Many new piano students start out learning piano notes. But once you get into chords, you’ll really get a sense of the rich, complex sound the piano is capable of. In this list, we’ll take a closer look at how piano chords are constructed. We’ll also introduce you to some common chords, their chord symbols, and how to play them.
Piano Chords: A Beginner’s Guide
1. What’s A Chord?
A piano chord is made up of more than one note played at the same time. Most chords are triads or three-note chords. Chords play an important part in music. Usually, they make up the harmony of a song, while the notes make the melody.
On the piano, chords are typically played with your left hand. At the same time, your right-hand play the individual notes that make up the song’s melody.
As you can see from the chord chart above, there’s a huge variety of chords for piano. So where do you start? Major and minor chords are two types of basic piano chords that most beginners learn. Once you get a feel for different piano chords and chord symbols, you’ll really start understanding the beauty and musicality of chords.
You don’t even need to know many chords to play a song — many a pop song is made up of four chords or less. In many cases, the same chord progression will repeat itself throughout a song.
2. Understanding Intervals
Many of the beginner piano chords we’ll go over today include three notes: a basic root, a third, and a fifth. These terms, called intervals, are often thrown around in music theory, but most new players aren’t sure exactly what they mean.
To figure out roots, thirds, and fifths, you first need the major scale in the key of your root note. So if we want to make a C major chord, we need the C major scale first.
If you’ve already done some studying with piano notes, you may already be familiar with the major scale. To get the major scale from a given root, you need to follow a pattern of whole and half steps: whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step. You can abbreviate this as WWHWWWH.
But what are whole and half steps? On the piano, a half step is made up of two keys that are adjacent. This includes white and black keys. A whole step is made of two keys with another key between them.
The C note is the root of the C chord. So if we follow the WWHWWWH pattern to get the C major scale, we get this:
The C major scale is often the first major scale a beginner learns, as it contains no sharps or flats.
Having some knowledge of intervals will help major and minor chords make sense. But as you learn basic chords, don’t feel like you need to memorize this process or go through it every time. It’s just a good idea to understand some of the backgrounds before you dive into learning chords.
3. Making A Major Chord
The first basic piano chords most people learn are major chords. Most of your favorite songs will almost certainly contain a major chord or two. Major chords tend to have a happy, upbeat sound.
A major triad (the most common type of major chord) contains three notes: a root, a major third, and a perfect fifth. If you’re looking at the major scale for a given root note, the major third is the third note in the scale. And as you may have guessed, the perfect fifth is the fifth note in the scale.
So going off the C major scale, CDEFGAB, the major third is E and the perfect fifth is G. So the chord of C major is made up of C, E, and G. This picture shows the C major chord marked with cherries on the keyboard:
You might be wondering what the chord symbol for C major is. Luckily, learning chord symbols isn’t as complex as reading sheet music — most are fairly straightforward. For a major chord, the chord symbol is just the root note, so C major is just written as “C.”
If you’re reading a chord on a piece of sheet music, it will appear as all notes of the chord stacked on top of one another.
Of course, C major isn’t the only major chord you’ll learn. Here’s a list of some common major chords and the notes they contain:
- A major — A, C#, E
- B major — B, D#, F#
- C major — C, E, G
- D major — D, F#, A
- E major — E, G#, B
- F major — F, A, C
- G major — G, B, D
4. Building A Minor Chord
Minor chords are also likely to be among the first chords you learn. But while major chords sound happy and upbeat, minor chords have a darker, sadder sound.
Unsurprisingly, the minor chord version of a given major chord will have the same root note. The only difference between a major triad and a minor triad (with the same root note) is that a minor chord has a minor third (also called a flattened third). The minor third is what gives a minor chord its signature sad sound.
The easiest way to build a minor triad is looking at the notes in a given major triad and then changing the major third to a minor third. To do this, you just lower the major third by half a step. Let’s revisit the C major chord mentioned above.
The C major chord is made up of the notes C, E, and G, where E is the major third. Recall that to lower a note by a half step, you just go to the adjacent key with a lower pitch.
The key to the left of E is D#, so the C minor chord is made up of C, D#, and G. You may sometimes see D# written as Eb. These notes are enharmonic, meaning they have different names but refer to the exact same pitch.
However, when you’re writing the notes making up a minor chord, you’ll typically see the flat enharmonic note used. That’s because it makes it clearer that the major third has been flattened and not raised.
Here’s how to play C minor — the keys are marked with cherries again:
Let’s look at another example: the D major chord. The D major chord, as you can see on the list above, is made up of D, F#, and A. The major third is F#, which, when lowered by a half step, becomes F. So, a D minor chord is made up of D, F, and A.
The chord symbol for a minor chord is pretty simple. It’s just the letter of the root note followed by a lowercase m. So C minor is written as Cm.
Here are some common minor chords and the notes they’re made of:
- A minor — A, C, E
- B minor — B, D, F#
- C minor — C, Eb, G
- D minor — D, F, A
- E minor — E, G, B
- F minor — F, Ab, C
- G minor — G, Bb, D
5. Beyond Major & Minor: Diminished Chords
You may have heard about diminished piano chords. This is a chord type that goes a bit beyond the basic chords. A diminished chord is a slightly different variation of a major or minor chord.
A diminished triad incorporates a root note, a minor third, and a diminished fifth. A diminished fifth is a perfect fifth that’s been lowered half a step. So to get a diminished chord, start with the root, third, and fifth of a major chord. Lower both the third and the fifth by half a step.
Let’s look at C diminished, abbreviated as Cdim. C major has a root, third, and fifth of C, E, and G. With a flattened third, you get Cm: C, D#, G. And to get Cdim, lower the fifth as well. So Cdim is made up of C, D#, and F# (also written as C, Eb, Gb).
Here’s how to play it (the keys are marked with stickers):
The combination of a root, flattened third, and diminished fifth sounds tense, dark, and even scary. If you’re not familiar with diminished chords, check out Cdim here (Video Below Left).
So how do you use a diminished chord? These chords aren’t too common in pop music. But when used sparingly and in a logical context, they can add momentary tension and help add more power to the resolution of a progression.
This video (Above Right) shows you several well-known songs that incorporate diminished chords, including “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel and “when the party’s over” by Billie Eilish.
Check out these common diminished chords and the notes they’re made of:
- A diminished — A, C, Eb
- B diminished — B, D, F
- C diminished — C, Eb, Gb
- D diminished — D, F, Ab
- E diminished — E, G, Bb
- F diminished — F, Ab, Cb
- G diminished — G, Bb, Db
6. Augmented Chords
Major chords sound happy, minor chords sound sad, and diminished chords sound scary. What about augmented chords? Augmented chords are hard to describe. They sound tense and unresolved but not as downright ominous as diminished chords. This video (below left) demonstrates a C augmented chord, abbreviated as Caug (or occasionally as C+).
An augmented chord is made simply by raising the fifth of a major triad by a half step. (An “augmented fifth” is another term for “raised fifth.”) So to get Caug, as demonstrated in the video above, first start with the notes of C major: C, E, and G. Since G is the fifth, we raise that by a half step to G#. When playing Caug, you just need to play C, E, and G#:
Augmented chords might sound strange enough to make you wonder how they could ever be incorporated into a song. But like diminished chords, they can make a song more dynamic by heightening the tension before it’s resolved.
This video (below right) shows you some songs that use augmented chords, including “Oh! Darling” by the Beatles and “The Warmth of the Sun” by the Beach Boys.
Here are some common augmented chords and how to play them:
- A augmented — A, C#, E#
- B augmented — B, D#, F##
- C augmented — C, E, G#
- D augmented — D, F#, A#
- E augmented — E, G#, B#
- F augmented — F, A, C#
- G augmented — G, B, D#
The presence of “E#” is probably confusing. After all, E raised by a half step is just F, so why don’t we call it that? The raised fifth is written as “E#” because it makes it clear that the fifth has been sharpened, or raised up.
Similarly, on the next line, you see an F followed by two sharps. The B major chord is made of B, D#, and F#. Sharpening F# makes G, but it’s instead written as “F##.” If it’s written as “G,” it implies that the fifth has been lowered a half step instead of raised a half step.
7. How Do You Actually Play Piano Chords?
As we mentioned earlier, you’ll usually be using your left hand to play chords. When you’re first learning chords, don’t worry about playing a melody at the same time.
For the types of basic triads we looked at today, you usually will need to use your index finger, middle finger, and pinky. Since the keys in basic triads are more or less alternating, playing with these fingers minimizes the amount of hand stretching you’ll need to do.
Of course, especially if you’re self-taught, it’s a good idea to be extra careful about your form. This video offers some useful advice on hand position.
Ready to Learn More?
Having a piano chord chart can make it easier to remember different chords, and you can definitely teach yourself some of the basic chords for piano. But whether you’re just learning the way around the piano keyboard or have some experience, online piano lessons can offer the structure you need to develop as a musician.
These lessons are more convenient and affordable than you’re probably thinking. There are seemingly endless sites dedicated to helping you learn piano through video lessons and other resources, and you can learn on your own schedule.
We hope you feel a bit more comfortable venturing forth and practicing chords. Do you have any useful tips that may help other learners? Is there anything we left out? Please let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to share if you found our list useful!
What is the easiest way to learn piano chords? ›
An easy way to remember what notes are in a major triad in any key, is to simply start at the root, then go up four ½ steps to the next note in the chord, then go up just three ½ steps to find the 3rd and final note in the chord. This is true for all key signatures.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 4 main piano chords? ›
- C major (chord symbol "C")
- G major (chord symbol "G")
- A minor (chord symbol "Am")
- F major (chord symbol "F")
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 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 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.
The easiest guitar chords for beginners are the Em, C, G and D chord. But... I don't teach them in the typical way that most guitar teachers do. I find many guitar teachers try to teach beginner guitar students chords that are sometimes just too hard for the absolute beginner.What are the 3 most useful 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 4 famous chords? ›
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.What are the 3 chords in every song? ›
The I (tonic), IV (subdominant) and V (dominant) chords (primary triads) together encompass all seven tones of the tonic's major scale. These three chords are a simple means of covering many melodies without the use of passing notes. There are tens of thousands of songs written with I, IV and V chords.
What are the 4 magic chords? ›
It turns out that the four magical chords are E, B, C# minor and A. But with so many chords to choose from, why did dozens of hit songs end up with the same four chords? At first glance, it seems strange that so many songs should have the same chords.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.
The most common type of keyboard or piano chord is a triad, or three-note chord. A triad contains a root note and two other notes, most often the notes that produce the intervals of a third and fifth above the root note.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 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.How can I memorize chords quickly? ›
Learning how to memorize guitar chords is best accomplished by allowing your mind to focus on just one chord shape and let your fret hand muscles learn and remember where your fingers need to go by repeating several short memory sessions with each chord you want to learn.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.Is it better to start with chords or melody? ›
You can almost always tell the songs that started with chords: the melodies tend to sit around one or two notes as the chords change underneath. By focusing first on melody, you are more likely to imagine more interesting melodic shapes, including leaps, a climactic high point, and a better use of vocal range.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 chord rule? ›
The intersecting chords theorem or just the chord theorem is a statement in elementary geometry that describes a relation of the four line segments created by two intersecting chords within a circle. It states that the products of the lengths of the line segments on each chord are equal.
What is the 7 chord formula? ›
Major 7th Chord Formula
The formula for the major 7th chord is 1-3-5-7.
- Listen to the song many times. ...
- Focus on the melody. ...
- Focus on the bass. ...
- Find the lyrics online and paste them into a word processor. ...
- Go through the lyric as you listen to the song, and underline the words where you think the chord changes to a new one.
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 is the difference between C7 and Cmaj7 on piano? ›
Whereas the C7 chord is a major triad with a flatted seventh, the Cmaj7 chord includes the triad plus the major seventh. So, remember that a C major triad includes the root (C), third (E) and fifth (G), as shown in Example 1, and Cmaj7 just adds the seventh (B), like in Example 2.Why is C chord so hard? ›
Why Is It So Hard? Let's kick off by understanding why the C major can be so hard to learn. The main reason is due to the stretch that all three fingers need to make. Most chord shapes you have tackled up to now will span two frets, whilst the C major chord spans 3.What are the 4 beginner chords? ›
Let's not beat around the bush any longer - The first 4 chords you need to learn as a beginner player are E major, E minor, A major and A minor.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 is the easiest chord progression? ›
What Is The Easiest Chord Progression? The easiest chord progression is one that doesn't require a lot of technical prowess to execute. For songs with four chords, the easiest chord progression is often the popular I IV V I or I V IV I. However, many songs can be played with three chords or just two chords.What is the catchiest chord progression? ›
Notice how many of the most commonly used progressions use different combinations of 1, 4, 5 and 6. The 'Axis of Awesome' chord progression. This sequence is so famous it has its own Wikipedia page. It's the most popular chord progression in all of pop music and has featured in hundreds of incredible songs!What are the first three chords to learn? ›
The first chords to learn on guitar are Em, C, G, and D. Let's get started in “first position” or “open chords.” These chords are played close to the nut and utilize a number of open strings. The next chord you should learn is C, or C major. For this chord, you only need to strum the top five, highest-sounding strings.
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.”What are the 5 major chords? ›
The 5 chords we'll look at are the C major, A major, G major, E major, and D major. The reason we use all major chords is that the minor versions of any of these chords just require tiny adjustments.What are the 4 chords used in most songs? ›
They use the same four chords: I, IV, V, and vi, which are probably the most common chords in all of pop music. Because of this, they all sound somewhat similar; the difference is in the order of the chords.Why is the third of A chord so important? ›
In jazz chords and theory, the third is required due to it determining chord quality. The third in both major and augmented chords is major (E♮ in C) and the third in both minor and diminished chords is minor (E♭ in C).What is A chord with 3 notes called? ›
A major chord is a triad, which means it is a chord made up of three notes.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.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 are the 3 most useful chords called? ›
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.How long should it take to learn chords? ›
You'll be able to switch quickly between chords and bar chords will come easy to you. Whether you've chosen to focus on picking with your fingers or with a pick, you'll get much better at that. Basically, you should be able to play any of your favorite songs, as long as they're not ridiculously difficult.
The 'Four chord song' is a medley performed by an Australian comedy group where snippets from a whole host of famous songs are sung over the top of the exact same chord progression. Here's the chords they used: The 4 chords used by Axis of awesome in 'the four chord song' are D, A, B min and G.
What are the 4 most common chords? ›
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.What is the best chord generator? ›
- ChordJam Lite.
- Ableton Live.
- MIDI Chord packs.
- Captain Chords Epic.
- Xfer Cthulu.
- Chord Prism.
Em is the first beginning guitar chord you should learn. It's one of the most basic guitar chords not only because it's easy, but because it's used all the time in a lot of different songs. The small m after the E means minor. Think of minor as a flavor of sound.