A Comprehensive Introduction to the Piano Chord Chart

Have you ever fantasized about riffing at the piano like a famous John (Williams, Legend, and Elton, respectively)? Sure, they have lots of natural talent. But they also have years of hard work and dedication to their craft behind them.

How else could they pluck chords from thin air to improvise a song? Well, they know the sounds of chords by heart. And you can, too.

To get one step closer to the piano-playing greats, check out this comprehensive guide to the piano chord chart.

Chord References in Music

Whenever you’re learning hardcore music theory, it helps to have a reference for your ear. So, we compiled a short list of songs to help you identify the sounds of major and minor chords present in several different keys.

  1. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! features chords in C major, plus a few accidentals
  2. “Fur Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven with chords in A minor
  3. “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John in G Major
  4. “Prelude in E minor Op. 28 No. 4” by Frederic Chopin in, you guessed it, E minor

After giving each of these songs a listen, you’ll know the different sounds major and minor chords make. Now you’ll have an audial idea to go with the visual of the piano chord chart.

What Are Chords?

Before we dive into the piano chord chart, we must know what a chord is.

A chord is a group of notes played at the same time. Most times, the notes appear in a series of three, called a triad [1].

But triads aren’t just any three notes played at the same time. They are three notes with rules.

The first part of the triad is called the root. It’s called a root because it’s the same note as the scale it starts off with.

The second part is the third because it’s the third note in the scale. Finally, the triad ends on the perfect fifth or the fifth note in the scale.

It’s easy to remember the rules of a triad. All you have to do is remember the odd numbers 1, 3, and 5. So whenever you’re thinking of playing a triad, start with 1, the first note of the scale, then play 3 and 5.

Simple, right?

But it gets a little trickier than that.

There are two major (pun intended) types of chords: major chords and minor chords. And these chords also have their own rules.

Major Chords

Major chords are distinct because of how simple they are to play, and because of how happy they sound [2].

Major thirds remain consistent with the third note in the major scale. That’s what makes major chords so easy to learn!

The handy list below outlines the major chords present in all twelve major scales:

  • C major: C E G
  • C sharp major: C# E# (F) G#
  • D flat major: Db F Ab
  • D major: D F# A
  • D sharp major: D# G A#
  • E flat major: Eb G Bb
  • E major: E G# B
  • F major: F A C
  • F sharp major: F# A# C#
  • G flat major: Gb Bb Db
  • G major: G B D
  • G sharp major: G# B# (C) D#
  • A flat major: Ab C Eb
  • A major: A C# E
  • A# major: A# C## (D) E# (F)
  • B flat major: Bb D F
  • B major: B D# F#

Now that you know what notes correspond to each major chord, it’s time to learn about minor chords.

Minor Chords

Minor chords are characterized by the sad or mysterious sound they produce [3]. What sets minor chords apart from the rest is the formula it follows. Instead of a perfect third like in a major chord, a minor chord’s third is, well, minor.

Making a note minor is quite simple. All you have to do is move the note a half step down.

On a keyboard, a half step down means the immediate key to the left of whichever key you started at. Picture E on the keyboard. A half step to the left is Eb.

So, to make any major chord minor, all you have to do is flatten the third note. Check out the list of minor chords below.

  • C minor: C Eb G
  • C sharp minor: C# E G#
  • D minor: D F A
  • E flat minor: Eb Gb Bb
  • E minor: E G B
  • F minor: F Ab C
  • F sharp minor: F# A C#
  • G minor: G Bb D
  • A flat minor: Ab Cb (B) Eb
  • A minor: A C E
  • B flat minor: Bb Db F
  • B minor: B D F#

Now go back to the major chords. Can you spot the difference?

Let’s look at the C major chord.

The triad is C E G. To make it minor, flatten the third by moving it a half step down. The minor is now C Eb G.

Take care to note enharmonic equivalents [4]. Enharmonics are notes that use the same keys on the keyboard but have a different name. So for example, C# is the equivalent of Db.

Recapping the Piano Chord Chart

Now that you’ve read this handy guide, you’ll become an expert at piano chords. Remember to keep in mind a few simple rules. Chords are made of triads, and major and minor triads are different because of the flattened third.

And that’s it!

Major and minor chords are the foundations of any piano song. By studying the piano chord chart, you’ll have a better understanding of how music works. And if you study the chart with diligence, you’ll become a master of the piano, too!

Stephanie Su
 

Started learning music when she was four years old, Stephanie is a music teacher and a music therapist who is highly proficient in Piano, Violin, Guitar, and Ukulele. She likes to learn, teach, and share her music playing experiences.

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