The 4 Most Important Piano Chords to Learn

Playing the piano may look complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. In case you didn’t know, piano is based on a foundation.

A part of this foundation is piano chords.

A chord is a triad, where each hand uses three fingers to play three notes at the same time.

Specifically, you normally use your thumb, middle finger, and pinky finger. The notes are one key (or two intervals or half steps) apart from each other.

Once you know the basic piano chords, you can go off of that. You can do scales. You can better read sheet music. And yes, play a song or two.

To get you started, we’ve created this article that introduces four of the main piano chords.

Check it out!

1. C Major

If you don’t learn any other piano chord, learn this one. Out of 1,300 songs, most of the songs (26%) were written in C major (following G major (12%)).

Perhaps this is because songs written in C major tend to be uplifting.

Anyways…

For your right hand

In order to play a C major chord, place your thumb on middle C.

In case you don’t know, middle C is located at the very center of the piano.

After finding that, place your middle finger on the E key. And put your pinky finger on the G key.

If you’re learning the piano via solfege, the names change. But your fingers stay in the same position.

So, your thumb would be on do, middle finger on mi, and pinky on so.

For your left hand

Your left hand would be an octave below. (An octave is eight whole notes.) Your pinky would be on C (do), middle finger on E (mi), and thumb on G (so).

Press those keys down at the same time. And there you have it, one of the main piano chords!

Why is this an important chord?

This is arguably the most basic and rudimentary piano chord. There are no flats or sharps (aka black keys).

This makes it a great chord to learn the keys (C, D, E, F, G, A, and B). Or solfege: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti.

Note, once you learn the C major chord, learn how to play a C major scale. Doing this will not only further familiarize yourself with the keys but practice proper hand postures and sheet music reading.

Famous songs in C major

These famous songs are written in the key of C major:

  • Imagine by The Beatles
  • Let It Be by The Beatles
  • Bad Romance by Lady Gaga
  • All The Small Things by blink-182

 

2. G Major

As we’ve mentioned earlier, G major is another one of the most popular piano chords.

Again, this chord has a “happy” sound to it. (Major chords generally sound upbeat.)

However, unlike C major, the G major scale includes an F sharp (F#). Which makes it a great stepping stone from a C major scale, a piano chord that has no sharps or flats.

For your right hand

Again, find middle C. (But you won’t be placing your thumb there.) Instead, place your thumb on G (so). Your middle finger will go on B (ti). And your pinky will rest on D (re).

For your left hand

An octave lower, places your pinky on G (so), middle finger on B (ti), and thumb on D (re).

Again, play the notes at the same time. And now you know one of the most fundamental piano chords!

Why is this an important chord?

By learning the G major piano chord, you can move on to learn the G major scale. Which will introduce you to the sharps (or black keys). (It has an F sharp in it.)

If you don’t know, sharps are the black keys that are a half step to the right. (Flats are the black key, which is a half step to the left.)

What’s a half step?

The amount of space between the C and D keys is one step. It has a black key in the middle, which is C sharp (C#) or D flat. So, the space between C and C# is one-half step.

(The space between D and D flat is one-half step as well.) So, one-half step plus one-half step is one whole step.

But wait, how do we know that G major has an F# in it?

You can learn what scales (and chords) have a sharp in them by this neumonic: Fat (F#) Cats C#) Go (G#) Down (D#) Alleys (A#) Eating (E#) Bread (B#). The first letter of each word is a sharp.

In order to know G major has an F# in it, we have to go down one-half step from G. Which is F#. We go to our pneumonic and locate the F#. That’s the first word of the pneumonic and has no words coming before it. So we know G major only has one sharp.

D major, for instance, has two sharps. Since, going down a half step from D is C#. According to the pneumonic, C# is the second word. So, D major has a C# and an F#.

Famous songs in G major

Did you know these famous songs were written in G major?

  • Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
  • Another One Bites The Dust by Queen
  • Creep by Radiohead
  • Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson

 

3. A Minor

While major chords tend to sound happy and uplifting, minor chords are known for sad, darker tones.

A minor is one of the best minor piano chords to learn because it has no sharps or flats in it.

For your right hand

Locate middle C. Then find the A (la) key. Place your thumb on it. Put your middle finger on the C (do) key. And put your pinky on the E key (mi).

For your left hand

Locate an octave below middle C. Place your pinky on A (la), middle finger on E (mi), and thumb on C (do).

Press the keys down at the same time. And expect to hear a more somber tone.

Why is this an important chord?

Think of A minor as the C major of minor chords. As mentioned, it has no sharps or flats in it. This makes it an excellent starting ground to familiarize yourself with “the minors.”

Famous songs in A minor

What famous songs were written in A minor?

  • House of The Rising Sun by The Animals
  • Wild World by Cat Stevens
  • Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
  • Angies by The Rolling Stones

 

4. D Minor

D minor is one of the most important piano chords. It’s a great introduction to flats since it only has one (B flat) in it.

For the right hand

Locate middle C. But place your thumb on D (re), middle finger on F (fa), and pinky on A (la).

For the left hand

Go an octave lower. And put your pinky on D (re), middle finger on F (fa), and thumb on A (la).

Press at the same time. And voila! A D minor piano chord.

Why is this an important chord?

As we mentioned earlier, this minor allows you to familiarize yourself with flats. In case you don’t know, flats look like backward lowercase bs on the sheet music. (Sharps look like the pound sign.)

D minor has one flat, which is B flat.

How do we know this?

Like with sharps, there’s also a pneumonic for flats. It’s B(B flat) E (E flat) A (A flat) D (D flat)  Glass (G flat) Crystal (C flat) Falls (F flat).

Unlike the sharp pneumonia, each letter of the word, “bead” is flat. After that, the first letter of each word is a flat.

Unfortunately, you’ll just have to memorize what major or minor goes with the number of flats.

However, here’s a trick to know what the key is when you check the time signature…

The pneumonic is in the order the flats appear in the time signature.

So, if there’s only one flat in the time signature, it has to be B flat. B is the first letter of the pneumonic. Because there’s only one B flat, we know the key is in D minor.

G minor has B and E flat in it. Seeing only two flats in the time signature will indicate this. Again, since B and E are the first and second letters in the pneumonic, you know it’s G minor.

 

 

Famous songs in D minor

Here are some songs you may know, which are in D minor:

  • Hotel California by The Eagles
  • Beautiful Day by U2
  • Love Story by Taylor Swift
  • Home by Edward Sharp & The Magnetic Zeros

Best ways to learn these piano chords

Here are some tips!

  • Listen to one of the famous songs listed above after learning the chord. (That way, it has mainstream, real-world significance. And is easier to wrap your head around.)
  • Play the chord before and after playing the corresponding scale.
  • Play a simple song in that key!

Did you know you don’t need a piano teacher to learn these piano chords?

Go here to discover how you can do that.