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How to Play Chords On The Piano

Aug 7, 2008
One of the most important aspects of any pianist's repertoire is the understanding of how to play chords. To play chords, you must learn some simple theory. To make it easier, you'll mainly be playing the white keys.

Look at the white keys on the keyboard and find a C. If you don't know how to find a C, then look at the sets of black keys. The black keys are grouped two ways: in a set of two or a set of three. Find a set of two black keys and move to the white key immediately to the left. This is a C. Now that you've found a C, learning how to play chords comes easy.

To begin learning how to play chords, start with the C chord. Hold the thumb of your right hand on C. Now skip the next white key and put your middle finger on the white key after that. This is an E. Holding those two fingers in place, skip the next white key and play the white key after that with your pinky. This is G. Play all three of these notes at the same time and you'll have created a C chord. Learning how to play chords is that simple.

By holding your hand in this position and moving it up and down the white keys, you'll be able to play chords in the key of C. Just remember the basic pattern: play a white key, skip one, play the next, skip, and play the next key. Move to the right with your fingers in this shape and you'll be playing D minor, E minor, F, G, A minor and B diminished. A whole world of chord progressions is already at your fingertips. Play chords and hear the differences in each. You may even start to hear songs that you know and love by playing chords in this key.

Another way to learn how to play chords is to number the keys. Starting at C, number the white keys up to seven. C is one, D is two, E is three, etc. When you reach the number seven, start over at one. Now that you have each white key numbered, you understand the relationship between each note. A C chord is numbered 1-3-5. These are called the chord tones. A Cmaj7 is 1-3-5-7, while a C7 is 1-3-5-b7. The flat indicates a black key, at least when you're playing in the key of C.

To make a minor chord, start at C and play the following tones: 1-b3-5. This will be C, Eb and G. Your thumb is on C; your middle finger is on the black key just to the left of E; and your pinky is on G. Congratulations! You've learned how to play the C minor chord.

This is just a basic explanation of how to play chords. There are many more chord shapes to learn that make piano music great, but it's best to start at the beginning. Even the greats have written entire songs playing chords in the key of C.
About the Author
Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"
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