Building Chords on the Piano Keyboard in Various Tonalities (Lesson 5)

Hello, my dear friends! Now it`s time to feel yourself as a young composer and learn a new skill – how to make chords. I hope, you`ve already mastered the musical “alphabet” – notes.

Usually the next step in studying is cramming. It results in the ability of newly pianists to play rather complicated melodies being at a party with friends, but only if they have notes in front of them. But who thinks about notes, when he goes to a party?

Cramming, copying every note of this or that composition is effective only for very patient pupils and rather simple melodies. When it comes to more complicated songs, one will have to practice for hours to learn it by heart. It is suitable for those people who want to be a pianist who gives conserts.

But for those, who want just to play favourite melodies for fun, it`s too complicated and absolutely useless. You don`t need to play songs of your favourite singer of group exactly as they are written, as if you were playing a piece of a classical composer. Actually, most authors of popular music do not write piano transposition. Usually they put down only the melody and point necessary chords. Now I`ll show you, how it`s done.

A simple song, for example the theme from “The Godfather” published with piano accompaniment it will look like this:

“The Godfather” sheet music

There exist lots of arrangements of this composition. None of them is better than the others, they are just different. Here is another one:

The theme from “The Godfather”

A common piano arrangement even for a simple melody looks rather knotty. Luckily it is not obligatory to interpret all these musical symbols which you see on the note sheet.

The first line is the voice part, because it is used by singers, who must know only the melody and words. This melody you`ll play with your right hand. And for the left hand above the voice are written some letters, which mean chords. And this lesson will be devoted to these chords.

The melody from “The Godfather” with chords

Chord is a combination of three or more notes, which are played at the same time. The distance (or intervals) between these notes have several laws.

If only two notes are played together, they are not considered a chord, just an interval.

On the other side, if you press several keys at the piano keyboard with your fist or palm of the hand, it will not be a chord either, because intervals between these notes don`t obey any rules. Although in modern music sometimes this note combination (called cluster)  is also considered to be a chord.

Building Chords: Triads

Let`s begin with simple chords or three notes, which are also called triads, to tell them from chords of four notes.

The triad is built from the lower note, called the main tone, with two thirds. Let me remind you, that the third may be minor (1,5 tone) and major (2 tones). And depending on what thirds are used, there may be different types of chords.

I`ll remind you, how letters are used to name notes:

Note names

And now let`s have a look, how the chords may differ.

The major triad consists of one major third and one minor third. It is denoted with the big letter of the main tone (C, D, E, F etc.)

Major triads

In the minor triad the first one is minor third, then comes the major third. It is written with the big letter of the main tone with the small letter “m” which means “minor” (Cm, Dm, Em etc.):

Minor triads

The diminished triad consists of two minor thirds and is marked with big letter and the shortening “dim” (Cdim, Ddim etc)

Diminished triads

The augmented triad is made with two major thirds and is written with a big letter and +5:

Augmented triad

Main and Nonprincipal Chords

If you are not yet confused with all given information, let me add something important about chords.

Main chords are built on the main notes of this or that tonality – 1st, 4th, 5th, nonprincipal – on the others.

If you know the tonality of the composition, you don`t have to count the number of tones in the triad again and again. Knowing, which flats or sharps are in this tonality will be enough.

This chord table will be useful for those, who study solfeggio at a music school.

Examples of building piano chords

Got confused? Nothing serious, just have a look at some examples, and everything will be clear.

Let`s use C major tonality. The main tones (1, 4, 5) are C, F and G. There are no alteration signs, so all chords will be played on white keys.

Main chords in C major

Main chords in C major

The C-chord consists of C, E and G and is played with little finger, middle (second) finger and thumb. Try to play the chord from any C note on the keyboard.

When you use chords as an accompaniment for some melodies, you`d better play the C chord in small octave and lower. Firstly, because in this register chords sound better and more full-toned. And secondly, because they will not include high notes, which may be used for playing the melody with the right hand.

Nevertheless, play the C chord on various octaves to get used to it and find it on the keyboard fast.

F and G chords will look the same, but of course begin with note F and G. Building  F and G chord is not more complicated, than making the C chord. Playing these chord in different octaves you`ll understand, that the piano keyboard is just the repetition of the same fragment.

It is as if in front of you were 8 similar printing machines, and the only difference between them was the colour of the text they print. You can print the same word using different machines, but it will not look the same. You can extract various colours from the piano, depending on the register you use. I tell you all this to make you understand the following: when you`ll learn to “print” music on one small section – one octave, later you`ll be able to use the whole piano keyboard.

Play C, F and G chords as many times as you need to find them on the keyboard for not more than 2-3 seconds. First look for them on the keyboard, than put your fingers on the keys without pressing them. When you see, that your hand finds the position almost at once, begin to press the keys and play the chords. This exercise is important to underline the visual aspect of playing the instrument. As soon as you`ll be able to find notes, which you need to play, with your eyes very fast, you won’t  have problems with playing

Now let`s take another tonality – G – major (which has F sharp). The chord, which includes the note F will be played with F sharp.

D major chord

D major chord

Let`s practice

Now it`s time for practice. Here are some examples of songs, written in different tonalities, so don`t forget about sharps and flats.

La Cucaracha (Mexico) sheet music for Piano

“La Cucaracha” song

Don`t hurry, first play with each hand separately and only then put them together.

Play the melody slowly, pressing the chord each time with the note, near which it is pointed.

When you`ll play the songs for several times without any problems and mistakes, you may try to play a chord even there, where it is not written. Later we`ll study various forms of playing the same chords. But now just learn how to play them. I hope, you`ll succeed!