Chord symbols can feel a bit of a mystery to beginner piano players since, unlike guitar playing, teachers don't use then as the basis of learning how to play the instrument. Instead, they tend to start off by teaching you the individual notes. While this is important to know, some find it a bit of a turn off. After all don't you want to learn how to play your favorite songs?
Even if it's just a simplified version of a your favourite band's biggest hit, you will still get somewhat of a thrill knowing that you can somewhat replicate their work. And it is that thrill that should motivate you to continue practicing what is a far more exciting instrument than people give it credit for.
What Is a Piano Chord?
A chord is more than one note played at the same time. On first glance a piano looks like it has 88 different notes, including both the black and white keys, when in fact these aren't all separate notes, but slight variations of the same one.
A piano consists of 12 tones, which repeats themselves as you move down the keyboard. If you start from the first key on the far left there is C D E F G A B on the white keys and C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab, A#/Bb on the black keys, completing what is known as the chromatic scale. The same notes in the same order begin again on the 12th key.
The only difference between is that as you keep going down the keyboard each scale is an octave higher than the last. To make a chord you press usually three of the notes together. For example you make a C chord by playing C E and G together.
Why are chords important?
Music is both simple and difficult and for the purpose of this article we will look at the simple side of the craft. Most music, including classical, is built around major and minor chords.
- Playing Major Piano Chords - Major chords consists of three tones; the root, the third, and the fifth. The root is the lowest note in the chord and the one that the chord is name after. The third is the third note of the major scale of that note and the fifth is the fifth note. If you looking to play a D major chord all you have is, from D, go up four notes to F# and three from F# to A. You can find all the other major chords in the same way.
- Playing Minor Piano Chords - To play a minor chord, you start at the root, the note you want to play, and go three notes to the third and 4 more to the fifth. To play a D minor chord, for example, you have to press down D, F, and A. It is basically the opposite way round from playing a major chord.
- Reading Minor and Major Chords - Reading chords are surprisingly easy. On your song sheet a major chord is usually represented by a capital letter. For example C represents C major. A minor chord is only slightly more complicated. It is represented by a capital letter plus M, min or -. For example Am, Amin and A- would all represent A minor.
- Other Piano Chords - While at this stage of your playing, it's best to concentrate on just the major and minor chords, it doesn't do you any harm to be aware of some of the chords that give musical styles such as jazz their edgy and far out sound. These include diminished chords, represented on your song sheet as dim and augmented chords, represented on your song sheet as aug.
Adding To Your Chords
You can give your chords meat and flavour by adding tones to it. These are often represented on the song sheet by a number. For example a D5 would mean that you a play both a D major and the note 5 keys after the root note. The most common number added to a chord is seven, which is known as the seventh; for example D7, C7 and A7.
Now you know the basic minor and major chords you can have fun and experiment with them. What do they sound like? What chords work best together? Perhaps you can come up with your own short tune or learn a simple one. As a relative beginner your main aims should be first to learn where each chord is on the keyboard, second to learn to instinctively get your hands in the right position each time and third to learn how to play and read the chords at the same time
The Wee Sing Books
One of the best ways to learn chords and how to read them is to learn songs from the Wee Sing book. The Wee Sing book has a collection of children's songs with simple melodies and easy to read chord symbols. From there you can move to music sheets with songs that are perhaps more exciting for you to play, but only have chord symbols, such as sheet music designed for music to be played on guitar and vocal.