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How to Play Beginner Piano Chords

If you play guitar and would like to improve your music theory and songwriting skills, learn some basic piano—it really helps.

This article will teach you about chords and note naming with basic theory.

This article will teach you about chords and note naming with basic theory.

Keyboard and Piano Basics

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 articles, which explore these topics in greater detail.

You do not need to read music, the approach is based around patterns and visual methods of learning. Also, to get results very quickly, as that often determines whether someone perseveres with music or not!

Key of C

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

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.

Key of C on piano.

Key of C on piano.

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 article)—so you should now practice those chords together.

Using the Left Hand in Piano

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.

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Tips For Playing Intervals on Piano

  1. Learn the interval numbers as you go, it will really help you with music theory. So, in the key of C, C is note 1, F is 4, G is 5, etc.
  2. The chord progression C, F, G could be described as I, IV, V.
  3. Voice Leading: This concept involves moving the least number of notes possible as you change chords. Moving from C to Am7, just drop the lowest note from a C to an A.
  4. Try singing as you play the chords. You can maximise your musical development by singing through the scale, or pick an easy song with two chords, such as "Dance the Night Away" by The Mavericks. C and G7 will get you through that one!
  5. You could also train your voice by singing arpeggios of the chords, which is just playing the chord tones one at a time in sequence.
Playing intervals on piano in the key of C.

Playing intervals on piano in the key of C.


Intervals are an essential part of music theory:

  1. If you look at the intervals chart, you can see each note is numbered. So a major chord has the notes 1, 3, and 5.
  2. Any minor chord has the notes 1, flat 3 and 5.
  3. The only difference between major and minor chords is the 3rd.
  4. As a general rule, major chord = happy, minor chord = sad.

Selecting Songs

You can find an almost infinite number of songs, with chords, at 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 article on that if there is any interest. Some of my other articles 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.

Further Reading

  • Learn Piano Chords
    My other article, which reinforces and expands on this information. It's using a visual style of learning and recognising patterns to save time.
  • The Virtual Piano:
    An online piano keyboard that allows you to play piano without traditional sheet music. Aspiring musicians simply follow along by pressing the keys on your keyboard.


Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on September 18, 2011:

Thanks nightflight.

nightflight9 from Scandinavia on July 06, 2011:

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

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on April 21, 2011:

Thanks Ingenira - will check out your hubs!

Ingenira on April 20, 2011:

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

How To Learn Piano Fast on February 20, 2011:

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 (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on January 06, 2011:

Thanks Hezekiah, all the best with your playing.

Hezekiah from Japan on January 06, 2011:

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.

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