Basic Chord Practice For The Piano

By: Jerry A. Greene

Question: Could you give me some ideas for how to learn and practice basic chords on the piano?

Answer: Practicing your basic chord structures on the piano is not overly difficult, when you use the visualization techniques described below.

Root Position Chords

The basic chords should first be learned in the root position. This means that the letter name of the chord is the bottom key being played. For example, a C Major chord has the notes C E G. Being played in this order gives you root position. The notes in this order:
E G C are the same C Major Chord, because they consist of the same tones, but they are considered to be in a "chord inversion". This one happens to be the first inversion of the C Major Chord. For right now, stick with the root position chords.

The 3 Flat Chords

Now when I say "flat", I don't mean flat as in sharp, or flat, but instead mean chords that have all white keys. They all feel the same to your hand. This concept makes more sense as you read the rest of this article. The visualization you can use for this is a straight line, or something laying flat. The chords that are played this way are:

  • C Major : C E G
  • F Major: F A C
  • G Major: G B D

The 3 Triangle Chords

These chords have your two outer fingers on a white key, but with the middle finger up on a sharp. Visualize a triangle:

  • D Major: D F# A
  • A Major: A C# E
  • E Major: E G# B

The 3 Upside-Down Triangle Chords

These chords feel like the opposite of the 3 triangle chords that we learned in the last example. They have the two outer fingers on sharps, but with the middle finger down on a white key. Visualize this as an upside-down triangle:

  • Db Major: Db F Ab
  • Ab Major: Ab C Eb
  • Eb Major: Eb G Bb

The 2 Tilted Chords

These two chords are sort of the oddballs of the group. In the first one: Bb Major, the bottom finger is up on the Bb with the other two fingers down on the white keys. The opposite is true for the B Major, where the bottom finger is down on the B and the other two are up on the Sharps:

  • Bb Major: Bb D F - Tilted down to the right
  • B Major: B D# F# - Tilted down to the left

The 1 All-Black Keys Chord

The one major chord that uses all black keys is the F# Major chord: Similar to the "flat" chords above, it feels like a straight line, but lifted up. Matter of fact, if you practice this one while going from the F Major Chord, to the F# Major and finally the G Major chord, you'll feel it is very easy to do, since the hand stays in the same "shape".

  • F# Major: F# A# C#

Practicing Your Basic Piano Chords

The first step is to learn each group of chords through the visualizations. Once you have them down, you will want to try these three exercises:

  • Set your metronome to a relatively slow tempo and play the C major scale, but in major chords. Go up the scale and down the scale. Gradually raise the tempo, each time you play it right, until you have no problem moving from chord to chord at a quick speed. Do this separate hands first, then both hands together.
  • Set your metronome to a slow tempo, as before, but this time only play the "black key chords" in this order: Db Eb F# Ab Bb Also do this exercise, going up and down the scale (which happens to be the Db Major Pentatonic) and do separate hands first, then both. Gradually raise the tempo on the metronome and see how well you do.
  • Set your metronome to a slow tempo once again and do a chromatic scale with the chords.

    This may take a lot of getting used to since you will be switching back and forth between all the different chord shapes, but once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature to you (muscle memory). Again, go up and down the scale, first separate hands, then together and gradually raise your tempo.