Piano/Chords (and pop examples)

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In elementary piano, the left hand (lower notes) typically plays chords, while the right hand plays the melody. If you're playing pop or rock and singing, you might want to play the chords with the right hand and the bass note of each chord with the left hand.

The first chord to learn is C Major. (Major chords tend to sound cheerful while minor chords may sound sad or cool -- this varies, though, depending on context.)

Piano-Cmajor.gif

Now move the top two notes up by one key each: this is F Major:

Piano-Fmajor.gif

[Notice that the chord is composed of three notes, C, F, and A. While this is still a F Chord, it is not in it's "natural" state. C Major, is composed of C, E, and G and has a normal, 5, 3, 1 left hand finger pattern. This chord is in its "natural" state, the state of not being inverted. This means that we take the degrees or 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale to compose the chord. Whenever a chord follows the pattern that C Major does, it is a regular chord. F Major, which follows a different pattern, is called an inverted chord (second inversion). Every chord has 3 different patterns. The regular pattern, which looks like C Major. 1st Inversion (not shown) means that the first note of the chord, (for example, let's use the C Major chord, in which the first note is C) goes to the top of the pattern (So you play, with finger 5, E, finger 3, G, and finger 1, C.) Second inversion, which looks like F or G Major, involves putting the next note (still using the C chord, E in this case) on top of your fingering pattern (played finger 5, G, finger 2, C and finger 1, E). Using inversions helps you to play chords quicker without having to constantly move your hand. Take note, though, that different inversion produce different sounds, so pick the one that is best for your situation.]

You can play a surprising number of songs with just these two chords!

Now move all three notes up: G Major:

Piano-Gmajor.gif

Practice moving between C major, F major, and G major -- you can combine them in lots of ways. Most pop songs, and many rock songs, rely on these chords heavily. See if you can figure out "If I Had a Million Dollars":

C      G             F                           C
  If I had a million dollars (If I had a million dollars)

       G             F                           C
   I'd buy   you   a house  (I would buy   you a house)


Keep in mind that when playing the C chord, for example, you don't have to play the c below the e below the g -- you can put them in whatever order you want, perhaps playing the g an octave below, then the c, then the e.

Piano-Aminor.gif

Now that you have A minor (take a C Major chord, and move the top note up), you can play a good proportion of pop tunes. Green Day's When I Come Around is a canonical example -- it's nothing but a repeating loop: C Major, G Major, A Minor, F Major, then back to C Major.

C          G                Amin  F
   Well I  heard you crying loud
   All the way    across    town

Here are some other chords, for reference:

  • Bb (B-flat) Major: Bb   D  F
  • Eb Major: Eb   G  Bb
  • D Minor: D   F  A
  • E Minor: E   G  B
  • D Major: D   F#  A
  • E Major: E   G#  B
  • A Major: A   C#  E


How to learn chords[edit]

A solid understanding of scales will make learning new chords easier. Check out the section on Scales for further information. A basic major chord is formed from what is called a triad. A triad is the first, third, and fifth notes in a scale (eg. the C chord = C, E, G). Therefore, if you know the scale, you can easily learn a new chord from playing those three notes of the chord. Minor chords are played in a similar manner. Play the first, third, and fifth notes, but take the third note and drop it one half step (a half step is one key, including black keys, so Cm would be C, Eb, G). This is a minor chord. If you also have been paying attention to some of the information on the sections that discussed intervals you can also have an alternate way of creating chords without needing to use the scale.

Advanced Chord Structures[edit]

Sometimes, when looking at chords, you will see something that looks like C7, Cmaj7 or Cdim, etc. (by the way, it does not have to be a C chord) These chords (all chords, in fact) are based around the triad that we talked about earlier. to play a 7th chord, simply play the seventh note in the scale (with the triad), but drop it by one half step. To play the major 7th is even easier. All you have to do for a Maj7 is to play the seventh along with the original triad. a diminished (dim) chord is a bit more difficult to learn at first, but will soon become second nature. To play a diminished chord, play the triad, but instead of playing the second and third normally, play the second as you would in a minor chord (dropped one half step) and also play the fifth dropped one half step. Think of it as a "minor minor" chord. Also, a diminished chord is often played with a sixth (eg. Cdim = C, Eb, Gb, A). There are many other types of chords which will be discussed a bit later. A diminished chord can be derived from the fact that it is compressed between a frame of two intervals in which there is a third minor and there is a diminished 5th involved. Diminished 5th, diminished chord. This is a good way to recognize chords by ear when played separately or when you know most of your intervals by ear. There are other types of chords that are a bit easier to construct, such as the augmented one. It is called Augmented because the augmented interval is the 5th. So for example, in the c major scale, the regular pattern for this chord would be the notes c, e and g#.

To summarize:

Chord Major modification
maj7 add a seventh
7 add a flatted seventh
minor flat the third
dim flat the third
and the fifth
aug sharp fifth

Practicing Chords[edit]

Learning chords are good for memorizing, sight-reading and helps you to learn theory. They're helpful in improvisation too.

1. By now, you have hopefully learned what diminished, augmented, minor and major chords are and how they are built. If you have, that's great! If not, please scroll back up and review.

2. The chords in the following steps should be played in both hands at the same time in root position. Always say the name of the chord before playing the chord.

3. On every note of the chromatic scale play major, minor, diminished and augmented chord. Example: C-major, C-minor, C-diminished, C-augmented. Then go to C# and do the same and continue to the next C. Then descend.

4. When going up, black key chords are sharps (#) and when going down they are flats (b).

5. Do this every day; it takes only few minutes.

6. When you can do this easily, practice with your eyes closed. Try to feel the groups of three and two black keys. Speed is not your goal now: Just feel those chords. You don't have time when sightreading to look for chords.

7. Add a bit of fun to the style you practice. Try getting songs that use the chords you know and play along with the songs. its a great way to practice.

8. It may seem that this is boring work. It is, that's why you are doing it only few minutes a day. In a half year you will know about chords more than most people who have been playing for several years.

9. When you have learned most common chords, that's it. Later, only when you need to, you can learn the rarer chords.

An alternative way[edit]

1. Do you know where the F is? It's on the left side of three black keys. Play it with your pinky of left hand.

2. Play A with your middle finger and C with your thumb. What you play (assuming you haven't stopped playing the F) is called the F major chord. This chord only has white keys in it. Memorize this and all the other chords that we deal with. Don't progress too quickly, spend some time with every step.

3. Move the pattern up so that you play the C with your pinky. This is the C-major chord.

4. Move up to G, and play the G-major chord. By now you have mastered the major chords that only have white keys. Try playing a simple song in C-major using only using these chords. It may not sound the greatest piece in the world, but on some very useful level it works really well. You can even improvise on these three chords. A tip: use only white notes for the melody. Please, use some time to play with these chords.

5. Next we're going to master the chords with one black key in the middle. Put your pinky on the D, but this time put your middle finger on the F#. This is the D-major chord. Continue to A and E and repeat.

6. The next chord, B-major has two black keys: D# and F#. Play B with fifth finger, D# with third finger and F# with thumb.

7. The next chord is the only one that has three black keys: the F#-major. It also has double personality: it's also a Gb-major. Can you play the chord with out any guidance? Excellent. The major chords have a special pattern: The root note (played with your left hand's pinky), then three keys between the next note (middle finger), then two keys between (thumb).

8. Db-major, Ab-major and Eb-major have two black keys. The white key is in the middle.

9. Bb-major has a black key followed by two white keys. You have now mastered all the major chords. All the others are just variation of it.

10. To create minor chords, simply lower the middle note by one key. To create C-minor from C-major, play Eb instead of E.

11. To create diminished chords, lower the upper note of minor chords by one key.

12. To create augmented chords, raise the upper note of major chords by one key.

Pop examples[edit]

Like most rhythms that are out there, pianists always have their job. For most pop, a sustain pedal is used. The sustain pedal on a regular piano is usually the one to the rightmost side of the set of the (two or one) other pedal(s). For most of the pop songs the piano uses a passive style, in which you usually play a chord like this: (left hand): C. (right hand) c, e, g two times, before moving on to a different chord. add a bit of playing to your style. you can use the pedal, pressing it when you play the chord, and releasing it as soon as you play a different chord, then pressing it before you release the keys. This is why piano involves coordinated (feet) and hands. You can also try a bit of syncopation, in which you might play the chords with your left hand and then with your right hand, both chords not at the same time but one after the other. The faster you do it the more coordination you are going to have to use. Now that you have hopefully experimented a bit with these styles, lets move out onto something else.

Practicing chord changes and chord inversions[edit]

As you might have been reading above, you don't really need to move your hands much when accompanying. Try doing this simple exercise to practice chord inversions and chord changes:

Left and right hands play the same chords, either syncopated or together, the choice is yours.

  • start with the c major chord in the natural or fundamental state (c, e, g)
  • In this case, we will raise the g to an a to form an A minor chord with first inversion (c, e, a).

Note: you can play and discover many inversions that you have never thought off before. People who have been playing for a long time have a lot of incidental but awesome discoveries like this one almost daily!

  • next we will move the root and the middle notes up by a key so that we play a d minor chord in its natural state (d, f, a)
  • finally for this round, we move the upper two notes (f and a) to be g and b, so that we obtain a second inversion of the g chord.

Practice this round until you are finally ready for the next one. If you can play these chords maybe at the speed of every half a second per each one, then you can move on to the next round.

  • the c major chord is played in first inversion (left hand: e5, g3, c1; right hand: e1, g2, c5)
  • next, the middle note moves up a step and we end up with a second inversion of the a minor chord--cool huh? and it doesn't here! (left hand: E5, a2, c1; right hand: e1, a3, c5)
  • next, we move our root and last note up, so that we obtain a minor d chord in its first state (left hand: f5, a3, d1; right hand: f1, a3, d5)
  • finally, we move our root and middle note up, so that we play the g major chord in a natural state as well. The fingering for this chord is the same as the one for c major in natural state.

Alright, we are almost through the three rounds of chords which mean 3 chord inversions! if you practice these two I am sure you will be more than ready for the next round.

  • we will then move from the g major chord the two upper notes, so that b and d become c and e and we get a c major chord in its second inversion (left hand: g5, c2, e1; right hand: g1, c3, e5)
  • next, we just move our root up, from g to a, getting an a minor chord in natural state (left hand: a5, c3, e1; right hand: a1, c3, e5)
  • then we will just move the middle and last note up, so that we get a d chord in its second inversion (left hand: a5, d2, f1; right hand: a1, d3, f5)
  • at last, we move the first and last notes so that we have a g major chord in its first inversion (left hand: b5, d3, g1; right hand: b1, d2, g5)

Ok, now that you have all of these three rounds practice them all in one. That means, you will start with the natural inversion for the c chord and end at the first inversion of the g chord. If you have done the three rounds, keep going up. It wouldn't sound that great like it did at the beginning. repeat the exercise until you are comfortable with it. Have fun--add different styles to it if you can play with rhythm. If you are brave enough or want to experiment even more, use your left hand to play these chords only and make up a melody (with the white keys only) to improvise.

Chord progressions[edit]

This as you might have noticed is a chord progression. Chord progressions as you can easily deduce that they are "circles" of chords (or harmonic circles) which are played over and over during a song. This is what makes up many of the catchy tunes you might hear. This chord progression has the notation I-VI min. II-min. V. What this all means is characterized by roman numerals. as you might notice, the scale has numbers from 1 to 7. So in the c major scale we start with the c major chord (which is the number I, or also known as tonic) and then we go onto the 6th note of the scale by having an a major chord (VI min.) Note: Min. or Maj. usually follow the roman numeral. Then we go on with a second minor chord (d minor, II in.) and finally we end with the 5th grade or note on the scale (g major, V). Usually, the progressions are hyphenated like this. A really common chord progression which is a jazz one but also used in many songs regardless of genre or style is I-IV-v (c, f, and g major chords in the scale of c). Sometimes they might be in this order or in different orders. There are different progressions to specific styles.

Folk chord progressions[edit]

In folk, there are two major and distinguished progressions. The major chord progression is as follows: I - IV - ♭VII - I

C, F, B♭ and C again. Note that all these chords are major. For the minor progression there is a slightly different chord. i - ♭VI - ♭VII - i. So, the chords on the c minor scale would be the following: c, A♭, B♭ and c. There are many other progression like this but for now I suggest you practice these and stick to them. Who knows, they might come in handy some time.

Adapting Piano Chords for the Keyboard[edit]

Piano chords can also be played on an electronic keyboard. In order to have fluent chord playing with the Left Hand the notes of the chords are rearranged (see chord inversions above) to be played between the notes F and F. In the key of C Major, the three chords C, F and G would be played in these inversions C (5G 2C 1E), F(4A 2C 1F) and G (5G 3B 1D). Practice playing the chords using these fingerings. Once you have learned the three basic chords Am (4A 2C 1E) and Dm (4A 2D 1F)can be added. The G chord could be extended to G7 (5F, 4G, 2B 1D). You will be able to play many tunes and songs with knowing just these basic chords.