Do you dream of being able to play the piano and sing your favourite songs?
It might seem like an impossible dream – but if you follow these steps to learn basic piano chords, you’ll be playing and amazing your friends in a very short time.
How to find your way around on the piano
First of all, the piano is laid out with sets of black notes in groups of two and three. The white notes are called A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The note after G is A – and the pattern repeats. If you step up to a black note from a white note, that is a sharp. If you step down to a black note, that is a flat.
How to build basic piano chords easily
To play a song on the piano, you just need to learn how to build chords. There are two main types of chords: major piano chords and minor piano chords. Major chords sound “happy” and minor chords sound “sad”.
Here’s the easy way to work out any major piano chord. We’ll pick C major to start with.
Find a C on your piano (it’s to the left of a set of 2 black notes). Play C and hold it down. Now, starting with the black note right next to it, count upwards 4 notes (include every note, black and white). So C sharp is “one”, D is “two”, D sharp is “3”, and the 4th note is E.
Next, play C and E together and hold them down. Now count up 3 more notes from E, starting with F, F sharp and the third note you land on is G.
Now play all three notes – C, E and G, together at the same time. Check the diagram below to make sure you’ve worked it out correctly. What you’re playing is a C major piano chord. The best way to play a piano chord is with one hand (you can use either left or right), using the thumb, third finger and little finger. If you find it difficult to play all three notes at once, try taking one of the notes in the other hand. If you keep practicing, you’ll get quick at finding the notes and playing them together.
Now we’re going to find the other type of piano chord – the minor chord. We’ll start on the same note, C. This time, you’re going to count up 3 notes, which brings you to D sharp, then count up another 4 notes and you’ll be on G. Now play those three notes together at the same time and notice the “sad” sound it has. That is a C minor piano chord.
Every piano chord is built in this way, whatever the starting note. Let’s try another one. Step down to the nearest black note from C, you’ll land on B flat. Count up 4 notes – then 3. You should have the notes B flat, D and F. That is a B flat major piano chord. Check the diagram below.
Now for a B flat minor piano chord. Start on B flat again. Count up 3 notes, then 4 and you’ll have made it into a Bb minor chord. Notice that all you’re doing to change a major chord into a minor chord is moving the middle note down one step.
If you thought that playing the piano would involve hours of playing boring scales and learning to read music, think again! Of course those are good skills to have and it’s great to learn them, but you don’t need to do that to play basic piano chords and sing your favourite songs.
Most popular songs are just four or five piano chords. If you Google a song you’d like to learn and add the word “chords” you’ll find them easily. It’s a good idea to get the lyrics with chord symbols above the words, that way you can see where the chords should happen.
Start learning songs!
Now let’s try a song! Let’s take Adele’s song ‘Someone Like You’. The verse has a four chord pattern:
G, Bm, Em, C
If the name of the chord has a little m next to the letter, it just means that’s a minor chord. If it’s just the letter name alone, it means it’s a major piano chord. So this verse is G major, B minor, E minor, C major.
See if you can find each of those chords in turn and practice the four chord pattern until it begins to flow. Once it’s flowing quite steadily, try singing with it.
Once you have that, try the pre-chorus. There are only 3 piano chords, but the first one should be played twice, like this:
D, D, Em, C
You already know the Em and the C chord from the verse. Just figure out the D chord and practice that pattern until it flows. Keep it all slow, but steady.
Now we come to the chorus. This is another four chord pattern, repeated 4 times.
G, D, Em, C
You already know all four piano chords!
Once you have each section moving smoothly from one chord to another, link them all together so the song flows.
In some songs, the piano chord chart might have numbers after some chords such as 7 or 9. You can ignore these when you’re starting out – the song will still sound right. Later you can learn how to include the extra notes those numbers represent. Also, you may see a chord written something like this: C/E. The first letter is the chord, the second letter is a different single note to play in the bass with the left hand. If you can’t manage that to begin with, simply play the chord as usual. It will sound fine.
Let’s have a look at the song “Despacito”, by Lois Fonzi and Daddy Yankee. This song has a four chord pattern the whole way through, so it doesn’t take long to learn.
Em, C, G, D
Add some rhythm
Once you’ve got the chords flowing, try playing each chord twice in quick succession so that you get more rhythm into the piano chords. If you can play the chords with the right hand alone, you can put a bass note in the left hand. Your bass note should be whatever the name of the chord is. For instance, if you’re playing an E minor piano chord, put an E in the bass. If you’re playing a C major piano chord, put a C in the bass.
Practice tapping out the chords quite lightly and evenly – try to strike all three notes exactly together. When you repeat a chord, you need to lift your hand up quickly after playing the chord the first time so that the notes are released ready to play for the second time. In other words, if you keep the notes down too long, you won’t be able to play them again!
So, once you have a tool-kit of basic piano chords, choose a song you’d love to play, get the piano chord chart, practice playing the chords until your hand is moving to the next chord without you thinking too much about it. Then try singing the words along with the chords and see how you improve with practice.
It’s a good idea to record yourself and listen back so you can hear what it sounds like. Sometimes when we’re playing, we don’t notice pauses or incorrect notes because we’re concentrating so hard on what we’re doing.
Most of all – have fun playing piano chords, singing the songs you love, and enjoy showing your friends and family what you can do!