Updated date:

Piano Chords Basics

Author:

For many years I taught guitar and music theory in college, for which a basic piano knwledge was really essential.

Beginner's Piano and keyboard

It's that time of year again, when the shopping malls are full of good intentions - some of which result in the purchase of a nice new keyboard, but not necessarily the ability to play it properly!

Firstly, I think it's a great thing to do - because playing piano will increase your appreciation of music, give you a good understanding of musical theory, improve your general co-ordination skills and reward you with many hours of enjoyment where your worries are banished completely - mainly because you have no spare mental capacity to think about anything else!

If you work through this material, you will get a basic understanding of music, even if you haven't played an instrument before, in less than 30 mins.

My new hub Piano keyboard chords with photos expands on this material, so you may find it helpful to look at that - there are lots of photos showing chords and explaining more music theory.

Understanding piano keyboard - the basics.

The piano keyboard can seem a bit intimidating to a beginner - but if you think of it as a section of notes that repeats the same pattern from left to right it can help.Your keyboard may have 88 keys, but only 12 of them are relevant for note naming purposes. First, look at the black notes, which all have flat or sharp names. There are 2 black notes together, then after a gap there are 3 together. This section of the keyboard repeats again and again, but you only have to remember the notes in this section of the keyboard to understand the whole thing.

The keyboard diagram shows the note names (letters), and also the intervals between the notes, which are the numbers. The note C is to the left of the 2 black notes - learn this one first.

In the chord pictures I have tried to make the chord shape clear, but it's not the best fingering - try using your little finger for the top note of each chord.

  • The chords in the key of C ( all 7 of them) can be played with just one shape. The pattern is play one, miss one.This is shown in the first picture - you could just use this one shape to play all the chords in the key of C, by moving it to the right one step or one note at a time.
  • I've shown a second and alternative shape too, because it's a useful thing to know.
  • If you look at the piano keyboard diagram, we are using the notes C, E and G - which could also be described in intervals, as 1, 3, 5.

Intervals on the keyboard

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

Chord of C major (C)

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

Chords - basic theory

The first picture is a C chord, also known as C major. Your thumb is on a C note, in the middle of the piano, then it's play one, miss one - you are using the notes C E G.

F Chord - keep the C with your thumb, slide the other two fingers up the keyboard to the right.

G chord - now move the whole shape up one note, you should have the notes D, G, B.

When this gets a little easier, after maybe 10 mins practice, use your left hand too and play a bass note for each chord - a low C for the C chord, low F for the F chord, low G for the G chord.

Chord of F

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

Chord of G

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

Summary

OK - now we can play C, F, and G - the chord is in the right hand, and we also have a bass note in the left hand. You may wish to have a break here,or go back and revise it all again. As many songs use only these three chords, you could sing or hum a tune over the top - some ideas would be

La Bamba

Twist and Shout

Happy Birthday

When The Saints Go Marchin' In

D minor (Dm)

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

E minor (Em)

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

Am (A minor)

Am is the notes A, C, E - same shape as C, but starting two notes down, to the left.

Dm is the same shape as C, moved up one note to the right.

Em is the same shape again, but moved up two notes to the right from the C chord.

The shape we're using is the play-one-miss-one-shape.

If you can play C, Am, F, and G you can play the chords to Stand By Me.

A minor (Am)

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

G (another voicing)

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

F (another voicing)

how-to-play-keyboard-advice-for-beginners

Additional info

All the white notes of the piano keyboard will fit with these chords, which are after all made up from those notes!

The notes are

C D E F G A B C

These are also called the diatonic notes in the key of C, meaning that you only use the notes of the C major scale, and no black notes. If you start to improvise over the chords, my advice would be leave out notes B and F, as they are harder to get to fit.

These leaves you with a pentatonic or 5- note scale with the notes A C D E G A.

Probably the most widely used scale in world music.

Making it fun

Really, if you can't make this fun it's not going to happen. Mac users will have a free software called Garageband, which is very simple to use, but sounds great. If you have an electronic keyboard or piano, you can connect it to your Mac with a MIDI to USB lead - see my hub which explains how to do this. It's not technical, it's very easy to do. When you bought that Mac, you bought a very well equipped recording studio, but a lot of people don't even know they've got it!

Then you can play along with drum loops and different sounds, which is a lot of fun.

The table below shows all the chords in the key of C. All you do is play the C chord (C,E,G) and move it up the keyboard to your right one step at a time - in other words, slide the same shape up one note for Dm, up another one for Em, up another one for F, etc.

All these chords should be played with a bass note in your left hand, usually one octave below so when you move your hands they move in a parallel motion. Tip: don't take your fingers off the keyboard, just slide the shape along as much as possible.

All of the chords in C

CDmEm

F

G or G7

Am

Bm7b5

C

 

 

 

 

Comments

Super Anand from India on June 07, 2020:

An amazing artilce. Hats off to you sir.

Super Anand from India on June 07, 2020:

This article was in detail. Thanks for sharing. I have also learned playing keyboard from https://www.guitaa.com/. Do share your views as well and any other site which you think can be helpful for me.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on October 16, 2018:

Hi Shelia, it's time well spent for any musician. A good resource is looknohands.com, have not checked it in a long while though...

Shelia on October 16, 2018:

Thanks Jon, I appreciate you having this site for us. I’ve been trying to learn how to play for awhile now and with your help, it’s becomin more and more clear. I’ve always had a passion for learning to play piano.

Thank you so much

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on June 11, 2018:

Thanks Reg, all the best with your keyboard playing.

Reginald Thomas from Connecticut on June 11, 2018:

Nice article Jon! After reading it, I sent it to my nephew who will greatly appreciate it.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on February 14, 2015:

You're welcome...

cj dee on February 14, 2015:

hi:-)im just new at this page..i have a keyboard..but still i dunno how to play it...and then my friend recommend me to find this page..so i seek it online..anyway i want to say thank u..that i learn more bout playing my keyboard..whahahaXD

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on December 16, 2014:

Thanks Hezekiah. Piano is essential for understanding music theory!

Hezekiah from Japan on December 16, 2014:

Very easy to follow and interesting tutorial you have there.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on November 19, 2014:

Family Chords for C: C Dm Em F G Am Bm7b5

krupashekar on November 19, 2014:

Pls canu. Tell me all family cards

lynnie on August 25, 2014:

Am a beginner jas trying to put ma fingers on da keyboard and learning how to play.thanks for that.

JIM on June 05, 2014:

NICE PIC

christy on December 26, 2013:

do you know some one I can play my keyborad

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on June 30, 2013:

Bookmarked for later. My mom gave me a keyboard for my 6th grade graduation and, even though I learned to play a lot of songs by ear, I never got used to the chords :-D I even took classes but quit. I haven't played in years.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on June 20, 2013:

Hi Prasanth - the table at the end -All the Chords in C- has a list.

prasanth on June 20, 2013:

can u tell me the family of c chord

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on May 31, 2013:

You're welcome...any questions, just ask. Cheers, Jon

Baiju Jacob on May 31, 2013:

Thank u so much......

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on February 14, 2013:

Hi Sadie - you're welcome.

sadie on February 13, 2013:

Thank you very much. my musical eyes have been enlightened

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on November 26, 2012:

Tip of the week: you could be playing 3 chord songs in as little as 30mins - it's essential to sing along though. In other words, when you play a chord sing the melody line on top. This should ensure fast progress.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on September 20, 2012:

If you have any questions about chords and harmony I'll get back to you.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on August 27, 2011:

Thanks - a visual method based on patterns makes it much easier to learn.

nightflight9 from Scandinavia on July 12, 2011:

Nice! Pics are +!

jandee from Liverpool.U.K on April 12, 2011:

Thanks Jon,

will give it my best,jandee

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on April 11, 2011:

OK - harmonised scale of C goes:

C Dm Em F G Am Bm7b5 C

The major scale for C is C D E F G A B C so each note has a chord built on it.So all the chords and all the notes fit together in songs.

jandee on April 11, 2011:

Hello Jon ,Complete beginner on piano ! Don't know what a harmonised scale is which shows you how little I know,will go back back to your lesson this evening-see if theres a hint there-so far I have copied -c major,f,g,dminor,eminor,aminor on piece of paper which will be studied in private -when husband and others are out -all musicians ,shan't tell them until ???

jandee

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on April 11, 2011:

Thanks jandee. Understanding harmonised scales will get you a long way, fairly quickly.

jandee from Liverpool.U.K on April 11, 2011:

Hello Jon,I am delighted at this lesson of yours,thanks jandee

History Of Piano on April 05, 2011:

Basic chords is the foundation in playing piano. Glad you share this basic chords for us beginners.

LensMan999 from Trans-Neptunian region on January 22, 2011:

thank you mr jon green for writing this hub from your hub, I can get the basic knowledge to play piano. I do have piano but don’t to know how to play but now I will.

Hezekiah from Japan on January 18, 2011:

Very informative hub. I taught myself to play, by learning the scales, mainly jazz scales and I improvise on the related chords.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on January 06, 2011:

Thanks - my approach to guitar and piano is very much based on patterns, it really works for me - mainly because it saves so much time.

brittd80 on January 06, 2011:

Great Hub. I am a visual learner and you definitely have that base covered here.

Thanks

piano chord progressions on December 27, 2010:

I think you may be onto something with your method here

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on December 14, 2010:

Thanks, you're welcome.

fashionjewelry10 on December 14, 2010:

what a very useful page.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on December 09, 2010:

Thanks helene. I'm a big fan of weighted keys and pianos. Let me know if there is anything you want covered.

helene.bliss on December 08, 2010:

Great hub! I remember the first time I played the piano and now I'm thinking if I still have it.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on December 04, 2010:

Yes, I think that backwards approach works for a lot of people,myself included. Play it first and then see what it looks like.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on December 03, 2010:

My mother taught herself how to play by ear. Later, she learned to read music and play the "normal" way. Great hub!