Piano Chords for Beginners

Updated on February 9, 2018

Key of C

This article includes a keyboard and piano lesson for beginners. The goal is to teach you a little about chords and note naming with basic theory. If you enjoy this article, feel free to read my other hubs, which explore these topics in greater detail.

Here are the notes of a C major scale;

C D E F G A B C - following the alphabet, but starting on C instead of A. They are all white notes.

  • If you play the first three, then swing your thumb underneath to do the other notes, it's good fingering practice.
  • Use you right hand only, and say the names of the notes as you play them. D is the note enclosed by two black notes.

Notes on the piano keyboard

Notes on the piano keyboard

These follow the alphabet, from A up to G, on the white notes,then it all starts again.

Flats and sharps are named on the black notes, you'll notice that each black note has two names. Why not use more letters from the alphabet instead? - it would make it too simple and logical!

This is how it works: up one step from C is C sharp.(The black note) This could also be named D flat, one step down from D. Similarly, all the black notes have two alternative names.

Playing Chords

  • Play C E G (play one, miss one pattern)
  • That's a C chord, it's colour-coded in red.
  • Move everything to the right one step = D minor or Dm, it's in green.
  • Continue up one step = Em
  • Then F
  • Then G
  • Then Am (notes should be A, C, E)
  • Then B dim
  • Then you are back at C again, and the whole sequence starts again.
  • Those are the diatonic chords in C, or the harmonised scale of C. Using just these chords you can play literally thousands of songs. The most common chords are C, F and G or G7 (we'll look at 7 chords in the next hub) -so you should now practice those chords together.

Tea break

Ok, we have now learned seven different chords, have a nice cup of tea with some special biscuits, maybe Scottish shortbread. Get on the phone and order that Steinway now.

Left hand

Now, using your left hand, play a low C note as you hit the C chord with your right hand. Find the next C down in pitch, that is, to the left. The chord should now sound nice and full. Repeat this process with all the chords, which are:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C

So Dm has a D note in your left hand, Em has an E note, etc. Notice that your hands are moving parallel to each other.

If you had a third hand you could now play tunes with the notes of the C major scale over the top of these chords - failing that, just sing the notes. When you are more familiar with the chords, you could try playing the chord in your left hand, and using your right hand to play the single notes of a melody on top.

Next diagram - intervals on the piano keyboard. A full explanation is on my other hub, entitled Music Theory Basics.

Intervals and note naming

Selecting songs

You can find an almost infinite numbers of songs, with chords, at chordie.com. Using the transpose (key change) function, you can make them all playable in the key of C. Keep it simple though, you want to try songs that use a maximum of four chords. This is not such a big limitation as you might think, because many country songs such as Hank Williams tunes, Dylan songs etc only use four chords. When The Saints Go Marchin' In is a good one to start with, and I'll do another hub on that if there is any interest. Some of my other hubs about guitar could be useful, as they have chords for simple songs.

Practice in short bursts, even ten minutes is fine, repeated as often as you can. Remember that you are partly building up strength in your fingers, which is why playing every day is a must.

Buying a keyboard

A real piano is nice, but for learning you could try a USB keyboard hooked up to your computer, which are really inexpensive and give you access to recording software technology.

Digital keyboards and digital pianos are like pianos, but use electronic sounds rather than acoustic sounds. Due to the fickle nature of children and music lessons, you can find some amazing bargains secondhand! Yamaha, Casio and Roland are all reliable makes and outdated sounds are not really an issue, as MIDI means you can update and improve the sounds of an older keyboard.

If you are smug enough to own a Mac, you can simply connect it to a USB music keyboard and use the free Garageband software to record your piano parts, along with funky drum loops and hundreds of great sounds.

Garageband is part of the i-Life package, though a lot of people don't seem to notice that they have it! Strange, as it's one of the best reasons for owning a Mac.

Questions & Answers


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      • Jon Green profile image

        Jon Green 6 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

        Thanks nightflight.

      • nightflight9 profile image

        nightflight9 6 years ago from Scandinavia

        Good job!. helping others to play is priceless! keep it up :D

      • Jon Green profile image

        Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

        Thanks Ingenira - will check out your hubs!

      • Ingenira profile image

        Ingenira 7 years ago

        Very cool hub to teach beginner about piano playing... I love the "tea break" thing in between.... :)

      • profile image

        How To Learn Piano Fast 7 years ago

        Mr. Green,

        I think this is a great hub you have here (did you draw those pictures yourself?. Now for those that are new how you suggest they go about building melody lines around chords they have played? Or better yet how would you go about building chords around melodies that you have put together? Lets say someone ewas messing around on the keyboard can up with a nice melody line.. how would they find the key of the melody so that they could start build chords around?

      • Jon Green profile image

        Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

        Thanks Hezekiah, all the best with your playing.

      • Hezekiah profile image

        Hezekiah 7 years ago from Japan

        Nice HUB, I have very little music theory but somehow I can play some of the Jazz scales/chords in mainly Db/Eb/B/Bb. Mainly from watching neat finger tricks movements.