There are many chords that you can play on the piano, and mastering them all may discourage new students. The good news is, after learning just a few of the most basic chords, you’ll be on your way to playing numerous famous piano songs and enjoying your journey on the piano.
For all you beginners, the notes are the individual white and black keys you see on the piano or a keyboard. Chords are groups of three or more notes that you play at the same time. When you play chords in a series, you create chord progressions.
Chords on the piano typically accompany a melody of some kind. In most cases, your left hand will play the chords, while your right hand will play the melody. It will be essential to learn to play these chords with either hand, but you can begin learning by first using your left hand to grasp these basic chords.
Songs use several chord progressions, and many of them use basic major and minor chords. Once you’ve grasped a few of the basic chords, you can begin playing easy songs on piano, and even writing your own songs.
There are two groups of basic chords: major chords and minor chords.
As a note, you can practice any of the chords mentioned below on our online piano keyboard, too!
- Root Note
- Major 3rd
- Perfect 5th
All major chords contain three notes from a major scale. When you play the root note, the third note, and the fifth note of a major scale, you create a major chord.
The root note for any chord is the letter that gives the chord its letter name. The major third of the chord is two whole steps above the root. Finally, the fifth is the note one whole step and half-step above the major third.
If you know the name of the chord you want to play and know the other notes in the scale, you can find the root, major third, and fifth to figure out how to play that chord on the piano.
Let’s say we want to play a C major chord.
In the C major scale, the notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, and the last note is B. We can look at this scale and see that the root or first note of the scale is C, the third note is E, and the fifth note is G.
C Major Chord
- Root: C (Pinky)
- Major 3rd: E (Middle)
- Perfect 5th: G (Thumb)
Now, you can find those notes on the piano and play them together. Find a C note on the piano and keep the pinky of your left hand on it. Then, look two whole steps higher to find E and put your middle finger there. Finally, look one whole step and a half-step above E to find G. Use your thumb.
Play the chord with your pinky, middle, and thumb to play a C major chord.
With time, you will memorize how to position your hands for different chords to develop muscle memory, but you can follow this method if you’re learning how to play a new major chord.
- Root Note
- Minor 3rd
- Perfect 5th
Minor chords work similarly to major chords because all minor chords use the same three notes, but these notes come from a minor scale.
The root note is the first note of the scale, where the chord gets its name. The chord’s minor third is one whole step and one half-step above the root. Then, if you go two whole steps above the minor third, you’ll find the fifth of the chord.
If you know the minor chord’s name and know the notes of the minor scale for that chord, you can find out how to play it on the piano.
Let’s use the example of A minor.
The A minor scale is A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. So, we take the root (or first note), the third note, and the fifth note of this scale to make the minor chord.
A Minor Chord
- Root Note: A (Pinky)
- Minor 3rd: C (Middle)
- Perfect 5th: E (Thumb)
On the piano, find an A note and keep your pinky over it. Look one whole step and a half-step higher than A to find C where your middle finger goes. Then, look two whole steps higher than E to find E, where you will put your thumb. Play all three notes with those fingers to create an A minor chord.
The 13 basic piano chords you will learn are in smaller groups according to their key signatures. These keys are C major, D major, and E major. After learning these 13 piano chords for beginners, you will see how you can use just a small group of chords to play many kinds of songs.
Key of C Major
C major has the first five basic piano chords.
The key of C major is one of the easiest keys to begin learning the piano. There are no sharps or flats in this key, so all the basic major and minor chords in this key contain only the white keys on the piano.
The most important chords to learn in every major key are the I, IV, V, and VI, or the first, fourth, fifth, and sixth chords. That is because these chords are most commonly used in chord progressions.
In C major’s case, those chords are C major, F major, G major, and A minor.
1. C Major (I)
- Root: C
- Major 3rd: E
- Perfect 5th: G
2. F Major (IV)
- Root: F
- Major 3rd: A
- Perfect 5th: C
3. G Major (V)
- Root: G
- Major 3rd: B
- Perfect 5th: D
4. A Minor (VI)
- Root: A
- Minor 3rd: C
- Perfect 5th: E
5. D Minor (II)
- Root: D
- Minor 3rd: F
- Perfect 5th A
Practicing Chord Progressions in C Major
After you learn how to play each of these chords individually, you can begin to practice moving from one chord to another so you can start playing basic piano chord progressions.
For C major’s key, you can begin alternating between the positions for C major and then F major to begin. Play C major, then play F major and then go back to C major. Soon your hand will learn how to get your fingers in place quickly with each chord.
You then can move on to practicing three-chord and four-chord progressions that are typical in songs. Mastering these will help you grasp and apply beginner piano chords.
C major Chord Progressions
- C major, G major, A minor, F major
- C major, F major, A minor, G major
- A minor, C major, F major, G major
- C major, D minor, F major, G major
Many songs will use these chord progressions or small variations of them. When you have these down, you will recognize these common chord patterns in the music you learn.
Key of D Major
D major has five more basic piano chords for you to learn on the piano.
The key of D major has two sharps, F#, and C#. This means you need the black keys one-half-step about the notes F and C to play the chords in this key.
The G major chord you learned in the C major key is also in the D major key. So, you can use the G major chord in chord progressions that are in D major. While not all chords are transferable between keys, some specific chords are.
Like other major keys, the most important chords to learn are the I, IV, V, and VI chords for learning songs. For D major, these chords are D major, G major, A major, and B minor.
6. D Major (I)
Major 3rd: F#
Perfect 5th: A
7. A Major (V)
Major 3rd: C#
Perfect 5th: E
8. B Minor (VI)
Minor 3rd: D
Perfect 5th: F#
9. E Minor (II)
Minor 3rd: G
Perfect 5th: B
10. F# Minor (III)
Minor 3rd: A
Perfect 5th: C#
Practicing Chord Progressions in D Major
Just like you did with the C major key, you can begin practicing chord progressions after you grasp each chord individually. The more challenging chords in this key will be the chords that contain the new black keys. Pay particular attention to D, A, B minor, and F# minor when you practice.
To begin learning chord progressions, start again by switching between two chords in the key. You can start with the D major chord and practice alternating to A major and back again.
D Major Chord Progressions
- D major, A major, B minor, G major
- B minor, A major, D major, G major
- E minor, A major, D major, G major
- F# minor, A major, F# minor, D major
You can begin to create your combinations for chord progressions as you practice and master these sequences.
Key of E Major
There are three piano chords for beginners in the Key of E major.
E major contains two more sharps than D major. The sharps in this key are F#, C#, G#, and D#. You will need the black keys one half-step above G and D to play chords in this Key.
The A major chord from the D major key is also in the key of E major as the IV chord. Along with A major, the most important chords to learn are E major, B major, and C# minor.
11. E Major (I)
Major 3rd: G#
Perfect 5th: B
12. B Major (V)
Major 3rd: D#
Perfect 5th: F#
13. C# Minor (VI)
Minor 3rd: E
Perfect 5th: G#
Practicing Chord Progressions in E Major
Many of the E major chords contain several black keys, which can take some getting used to. Both the D and E keys will help you become comfortable using the black notes with the piano’s white notes.
E Major Chord Progressions
- E major, B major, C# minor, A major
- E major, C# minor, B major, A major
- C# minor, A major, B major, E major
- A major, E major, C# minor, B major
Both D and E major keys will help you get comfortable using the white and black keys on the piano together. After mastering the chords in E, you can now play 13 beginner piano chords.
Between the C major and D major keys is the key of G major. Between D major and E major keys is the A major key. Both of the keys G and A use chords that you already know but have unique chord progressions.
Key of G Major
G major has one sharp, F#. To play in this key, most of the notes are the same as C major except for F. G major utilizes chords from both C major and D major in it so you can practice different chord progressions.
In G major, the four chords to master playing together are G major, C major, D major, and E minor.
G major Chord Progressions
- G major, D major, E minor, C major
- E minor, C major, A minor, G major
- G major, C major, D major, C major
- G major, E minor, B minor, D major
Since you already know these chords, you can easily practice using these chords in common progressions.
Key of A Major
A major has three sharps. These are F#, C#, and G#. Inside A major are also chords that you already know. The most important chords in this key are A major, D major, E major, and F# minor.
A Major Chord Progressions
- A major, E major, F# minor, D major
- F# minor, A major, D major, E major
- A major, F# minor, D major, E major
- A major, D major, F# minor, E major
With just 13 chords, you have begun to unlock the piano. From here, you can begin to learn songs in the C, G, D, A, E major keys or begin writing your songs in these keys.