ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Piano/Keyboard chords

Updated on February 20, 2012

Theory Overview

This is a short introduction to music theory useful to jazz, rock, pop musicians on any instrument or voice - and helpful if you compose or improvise music. Although we'll be looking at the piano keyboard, most of this approach works equally well on guitar or bass. My other hubs on piano chords have photos of the chords if you are more of a visual learner. For me, it's been much easier to learn piano through patterns and memorizing chord shapes, and I actually find reading music fairly unpleasant.

I have bought loads of music theory books - some of them are great, but it's so hard to stay focused on the material, which gets close to maths a lot of the time. Classical theory will make you lose the will to live. Should you wish to pursue this, it's easy to find on the internet - but all you really need to know is harmonised scales and the cycle of fifths in my opinion. Certainly, that is the practical and relevant stuff.

If you play guitar or bass, I would strongly advise you to get some basic keyboard knowledge. It can be very easy to transfer guitar and keyboard ideas from one instrument to another, and the underlying theory is easier to see on keyboard.

Guitarists and bass players will probably gain a lot from seeing how chord inversions work, which is much easier on the piano. For instance, a D chord (consisting of D,F# and A) can sound a lot better with an F# bass note underneath, or an A bass note.






Chords and harmony

If you look at some songs from a Beatles songbook, or at chordie.com for example, you will see the same combinations of chords are used again and again, because they fit well together and support the melody in a logical/ predictable manner. Even if you go back to the 1930s, much of the material is what we're using today, and was used by the greats of modern pop music throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

A key, or tonal centre, is usually established by the first and last chord of a song. So if the key is C (first and last chord will usually be a C) you can use these notes: C D E F G A B C

with these chords:Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, Bm7b5. Cmaj7.

Each chord is built on a note of the major scale. You could use just plain major and minor chords, but these sound more inspiring. For reference: Cmaj7 contains the notes C, E, G, B. To play this chord on piano it's play one, miss one on the white notes only. All the other chords are the same pattern, moving up one step at a time, to your right. If this needs more explanation, please check out my other hubs. When you can play this sequence in your right hand, add a bass note with your left, one octave down. An octave is eight notes. 

Using the chords - I'd recommend just using any three chords together, ending on a C chord. For instance, Dm7 G7 Cmaj7- which is a strong sequence. In your left hand add the bass note of the chord.

 

 

 

 

Piano chords

Practical uses

If you number each chord with Roman numerals - chords I, IV, V would be C, F, G7. These chords are the building blocks of all those songs from the 1950s and the early days of rock n'roll, often extended to C Am F G7 sequences. Still all you need to write simple songs, especially if you fit them into regular 8-bar patterns.

Improvise over the top with C D E F G A B C, or even easier, a pentatonic scale like A C D E G A. Then try cautiously adding some of the other chords now and then.

Using different keys

Now the good news - the intervals between all the notes and chords, or the distances between them, are just the same for all the other keys - they just start at a different pitch. So in the key of D we find:

Dmaj7, Em7, F#m7, Gmaj7, A7, Bm7, C#m7b5, Dmaj7

and the major scale is D E F# G A B C# D. Everything is the same, but moved up 2 frets or 2 notes on the piano

More handy stuff

The cycle of fifths contains a lot of essential information. Look up my hub Music theory- The Cycle of Fifths.

Looking at C for example, the adjacent points are F and G, giving you the I, IV, V chords in any key. The very common ii V I sequence is found by going anti-clockwise, three steps. In every key the ii chord is minor, the V chord is a 7th, the I chord is major. In this key Dm7, G7, C. All other keys work the same way. In jazz, a common progression is a minor ii V I or Dm7b5, G7, Cm7 which you can transfer to all other keys in the same way. In another key it would be using E, A, D to give you the chords Em7b5, A7, Dm7. Again, you are going three steps around the circle. Four-step sequences are also very common, and sound great. For instance, Am, D7, Gmaj7, Cmaj7.

Do I need the whole cycle? Not really. Up to 4 flats and 4 sharps will do. This is as far as E in one direction and Ab in the other.

My new hub Guitar- advanced and jazz contains chord pictures and a lot more info on applications of this.

Another recommended hub is by nvsongwriter on the nashville number system.

Doing your homework

If you find any of this info useful or interesting, check out Tom Kolb's book on theory on the link below. It's very good value, and well written. Although guitar-centric I think many keyboard players would welcome the clear and practical approach. It includes a CD, which is a real bonus.

Naming the notes

On any instrument the note names follow the same sequence:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B (with sharp names)

C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B (flat names)

So F# and Gb are the same notes. Depending on the key signature you call them one thing or the other. Classical musicians might know this as "enharmonic equivalence" - let's just call them "the same bleedin notes".

Guitar players would learn this sequence starting on the E as strings 1 and 6 are tuned to E, it makes it all easier. Just remember there is no extra note between E. F and B, C. All the others have them. On piano, this is easy to see because there is no black note between the two notes.

If you play the sequence of notes above, you are playing what is called the Chromatic scale. In the real world, you'd only use short sections of this, because it doesn't sound that great. A chromatic run of C, B, Bb, A for example is really common in jazz from the 1920s-1940s.


Chord Inversions

In some of my other hubs this is discussed in detail. Very briefly:

A C chord is c,e,g (play one, miss one on the piano keyboard) Normally the C or tonic note of the chord is at the bottom, the lowest note in the chord - but you can use any of the three notes as the bass note, giving you inversions of the chord. Try playing the same chord over an E bass or G bass note and it can make the chord progression sound much better.

Play C, C/E (C over an E bass note) F - a bit like the Penny Lane chorus!

Some of The Kinks songs as well as those by the Beach Boys make great use of this idea.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      6 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi- try to get your kids to transfer chords from piano to guitar, it'll help a lot with music theory.

    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 

      6 years ago from San Jose, California

      Very useful hub! My kids are taking piano lessons. We have two guitars in the house and no one know how to play them. I will go check out your hubs about how to play guitars if you have any. Thank you for sharing! :)

    • profile image

      Garzon 

      6 years ago

      I use chordie all the time, great site, great info:

      http://www.killerstartups.com/review/chordie-com-g...

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi John - you're welcome. You can e-mail any questions too.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub. Thanks for posting

    • profile image

      online piano course 

      7 years ago

      I just enrolled in a piano class. I really wanted to learn and play piano. I want to thank you for posting this kind of article. This will really help a lot of beginners in piano just like me.

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi Pamela - I teach guitar but I'm always encouraging students to play piano too, it's very important.

    • Joyful Pamela profile image

      Joyful Pamela 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Hi ~ I teach piano and woodwinds. I think anyone to wants to play any other instrument or sing should learn about all the music basics from piano. It is the easiest way to learn about fundamental music theory. Thanks for the article.

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks - although I mainly play guitar, I think all musicians should study the piano if they really want to make progress.

    • profile image

      piano internet course 

      8 years ago

      Hi--I love your blog. I'm so glad you are creating a resources page. What a great idea!Its designed to be used in private piano lessons. I would love it if you added it to your resources page, as music history is something many music teachers find important.

    • profile image

      School of Rock Keyboard 

      9 years ago

      Nice article. Expecting more blogs from you.

    • Jon Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Jon Green 

      9 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi Joe - thanks a lot for your comments. Will check out your hubs - nashville number system is really good. It makes conventional classical music theory look very cumbersome.

      You might find Dave Stewart's books interesting - there are links on some of my hubs. They cost next to nothing and are full of good info.

      Cheers, Jon Green

    • profile image

      Joe Russ 

      9 years ago from Kill Devill Hills, NC

      Jon,

      Reading your article here I began to feel like I wrote it. You and I think the same way on several issues. First, I too, teach theory using a piano keyboard. It is so much more visual and easier to remember the chord formations than on a guitar fretboard. I also use numbers, the Nashville Number System to be more specific. I spent 12 years in Nashville and couldn't have worked there if I didn't know it.

      I enjoyed your page. It's the 2nd one I've read. Good work. I have several I've published if you are interested. I just finished one called Songwriting-Nashville Style and I have a guitar lesson series called Guitar Lessons That Don't Suck, plus one on Online Guitar Lessons. I'll look for more of your articles. Have a great day!

      Joe

    • Britneys Fan Club profile image

      Britneys Fan Club 

      9 years ago

      Hi there Yeah music makes my world go round its what i need every day to lift up my mood and soul :))

      like your hub its very informativ

      pls come by visit my music hub as well

      greetz c ya soon ;)

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)