How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (2023)

This article comes from Julian, a knowledgeable pianist who will take you through his guide on how to play piano chords!

One of the biggest shortcuts for beginner pianists is learning how to play basic piano chords. Much of the contemporary pop-style music that you hear on the radio is easily accessible as chord charts online. So, soon after learning chords you’ll be ready to play along to some of your favorite songs.

In this article we will learn what a chord is and how to form the most common types. Then we’ll give several simple ways to play them, so you can play confidently.

A chord is a set of notes, usually three or more, that are played together at once. To play piano or keyboard chords, you simply press down on a set of keys at the same time. Piano triads are one of the simplest chords, made of three notes. The four main types of triads are major, minor, diminished, and augmented.

That said, chords can be much more complicated. You can have four note chords (called 7th chords), chords of five or more notes, add chords, sus chords, and more. But these are unnecessary to learn at the beginning.

Instead, just focus on major and minor chords and you’ll be able to play hundreds of songs.

How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (1)

The most common chord type is the major chord. Piano major chords sound “pleasant” or “happy.” If you see a stand-alone capital letter in a chord chart, that indicates a major chord. For example, if you see an “E,” play an E major chord.

The Major Chord Formula:

Just remember two numbers: “four” and “three.” Count four half steps from the first note of the chord to the second note, and three half steps from the second to the third. These notes form a major chord.

(Video) How To Read Notes (Beginner Piano Lesson)

For example, consider a C major chord (below); it’s notes are C E and G. There are four half steps from C to E – C♯, D, D♯, and E. Then there are three half steps from E to G – F, F♯, and G.

How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (2)

Hopefully you see the power of this little formula. All you need to remember are the two numbers “four” and “three” and you have access to all 12 piano major chords!

To save you time, here is a list of all the major chords:

  1. C – C E G
  2. D♭ – D♭ F A♭
  3. D – D F♯ A
  4. E♭ – E♭ G B♭
  5. E – E G♯ B
  6. F – F A C
  7. G♭ – G♭ B♭ D♭
  8. G – G B D
  9. A♭ – A♭ C E♭
  10. A – A C♯ E
  11. B♭ – B♭ D F
  12. B – B D♯ F♯

Piano minor chords have a murkier, sadder sound than major chords. In chord notation, a minor chord is a capital letter followed by a lowercase m. For example, C minor is notated as Cm.

The Minor Chord Formula:

First, create a major chord, then lower the second note of the chord by a half step.

So, the C major chord is spelled C, E, G. To create a C minor chord, lower the 2nd note, E in this case, down to an E♭. So, C minor is C E♭ G.

The minor chords:

  1. Cm – C E♭ G
  2. C♯m – C♯ E G♯
  3. Dm – D F A
  4. E♭m – E♭ G♭ B♭
  5. Em – E G B
  6. Fm – F A♭ C
  7. F♯m – F♯ A C♯
  8. Gm – G B♭ D
  9. G#m – G♯ B D♯
  10. Am – A C E
  11. B♭m – B♭ D♭ F
  12. Bm – B D F♯

Now that you can form major and minor chords, what’s next? If you just play the three notes of the chord, that will sound empty and clunky! We need some strategies for arranging the chords so that they sound interesting.

(Video) How To Read Music 2022 🎼🎶 (Beginner Piano Lesson)

We’ll use the following chord progression (sequence of chords) in the examples below:

D Bm A D

Option 1: Use Root Position Chords

This arrangement style will add energy into your playing.

Start by forming a root position chord in your right hand. What is a root position chord? Well, the root of the chord is the same note as the name of the chord, so C is the root of the C major chord.

So, a root position chord is a chord where the root is the lowest note. All the piano chords in this guide so far have been root position chords. The alternative to a root position chord is an inverted chord where the lowest note is not the root of the chord (more on that later).

Arrangement instructions:

  • Play root position chords in your right hand (abbrev. RH).
  • In your left hand (abbrev. LH), play only the root of the chord (if you can reach, play the root as an octave).
  • Play whole notes in your LH and quarter notes for the chords in your RH (example below). The quarter notes in the RH give the chords drive and energy.
How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (3)

Option 2: Use Broken Chords

This arrangement style will add movement to your playing.

In a broken chord (also called an arpeggio), each note is played one at a time instead of all at the same time.

For example, one way to play a D major broken chord is to play D followed by F♯ followed by A followed by F♯.

(Video) Learn 4 Chords - Quickly Play Hundreds of Songs! [EASY VERSION]

In this exercise, continue playing octave root notes in the LH. In your RH, play each note of the chord for the duration of a quarter note (shown below).

How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (4)

Option 3: Use Chord Inversions

This arrangement style will make your playing sound smooth and elegant.

All the piano chords we have worked on so far have been root position chords. The downside of only practicing root position chords is that they limit your playing and can sound clunky. The way around this is to start practicing your chord inversions.

A chord inversion rotates the order of a chord. For example, a root position D chord is D F♯ A. If you rotate the order of the notes and put the D at the top of the chord you end up with F♯ A D. This is a first inversion chord.

You can invert the chord again and put an F♯ on the top to end with A D F♯. This is a second inversion chord.

How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (5)D major chord inversions

The RH uses inverted chords below. Now the RH doesn’t have to make uncomfortable leaps up and down the keyboard. The overall sound is smoother.

How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (6)

Other Ways to Arrange Chords

There are so many creative possibilities when using keyboard chords. I gave three ways to arrange basic piano chords, but if you want to learn eight more, check out this video by Devon from HDpiano. He offers excellent examples using familiar pop tunes.

How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (7)

(Video) Piano Lessons for Beginners: Part 1 - Getting Started! Learn some simple chords

Once you’ve mastered these arrangement patterns, you’ll be well on your way to reading through piano chord charts and lead sheets of your favorite tunes.

By learning how to play just the 24 major and minor chords, you can learn to play along with hundreds of familiar pop tunes.

Begin playing piano chords by using simple blocked chords, then venture out into using broken chords to add movement and inversions to add smoothness to the progression. It will be challenging, and will take a lot of practice, but will be well worth the effort!

How To Play Piano Chords for Beginners — Musicnotes Now (8)

Julian Harnish is the creator of, a piano blog with a particular emphasis on the psychology of effective and enjoyable practice. He studied Math and Piano Performance in college, and has a particular appreciation for the choral music of Eric Whittacre and Ola Gjeilo.

Currently he offers a course that teaches students their favorite song in 6 weeks or less.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and make a purchase, Musicnotes will receive an affiliate commission. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


How do you play basic piano chords for beginners? ›

The most common piano chords include:
  1. A major (A). A - C# - E.
  2. A minor (Am). A - C - E.
  3. C major (C). C - E - G.
  4. C minor (Cm). C - Eb - G.
  5. D major (D). D - F# - A.
  6. D minor (Dm). D - F - A.
  7. E major (E). E - G# - B.
  8. E minor (Em). E - G - B.

Is it OK to just play chords piano? ›

It's very possible to play the piano with just chords because chords, particularly, triads are like the building blocks of music and the major scale is like the foundation on which everything else is based and compared to. You can use them for chord progressions or play them as single notes.

What are the 4 main piano chords? ›

The chord progression consists of four basic chords:
  • C major (chord symbol "C")
  • G major (chord symbol "G")
  • A minor (chord symbol "Am")
  • F major (chord symbol "F")

What are the 4 chords for every song? ›

The famous four chords used in many pop song progressions are the I, V, vi and IV chords of a major key. The roman numerals represent the numbers of the major scale we begin a chord from (1, 5, 6, 4) so in C major this would be C, G, Amin, F or in G major it would be G, D, Emin, C.

How do pianists memorize chords? ›

Pianists use their muscle memory to remember all the notes while playing. When a pianist plays a piece their muscle memory helps them to play the notes without necessarily having to remember every single note.

What is the hardest chord to learn? ›

The six-string F chord is one of the hardest standard chord shape to play on the guitar. When many people try to play the F chord on guitar (and often succeed), it's with far too much struggle and effort than is actually necessary. Even extremely influential guitarists can have a hard time with barre chords.

Can piano be self taught? ›

Yes! While we believe the best way to learn piano is from an expert instructor, we're also in full support of students who prefer self-learning. Piano's one of the most versatile instruments, so learning how to teach yourself is a skill that will serve you in other areas of life.

What chord should I learn first? ›

The 7 essential most used beginner chords ALL guitar players should learn first are E major, E minor, A major, A minor, D major, C major and G major. With these chords, you'll be armed with the power to play literally thousands upon thousands of different songs. NO SHORTCUTS!

What are the 3 most commonly used chords? ›

The I, IV, and V chords are the three most common and arguably the most important harmonic elements in the musical universe. Built off of the first, fourth, and fifth notes of any major or minor scale, these three chords form the basis for much of the music found in several genres.

What is the hardest key to play piano in? ›

There is an order of the keys in terms of difficulty, and it is counterintuitive. The most difficult key is C major! In general, the keys that are easiest to learn are simultaneously the least natural for the hand. As a rule of thumb, the more black keys in a given key signature, the more comfortable it will be.

What age is too late for piano? ›

You are never too old to learn to play the piano, but you'll never learn unless you decide to start.

What should you not do on a piano? ›

Never lift a piano by its legs. The legs of a piano are the most vulnerable to breakage and if you lift a piano by its legs, the weight balance can shift easily causing a leg to snap. This will not only damage the piano, but can put the people underneath the piano in a lot of danger.

What is the saddest key in piano? ›

From there it's an easy skip to D, the root of today's subject, the “saddest key,” D minor. That the key of D minor is the key of true sorrow is ostensibly inarguable at this point in time.

What is the most famous chord? ›


This progression is called “the most popular progression” for a reason. It's been used in just about every genre imaginable, from post-punk to country. It sounds so satisfying because each new chord in the pattern feels like a fresh emotional statement.

What is the most common piano chord? ›

The most commonly used chords (in any key) are the I (1), V (5), vi (6), IV (4). First, it's important to know/remember that chords are notated in piano music by Roman Numerals. Large letter numerals are for Major chords and small letter numerals are for minor chords.

What is the saddest chord in music? ›

What Makes a Song Sad? There are a few different answers to this question, but one of the main ones is minor chords. In general, the major lifts us up and the minor brings us down. However, we can use other chord voicings to get a low feeling, sometimes diminished and 7th chords provide the necessary vibe.

What is the happiest key in music? ›

Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure and not yet complete, full delight lies in E Major.

How many chord formulas are there? ›

Memorize all 18 chord formulas presented here: major, sus2, sus4, 5, maj7, maj6, minor, augmented, diminished, minor7, minor7♭5, dim7, dom7, minor7#5, maj7#5, maj7♭5, dom7#5, dom7♭5. Be sure to understand that some chord symbols can be written in different ways.

What is the formula for piano chords? ›

To play a major chord, use this formula: 4-3.

Let's look at an example. For D major chord (D), start with D (makes sense!). Put your right thumb on a D note, then count 4 keys to the right (make sure you include black keys, they all count). Put your next finger on that 4th note, then count 3 more notes to the right.

What is the hardest thing to learn on piano? ›

These are the hardest pieces ever written for the piano
  • Liszt – La Campanella. ...
  • Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit. ...
  • Conlon Nancarrow – Studies for Player Piano. ...
  • Sorabji – Opus clavicembalisticum. ...
  • Charles Valentin Alkan – Concerto for Solo Piano. ...
  • Chopin – Étude Op. ...
  • Scriabin – Sonata No. ...
  • Stravinsky – Trois mouvements de Petrouchka.
Jul 1, 2022

What is the 80/20 rule in piano? ›

The “80/20 Rule” states that 80% of results or rewards will come from 20% of causes or effort. Put another way, 20% of input creates 80% of output. This especially applies to music, where the same chords and progressions repeat themselves over and over.

What was the devil's chord? ›

In music a tritone consists of two notes that are three whole steps apart, such as “C” to “F#.” Not found in either the major or minor scales, and due to its discordant sound, it has been called “the Devil's Chord.”

Which is the darkest chord? ›

The diminished chord is the darkest chord in music. This is because it's constructed with stacked minor third intervals. The D diminished chord and F diminished chord share most of the same notes. But, when you add a 7th to the chord they share all the same notes.

What was the secret chord? ›

The 'secret chord' is a biblical reference. David was a King from the Hebrew bible, and although we all mostly remember him for being the underdog who defeated Goliath, he was, first and foremost, a musician. So we know David played a 'secret chord', whatever that may be.

Does piano raise IQ? ›

Picking up a musical instrument gives you a higher IQ, according to a new study of more than 4,600 volunteers. New research has claimed that learning to play a musical instrument increases intelligence by 10 percent.

What happens if you practice piano everyday? ›

Should I Practice Piano Every Day? You should practice piano every day, however, take at least one day off periodically to rest. Practicing every day helps build consistency and establish good habits. Most piano teachers suggest practicing as often as possible.

Are you smart if you play piano? ›

There is scientific proof that playing the piano can actually make you smarter. Improving your IQ also comes with many benefits within itself, including a better performance at school in all subjects ranging from science and math, to subjects like history, reading comprehension and language arts.

What is the 3 chord trick? ›

The three-chord trick refers to an idea in music theory where a song, phrase, or musical idea is most likely to be based on the tonic, sub-dominant, and dominant chords (I-IV-V) of the major scale. These three chords can either work as the structural basis for a song or as an accompanying melody.

What is the easiest way to learn chords? ›

One of the best ways to learn chords is to start by memorizing the most common chords used in popular songs. The major and minor chords are usually the first ones that new guitarists learn, as they are used in a wide range of songs across genres.

How many chords should a beginner know? ›

Many guitar players will tell you that there are only 5 chords to concern yourself with as a beginner. They are the five Major chords mention earlier: E, G, C, A, and D. Major is a word that describes the quality of the chord. The spacing between the notes in music is what gives the chord their quality.

What is the fastest way to identify chords? ›

When reading a chord quickly, read the root/lowest note and then the intervals above it and place them in the key. With experience you will be able to recognize common voicings by shape alone.

What are the 5 basic chords? ›

There are five open major chords: E, A, D, G, C. Below, you'll find a chord diagram and a photo of each one. To read the chord diagrams, the vertical lines are the strings (labeled E, A, D, G, B, E), and the horizontal lines are the frets (labeled I, II, III).

What is the most important note in A chord? ›

The root note is the MOST important note in any scale, arpeggio or chord as this tells us what the key is. If you don't understand what the root note is, you can't understand the key.

What is the most important piano skill? ›

The 8 most useful piano skills
  • Inventing.
  • Keyboard skills.
  • Expressive playing.
  • Listening.
  • Theory.
  • Geography.
  • Technique.
  • Practising skills.
Aug 15, 2020

What is the saddest key to play in? ›

Historically, classical composers felt that D minor was the most melancholy of the keys, suitable for lamentations, dirges and requiems.

What are the 3 main chords? ›

The I, IV, and V chords are the three most common and arguably the most important harmonic elements in the musical universe. Built off of the first, fourth, and fifth notes of any major or minor scale, these three chords form the basis for much of the music found in several genres.

What are the 12 major chords in piano? ›

There are 12 unique notes at the piano, which means we can build a major chord on each of those 12 notes - C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, Ab, A, Bb, an B. There is also a secret formula that only the wisest of piano instructors know about that allows you to build major chords starting on any note!

What are the 3 major chords in piano? ›

There are three chords which follow the pattern, white key, black key, white key. These are the chords, D, E and A major. Three major triads are made up of the pattern black key, white key, black key. They are Db, Eb and Ab.

How many types of chords are there in piano? ›

There are 7 different types of piano chords. There are Major, minor, diminished, augmented, and suspended triads which are three note chords. In addition to triads, there are extended and altered chords as well. These are generally classified chord types.

What does +7 mean chords? ›

A dominant seventh chord, or major-minor seventh chord is a chord composed of a root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. It can be also viewed as a major triad with an additional minor seventh. It is denoted using popular music symbols by adding a superscript "7" after the letter designating the chord root.

Why is it called a V7 chord? ›

A dominant seventh chord adds an additional scale degree—the flat seventh (also called a dominant seventh). Because they're based on the fifth degree of a scale, dominant chords are indicated with the Roman numeral “V” or, in the case of a dominant seventh, with “V7.”

How many chords should A beginner know? ›

Many guitar players will tell you that there are only 5 chords to concern yourself with as a beginner. They are the five Major chords mention earlier: E, G, C, A, and D. Major is a word that describes the quality of the chord. The spacing between the notes in music is what gives the chord their quality.


1. How To Flow | Worship Piano Chords for Beginners | Gospel, CCM & Talk Music
2. Learn to Play 3 Easy Songs with 3 Chords - Piano Tutorial | Musicnotes
3. Piano Chords: The Basics
4. Beginner piano accompaniment pattern every player should learn // Play Piano chords with both hands
(Piano From Scratch)
5. Blues Piano for Beginners 2, the chords (Now With Sheet Music)
(Christian Fuchs)
6. How To Memorize Every Major & Minor Chord On Piano
(Piano From Scratch)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terrell Hackett

Last Updated: 04/04/2023

Views: 6364

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terrell Hackett

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Suite 453 459 Gibson Squares, East Adriane, AK 71925-5692

Phone: +21811810803470

Job: Chief Representative

Hobby: Board games, Rock climbing, Ghost hunting, Origami, Kabaddi, Mushroom hunting, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Terrell Hackett, I am a gleaming, brainy, courageous, helpful, healthy, cooperative, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.