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Understanding Piano Chords

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The Building Blocks of Piano Music

Once you have learned the notes on a keyboard, it is time to learn the basics of piano chords. Chords are the backbone of every piece of piano music (indeed, ANY type of western music). Piano chords are fairly easy to learn and understand, especially in comparison to other instruments. This article will tell you all you need to know about basic piano chords.

What is a Chord?

Put very simply, a chord is a series of notes that sound good together. Most people think of these notes being played in unison, but it can also be a repeating series of notes as well. Typically chords are made up of 3 notes. (They can have more, but we will keep things simple here.)

Chords are named after the root, or bottom note of the chord. For example, a C chord (typically, the one most pianists learn first) consists of the notes C, E, and G. It is considered a simple chord, meaning that it has no sharp or flat notes. F and G are also simple chords.

What is a Key?

We are not talking about the physical keys of the piano in this instance. We are talking about the opening (or root) chord in a series of chords making up a piece of music. In the same way that a chord is a series of notes that sound good together, the chords typically used in a given key sound good when played in a progression. For example, the chords commonly used in the key of C are C, F, G and Am.

How It Breaks Down

For the sake of simplicity, we are going to stick to basic major and minor keys and chords. Once these are mastered, it is a very simple progression to move on to more complex chords. We will start with common keys, and then show you the chords used in these keys.

Key: C

Basic piano chords in the key of C: C F G Am

Notes of the C chord: C E G

Notes of the F chord: F A C

Notes of the G chord: G B D

Notes of the Am chord: A C E


Key: D

Chords in the key of D: D G A Bm

Notes of the D chord: D F# A

Notes of the G chord: G B D

Notes of the A chord: A C# E

Notes of the Bm chord: B D F#


Key: F

Basic piano chords in the key of F: F Bb C Dm

Notes of the F chord: F A C

Notes of the Bb chord: Bb D F

Notes of the C chord: C E G

Notes of the Dm chord: D F A


Key: G

Chords in the key of G: G C D Em

Notes of the G chord: G B D

Notes of the C chord: C E G

Notes of the D chord: D F# A

Notes of the Em chord: E G B


Key: A

Easy piano chords in the key of A: A D E F#m

Notes of the A chord: A C# E

Notes of the D chord: D F# A

Notes of the E chord: E G# B

Notes of the F#m chord: F# A C#


Key: E

Chords in the key of E: E A B C#m

Notes of the E chord: E G# B

Notes of the A chord: A C# E

Notes of the B chord: B D# F#

Notes of the C#m chord: C# E G#

Did You Notice?

All the major keys use the root, third, and fifth notes of the major scale. All of the minor keys use the root, flat third, and fifth of the major scale. Can you find some other patterns? Discovering these will help you remember each key and become a more proficient player.

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