Learning to play piano is a rewarding journey all around—physically, mentally and emotionally. Like playing sports, the more you play, the stronger your muscle memory becomes and you’ll have more strength to challenge your new limits. Learning how to play piano with chords equips you with a powerful knowledge skill, so you can play virtually any song you want as long as there’s a chord chart available. You’ll not only be able to play more songs, but gain a solid sense of gratification from feeling connected with the music while playing something you didn’t even know you could play.
Starting off with some of the basic piano chords will be your first step on your journey to becoming the next piano virtuoso. But before we get to that point, let’s look a bit closer at piano chords so you can start playing and acquiring all the necessary skills to become a skilled and talented pianist.
What are Piano Chords?
A chord consists of a minimum of three distinct notes that are made up of a first note (root), a third note and a fifth note, where the “degree” of notes is referring to a musical distance from the root note. For example, C Major chord is referring to note C (root), note E (third), and note G (fifth). When these distinct notes are played together simultaneously, it’s referred to as a solid chord. If these notes are played individually as a group, it is referred to as a broken chord. To keep things simple, let’s focus on solid chords.
What’s the Difference Between Reading Music Notes vs. Reading Chords?
While learning to play piano by reading notes is a great way to master your music reading skills, it also calls for some patience as you learn to become more familiar with reading music and playing. On the other hand, being able to read piano chords allows you to be able to approach piano playing with much more flexibility as you don’t necessarily have to be familiar with songs you come across. Yousician’s Songs Library is made up of songs that can help you improve reading music notation as well as reading chords.
How to Play Chords on Piano
Some of the most memorable songs are written with surprisingly simple chords. While it’s true that there are many types of chords, understanding major and minor chords already prepares you with enough skills to start playing the songs you enjoy listening to.
You might have been taught, it’s possible to tell minor and major chords apart just by listening to how they sound: a major chord sounds ‘happy’, while a minor chord sounds ‘sad’.
Let’s recall the C Major chord that was described earlier and take a deeper look at the C Major scale to understand the relationship between the scale and chords. A scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch.
When the third note and fifth note are built on top of every note within the C major scale, you can learn a pattern of chord type: the first, fourth and fifth chord built within every major scale will always be major chords. Also, every second, third, and sixth chord built on every major scale will always be minor chords.
I’m Yours by Jason Mraz (in C), is made up of C major – G major – A minor – F major chords in a repeating pattern. While this chord progression is true for this particular song, there are thousands of other popular songs that are made up of this identical chord progression.
Inversions: Chords beyond the Root Position
While playing the C major chord in C-E-G order is perfectly valid, chords can also be played in varying note order to make transitions between playing chords as flexible as possible.
C Major Chord: root position
C major chord in root position refers to having the root note C as the lowest note that the chord is built from.
C Major Chord: first inversion
While keeping the notes that belong to the C chord, it’s also possible to have the lowest note as E, which would push the initial root note C as the most upper note.
This is also considered a C Major chord, in first inversion.
C Major Chord: second inversion
Similarly, note G can take the position as the lowest note that the chord is built from, which would move note C and note E as the notes built on top of note E. This is also considered the C major chord in second inversion.
Basic Piano Chords for Beginners
Equipped with some understanding of basic major and minor chords, you’re already ready to start playing hundreds of songs with piano chords. These songs and much more are available on Yousician, where you’ll also find loads of different tools and lessons to help you learn and improve. Start searching for the songs you like and experience what it’s like to jam along to your favorite tunes. Stay tuned for more posts about playing songs with more advanced chords and different chord progressions. Make sure to check some of our other blog posts about piano chords and learning how to play: