When starting to learn the piano, you have likely come across sheet music and chords. Mastering these may seem daunting at first, and for good reason! Learning music is complex, but once started, it is incredibly rewarding. Let’s brush up on our understanding of piano chords and why they are so important to learn. 

What is a chord?

If you’re already familiar with music, you’re likely familiar with chords, which are no more complex than a conjecture of two or more notes that are played in sync. There are 88 standard keys on a piano. Within those 88 keys, there are twelve unique tones which we refer to as the chromatic scale. After each interval of twelve tones, they repeat themselves. 

Chords commonly used in western music can be categorized as major chords or minor chords.

Major and Minor Chords

Major and minor chords, in their entirety, are a conjecture of three tones. The first one is called the “root”, the second is known as the “third”, and the third is known as the “fifth.” It is important to note that all chords are named after the root or the first chord. 

Let’s say you’re taking a lesson, and your instructor asks you to play a song beginning in C major. That makes “C” the root of the chord (it’s also helpful to note that the root will always be denoted by a capital letter). 

The second tone or the third is deemed the middle note. The third tone is the most crucial of them all; this is where it is determined if the note is a major or minor. Simply put, a major chord evokes happiness and passion, whereas a minor note introduces sadness or darkness to a piece. In a major third, the distance between the root note and major third is four semitones. The distance between a minor third and a root note is just three semitones from the root note.

Simply put, a beginner pianist can easily locate the minor third by adding one black key and one white key in between. 

Now that we’ve unpacked the two constituents of a chord, we’ll help you understand the third aspect, also known as the “fifth.” The fifth plays a vital role in making the chord complete and adds serious weight to the sound. 

Generally, the major or minor chord is seven semitones away from the root note. One can easily calculate by counting three black keys and three white keys in between the major/minor fifth and the very root note. 

When asked to play a minor piano chord, the “third” will be the adjacent left black key, and the rest of all the aspects will remain the same. The difference between the three semitones can be heard between the root note and the third. At the same time, a difference of four semitones is noticed between the third and the fifth note. 

Piano Chords

Reading Diminished & Augmented Chords

A diminished chord is known to add a remarkable feeling of ominousness when played in a melody. On the other hand, an augmented chord is known to add a tinge of surrealness and bizarreness. So, when looking to add dimension to a song, a player will look to the fifth. 

Hence, any tweaks on the fifth can add a different dimension to the said song. 

Let us first discuss augmented chords. The “fifth” for the augmented chord lies eight semitones away from the root note. However, the “fifth” is only six semitones away from the root note in the diminished chord. 

Reading D Minor and E Minor Chords

The next step is understanding other minor notes, such as D and E. D lies on the right of C, or, simply put, the D chord will be the following white key to C. 

When you move toward the right of the piano, the pitch will start getting higher, and if you move toward the left of the piano, the pitch will deepen.

To play D minor, put your first finger on the root note or D. Your third finger or the “third” should be placed on the F note, which to notice is three semitones away from the root note. Your fifth finger or the “fifth” should be pressing A, which again to notice is four semitones away from the “third” and seven notes away from the “root.” 

E minor is a pitch higher than both D and C and is the following right white key from D. If you move three semitones from the root note, you’ll come on G- that’ll be your third. While if you move four semitones from G, you’ll arrive at the fifth.

In a similar fashion, one can progress onto playing F minor, G minor, A minor, B minor, and other major notes. 

We’re confident that you are ready to begin mastering the piano chords. Now, you don’t need to tackle all of these at once. Learn a few notations, master them, then continue your learning process. Soon enough, you’ll be ready to play songs without having to give too much thought to the notation. 
Check out BYJUs FutureSchool to sign up for a FREE trial class with a dedicated music instructor in a live 1:1 setting. You can also read more music resources on the BYJU’S FutureSchool blog.

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