chords (chords with 3 separate piano notes).

Major Piano Chords

So like the scales in piano music, chords can also either be major or minor. So if you already know your major and minor scales, and you’ve applied the number system, building a chord should be pretty easy. A basic type of major chord is the major triad. It’s called a triad because it has 3 notes in it.

All major chords use the 1st tone, 3rd tone and 5th tone of the major scale you’re playing in. So, for example, in the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) let’s apply numbering. Here’s what you get:

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

Since the major triad chord is made up of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th tone of the scale, the C-major triad chord would use the notes C, E and G. Go over to your piano and play C-E-G together at the same time. You can hear it sounds bright and happy, just like the C major scale.

Congratulations, you just played your first chord.

Here’s how it looks on the keyboard:


You can use that same formula (1st tone, 3rd tone, 5th tone) to build ANY major chord, using any note on the piano. All you have to do is know the piano scales you want to play in, choose a root note (the first tone), find the 3rd tone and 5th tone of that particular scale and play those notes together.

There are 12 major chords that can be played. Try and learn them all.

Minor Piano Chords

Now that you’re comfortable with major scales, try playing some minor scales. Minor triad scales are played with the same types of notes as in the major scales. That’s right, you build a minor scale using the 1st tone, 3rd tone and 5th tone of whatever minor scale you’re playing in.

The difference comes from the notes that actually make up the major and minor scales. If you remember, the notes of the C minor scale are C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C.

C = 1, D = 2, Eb = 3, F = 4, G = 5, Ab = 6, Bb = 7, C = 8

So the C-minor chord would be made up of the notes C, Eb and G. And again, you can use the same method to find out the minor chord for any of the 12 notes on the piano.

Here’s what the C-minor chords looks like on the keyboard.


Another way you can find a minor chord is simply by “flattening” the 3rd. What does this mean?

Well, if you’ve already got a major chord worked out – like the C-major chord (C, E, G), all you have to do next is make the 3rd note a flat. So C-E-G would turn into C-Eb-G. You can do this for ANY major chord to make its minor equivalent.

So, to recap:

A triad chord is made up of the 1st tone of a scale, the 3rd tone of the same scale and the 5th tone of the same scale.

Other Types of Chords

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are a ton of different chords that can be played. There are seventh (7th) chords, diminished chords, augmented chords, ninth (9th) chords and even chord inversions. 7th and 9th chords are the really beautiful, full chords you hear in a lot of soul, r&b, gospel and pop music.

playing-a-pianoAugmented and diminished chords have a different, almost jarring or in-harmonic, sound. And inversions are chords that are played with the notes in a different order, giving them a different sound.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope these different sections have given you a good grasp of some of the basics of playing the piano.

Now go check out some online piano lessons to become a pro!

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