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Learn to Play Major Piano Chords

learning major chordsThe slight misnomer attached to the names major and minor in music make it seem like anything having to do with a major scale or chord is more important.

Although this is of course not the case, musicians have to admit there is something special about major chords that make us happy: they are the more optimistic sounding chords, they are usually the first chord sets we learn, and many of our favorite songs are composed in these keys.

However, many beginning piano players find learning major chords on piano a confusing art.

The secret to learning major chords on piano lies in knowing what makes a major chord different from a minor chord. The answer is the 3rd. Picture yourself playing a C major chord: C, E, and G. How do you transform this major chord into a C minor chord? Simply by changing E to E flat.

That’s right – C and G stay exactly the same. The 3rd is the single note that distinguishes a major chord from a minor. This means that to play a major chord, the 3rd is exactly two whole steps away from the root; that means that all major chords have the same number of notes between the root and 3rd as the C and E keys share between one another. So no matter which major chord you want to play, as long as you play the root, the fifth, and the correct 3rd, you will have a major chord.

Try this out for yourself: randomly put your right hand thumb on a key and let your fingers lay naturally on the other adjacent keys. Let’s say you put your thumb on the E and your pinky on the B. Now how do you play the major 3rd note? Simply count two whole steps from the root.

how to play piano chords

performing on stageDid you land on G#? You should have. Experiment with sound now by first playing this major chord: E, G#, B. Then switch to the minor chord: E, G, B. Hear the difference? Practice this on multiple random notes all over the piano and train your ears and fingers to recognize the difference between the major and minor chords.  

Now, this sort of random experimentation will prove useful, but the best way to truly learn your major chords comes from repetitively reinforcing your understanding through study and practice. You were wishing you read something differently, right? Of course, there’s no true substitute for the type of practice required to make your mind and fingers truly master this knowledge.

Because each octave hosts twelve different black and white keys, there are twelve different major chords to learn. Each chord has exactly the same structure as described above, just beginning on different root notes. One other way of understanding major chords is taking note of their other patterns and structural similarities. The C, F, and G triads have only white notes.

Chords with a black key bookcased by two white keys include D, E, and A. The Oreo chords – or chords with two black keys surrounding a white – are C#, Eb, and Ab. Finally, the remaining chords F#, B, and Bb.

Major chords on piano sound pleasant and serve as the foundations for students’ understanding chord structure, whole and half steps, and the importance of that critical 3rd in chords. With the right amount of focus and repetition, learning to quickly and conveniently play these chords will become as easy as learning that major and minor chords are actually equally important.

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