How to practice piano chords

Written by carl hose
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Chords are the foundation of music. Piano teachers typically approach piano lessons by introducing chords early on and teaching students the fundamentals of building these chords. Learning how to build chords on piano and then practicing the chords is an effective way to increase your knowledge of the piano keyboard, music theory in general and your ability to play songs.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Piano or electronic keyboard
  • Basic piano chord chart
  • Basic piano scale chart

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  1. 1

    Build a C major chord beginning at middle C. Major chords are built using the first, third and fifth notes of the scale named after the chord you want to build. The notes in a C scale are C-D-E-F-G-A-B. The first, third and fifth notes of this scale are C-E-G. Those notes make up a C major chord. Play it and listen to accustom yourself to the way it sounds. Now flat the third note by bringing the finger on the E note back one key, which will be a black key. This makes the third note you play an E flat note. Flatting the third note of a major chord makes the chord minor. Play your minor chord and listen to the difference. You can make major and minor chords in any key using this same chord construction method. Practice building these chords in various keys. You can purchase a guide to all of the major and minor scales at a music store or find one online at no cost (see "Resources").

  2. 2

    Practice playing a one, four, five progression (I, IV, V) using the chords built on these degrees in every key. In the key of C, you will play a C chord, an F chord, a G chord and back to the root chord C. These chords represent the first, fourth, fifth and first chords of your C scale. You can play this progression in any key by using the same degrees. Pay attention to keeping your fingers (your first three fingers) in the same position as you switch between these chords. The idea is to be able to transition without stumbling over yourself. It takes practice, but the more you do it, the smoother you get.

  3. 3

    Vary where you play these chords on your piano. Since the 12 notes in music repeat, you can play scales and chords in several different positions. A standard piano has 88 keys and just over seven octaves. Use the entire keyboard. Practice the one, four, five progression by playing the first chord as low as you can, the fourth chord somewhere in the middle, and the last chord as high as you can. This will get you accustomed to moving around the keyboard.

  4. 4

    Try using chord inversions. An inversion is when you rearrange the order of the notes. The chord remains the same, but switching the order of the notes changes the sound of the chords slightly. Make a C chord in the normal way. Now remove your finger from the C and reach over your hand to play the next highest C on the piano. This gives you an inversion that starts with E. Instead of C-E-G the notes are E-G-C. This is a first inversion C. Play the two versions of a C chord and hear the difference. Move the E up to the next highest E and play the C and E together in the high position while the G remains in the original position. This is a second inversion and gives yet another sound.

  5. 5

    Double notes in your chords as you progress. Play a C note on the bass side of your piano and a C chord in the middle position. This is doubling the root, which reinforces the tonal centre. Doubling the third or fifth notes produces other tonal focus. You can also build extended chords by adding the seventh note of a scale to your major or minor chords to create seventh chords. Adding the ninth note of the scale, which is also the second note, produces a ninth chord. If you want a suspended chord, omit the third note of the scale in your chord construction and add the fourth. These constructions are the same in every key, so practice making them and playing chord progressions using your new chords.

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