Beginner Guide on Top 10 Piano Chords

Want to learn to play chords on the piano? This article is a beginner guide on how to structure and play piano chords.

Learn some easy tricks and techniques to play 10 of the most common piano chords.

A Beginners Guide to Piano Chords – Keys, Fingers, and Chords

Professional pianists are highly trained and educated in music theory. Music theory is the education that teaches you how to read sheet music, transpose, and all the other musical jargon.

You are not getting into hard-core music theory in this article. Instead, these are some basic fundamentals for navigating your way around piano chords.

Identifying the Keys

If your piano is a full-size, it features 88 keys in total. Looking at the keyboard, you see 52 white keys that are all touching each other near the edge closest to you[1]. Interspersed between the white keys are 36 short black keys.

Place a finger on the lowest C key on the keyboard. It will be the fourth key in from the left. Gradually make your way up the keyboard, key by key, until you reach the top-most C key. The sequence will progress from white to black keys, in order.

You notice that there are only 12 notes on the piano, repeated over several octaves. A grouping of 12 sequential notes, which begins on the same note that it ends on, is an octave. A true octave is 8 notes, however, the piano includes 4 accidentals as well.

Play the middle C on your piano, then play each key higher in pitch until you find the next highest C key. Did you hear the octave? This octave, from C to C, represents the box in which you play piano chords.

The C key is always located to the left of the two black keys. So, starting on C, the key progression is white, black, white, black, white, white, black, white, black, white, black, white.

Think of it as the keys around the sequence of two black keys followed by three black keys. It begins with the white key to the left side of the left-most black key and ends on the same note located 12 keys to the right.

Identifying Your Fingers

The piano is a chordal instrument because each finger plays an individual tone. A wind instrument, like a trumpet, is not a chordal instrument because it only emits a single note at any one time. But, pianos can play a melody, harmony, and bass chord line all at once.

Look at your hands with your palms facing away from you. Now, starting with your right hand, your thumb is number 1. Your pinky is 5. Same rules apply to your left hand, but for now, just focus on your right hand.

The left-hand plays the accompaniment while the right-hand plays the lead. Add in the left hand once you feel comfortable with the right hand.

Creating a Chord

A chord is a group of three or more notes. On your right hand, a chord involves your thumb, index finger, middle finger, and pinky. Major chords feature spaces between the piano keys.

Playing two notes that are next to each other together in a chord results in dissonance and atonality, which works against the harmony. Chords are defined by the intervals present between notes.

10 Piano Chords to Play a Ballad

The benefits of learning to play the piano are vast, no matter your age. Even if you never strive to become a professional pianist, the study of music strengthens the mind in a way that no other practice can. Young adults don’t have to take lessons to get their feet wet. Try out these piano chords:

  • C Major (C) and Minor (Cm)

To play a C major piano chord you use your first, second, third, and fifth fingers. This means, your thumb, pointer, middle, and pinky fingers on your right hand are active.

Notes on the piano are arranged alphabetically, from A to G. This constitutes a musical scale. The C Major chord is constructed from the notes C, E, and G.

Place your first finger, or thumb, on the piano keyboards middle C. From there, place your second finger, or pointer finger, on the second white key to the right of C, which is an E. In the same way, place your middle finger onto the second white key to the right of E, which is a G.

Now, play the three notes together, with your 1st finger on C, 2nd on E, and 3rd on G. This is a C chord. If the song you are playing is in the key of C then a C major is your root chord. Next, try filling out the chord with your 5th finger on the upper C.

Place your first three fingers on the C, E, and G. Then, place your 5th finger on the C key one octave up from your thumb. Look at your thumb on C: it is just left of a sequence of two black keys, followed by three black keys.

Your pinky will play the C key just to the left of the next sequence of 2 and 3 black keys.

This finger positioning, of three fingers, spaced one key apart, is the basis of piano chords. All major chords on the piano will mirror this figure.

To make it minor, or sad-sounding, just move your second finger down a half step, from the E to the E flat (Eb).

  • A Minor (Am) and A Major

Now, moving to minor piano chords. Almost every song, no matter the genre, combines major and minor chords.

A minor chord is just like a major chord – except for the 2nd finger. In order for the chord to become minor, the 2nd finger plays the note down a half step – or one note down.

With your right hand, place your first finger on the A above middle C. From a C key, the A is two white keys to the left. An A minor chord is constructed of the note A, C, and E.

So, place your second finger on the C above middle C, and your third finger on the E.

  • D Minor (Dm) and D Major

To play a D minor piano chord, start with your right hands first finger on the D above middle C. Now, with your second and third finger play an F and an A.

This is a D minor (Dm) piano chord. To make it major, just move your second finger up a half step or one key.

  • G Major and Minor (Gm)

A G chord is constructed of the notes G, B, and D. The process for structuring all piano chords is the same. Start with your right hand’s thumb on the root note. The root note is the name of the chord you are playing.

So, for a G chord, the root note on your right hand is G.From your root, on G, skip a key to the right for the B, and repeat once more with your third finger on the D.

If you want to make the chord richer, stretch your pinky over to the top G, to make the octave. To make the chord minor, just lower the B a half step, to the B flat (Bb). Here’s additional info on G minor chord.

  • E Minor (Em) and E Major

To make an E minor chord, place your first, second, and third fingers on the notes E, F#, and B. F# is the first black key in the sequence of three. Move it up to a G to create the E major chord.

Final Thoughts

You can put these chords together to play a piano ballad in no time [2]. Once your fingers get used to making the major and minor chord shapes transitioning from chord to chord will be smooth. You can also check out the C minor chord and F minor chord.

And remember to be patient with yourself in practice. Learning to form and transition through piano chords can take time, but the reward is well worth it.

If you found this article helpful in learning how to make piano chords share it on social media with your friends and family. And, subscribe to our newsletter for the most recent blog posts and music news.

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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