Introduction: How to Play the Major Chords on the Piano
What is a Chord?
A chord is three or more notes (or keys) on a piano being pressed down at the same time. Before learning how to play the major chords on a piano it is important that you know the keys of a piano and their “names” or “labels”. The white keys are in the key of C and “natural” keys without any sharps or flats. Sharps = # and Flats=b. With that being said the black keys are called accidentals which contain the sharps and flats. Beginning with your thumb on middle C the white keys go as follows: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C (repeating throughout the whole piano). The black keys go C#(Db), D#(Eb), F#(Gb), G#(Ab), A#(Bb). Although middle C is hard to see on the image above, it is the first C in the middle of a piano (typically where the name or brand of the piano is printed). To play a chord you always use your thumb, middle finger, and pinky. Major chords have a specific set of notes that need to be used in order to play it correctly: the root (0), major third (which is 4 semitones above the root), and finally the fifth which makes the chord complete and it is 7 semitones above the root.
Half Steps and Whole Steps
The concept of half steps and whole steps is another important thing to know before you begin playing. Each note is a fixed distance from the next and they form a repeating pattern: (whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half). The distance between the first two notes of a major scale is a whole step (for example, the distance between A and B) because there is a note between them, meaning they are consisted of two half steps. An example of a half step is the distance between B and C (two white keys) because there are no other notes that fall between them.
Above is an image of the keys listed along with the name of their note. Use this reference later if you have any trouble trying to play any of the chords. Above, I have also included a keyboard with numbers if it is easier for some to learn that way instead of with notes. I apologize in advance if in some of the pictures it is hard to see where my fingers are placed or if they look awkward. I was really trying to emphasize the fact that you only use your thumb, middle finger, and pinky...not your index and ring fingers. In every picture below my left hand is shown first, and then my right. Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture with the accidentals (black keys) labeled, so when I have the keys labeled below with numbers, it is only for the white keys, in other words keys that don't have # or b next to them (ex. for you right hand; 1 (thumb)=C key, 3 (middle)=E key, ect..). Instead of going 1-12 like the picture labeled above, I began C as 1 and B as 7, and then the next C following is back at 1 again. I tried my best to make it as clear as possible.
Step 1: C Major Chord
C major is the most basic and simplest chord to play. Since it is a C chord, the "root" (where your thumb for you right hand, and pinky for the left goes) is on the note C. Begin with both hands in the middle of the piano with the thumb of your right hand on middle C, and the pinky of your left hand on the C (7 keys to the left) of where the thumb of your right hand is on middle C). For your left hand your 1st finger (pinky) goes on C(1), 3rd finger (middle) on E(3), and 5th finger (thumb) on G(5). Then move to your right hand which should be two keys past where the thumb of your left hand is on C. For your right hand your 1st finger (thumb) goes on C(1), 3rd finger (middle) on E(3), and 5th finger (pinky) on G(5). Don't forget about the semitones. C-(0), E-Major third (4), G-fifth (7). Before starting a new chord, always make sure your hands come back to this position (Middle C).
Step 2: Db (D Flat Major Chord)
Next, we will learn how to play Db Major. This chord uses both the white and black keys so if you have any trouble take a look at the figure of the labeled keys above in the introduction. For you left hand the start with your pinky on the root Db (D flat), middle finger on E(3) and your thumb on Ab (A flat). Switching over to your right hand your 1st finger (thumb) should be on C# (C sharp), 3rd (middle) on F(3), and 5th (pinky) on G# (G sharp).
Step 3: D Major Chord
In order to play a D major chord with your left hand your pinky should be placed on D(2), middle on F#, and thumb on A(6). To play this chord with your right hand your thumb goes on D(2), middle finger on F#, and pinky on A(6).
Step 4: Eb (E Sharp Major Chord)
Next is the Eb chord. To play this chord begin with the pinky of your left hand on D#, middle on G(5), and thumb on A#. For your right hand your thumb should be placed on D#, your middle finger on G(5), and your pinky on A#.
Step 5: E Major Chord
The fingering for the left hand E chord is as follows: your pinky on E(3), middle finger on G#, and your thumb on B(7). For your right hand, your thumb should be placed on E(3), middle finger on G#, and pinky on B(7).
Step 6: F Major Chord
To play the F major chord starting with your left hand, place your pink on F(4), middle finger on A(6), and thumb on C(1). For your right hand, your thumb presses F(4), middle A(6), and pinky C(1).
Step 7: F# (F Sharp Major Chord)
The next chord is F# chord, it is very similar to F major. However, unlike the F chord it is only played with black keys. The fingering for your left hand should be as follows: Your pinky should be on Gb (G flat), middle on Bb (B flat), and finally your thumb (5) on Db. For your right hand, your first finger goes on Gb, middle on Bb, and fifth on Db.
Step 8: G Major
The fingering for the G major chord is as follows: beginning with your left pinky on G(5), move to your middle on B(7), and end with your thumb on D(2). For your right hand begin with your thumb on G(5), middle on B(7), and pinky on D(2).
Step 9: Ab (A Flat Major Chord)
Ab major chord is played by beginning with your left hand pinky on G#, your middle finger pressing C(1), and your thumb on D#. Your right thumb should start on G#, middle finger on C(1), and pinky on D#.
Step 10: A Major Chord
Next, we will learn how to play the A major chord. For your left hand your first finger (pinky) goes on A(6), third (middle finger) on C#, and fifth (thumb) on E(3). Moving to your right hand your thumb should be pressing A(6) middle pressing C#, and your pinky pressing E(3).
Step 11: Bb (B Flat Major Chord)
In order to play the Bb chord your left pinky (1st finger) should be placed on A#, middle (3rd finger) on D(2), and your thumb (5th finger) on F(4). For your right hand, begin with your thumb (1) on A#, followed by your middle on D(2), and pinky on F (4).
Step 12: B Major Chord
Last but not least...B Major! Your left hand fingering should be as follows: Your first finger (pinky) on B(7), third finger (middle) on D#, and your fifth finger (thumb) on F#. For your right hand B major is played with your thumb (1st) on B(7), middle finger (3rd) on D#, and pinky (5th) on F#.
Step 13: Side Notes/ Conclusion
Whew! Congrats you made it through! I know that learning how to play the major chords of the piano can be tough, especially if you’re new to the instrument. My best advice to you is practice, practice, practice! It’s the only way you’ll get better. Once you get the hang of it try playing all 12 chords in chromatic order starting with C major and ending with B major. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t fully understand the concept of chords, or how to read notes at first, that’s why I included pictures! Remember to keep on practicing, good luck!
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