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How to Play Piano Chords

Do you want to know how to play chords on piano? This page will provide you with the best online chord resources. Where to look depends on your purpose.

Getting Started

Do you want to quickly figure out the notes of a specific chord? Then visit one of the many sites with piano chord charts. Here are two of the best ones:

This is a classic chord chart, easy to understand and navigate. The site also has a very good music theory section. A nice feature is the Chord finder, where you can enter note names and find out which chord they create.

The best part of this site is the function allowing you to shift the voicing of the chords. In short, you can study how a certain chord looks and sounds when the notes are not stacked closely as in most charts, but spread out in different octaves.

Learn more about Piano Chords

Would you like to learn more about piano chords and how to use them? Well, there is a lot of information out there, easy to find but perhaps not always so easy to put into practice. You need a bit of background information to understand the principles behind creating chords. Some of the piano chord sites won’t tell you enough about this. Others confuse you with too much theory where it isn’t needed. Here’s a short list of piano chord resources on the internet – all very useful, but for slightly different purposes.

Beginner’s lessons. Teaches you the major chord and the three primary chords needed to play a great number of songs. You learn the chords by memorizing how they look and feel on the keyboard. Don’t go here for theory.

In a way, this is just another chord chart. But if you already know a bit about theory, you will find the little summary of details at the bottom very useful, listing the intervals, half-steps and notes used for each chord type. You can also choose between strict or simplified spelling of the note names (which means you can avoid confusing stuff like double-sharps and double-flats etc.)

Endless resources for pianists who like to read. You can pick up a lot of theory here, but explanations are sometimes unnecessarily wordy and repetitious. Although the free content will probably last you a lifetime, there are also lots of recommendations to buy various courses or books, which some may find annoying.

One of the most popular piano chord tutorials on Youtube. Aimed at beginners – “Learn four chords to play hundreds of songs”Âť – it’s both inspirational and useful. Among other things, it tells you how so called inversions (moving the lowest note of the chord up an octave) can be used in practice.

Chords vs Scales

In your quest to learn piano chords, sooner or later you will find out that chords and scales are more or less two sides of the same coin. In other words, if you haven’t already done so, learn a bit about the major and minor scale. Knowing how to construct a scale will also enable you to form all sorts of piano chords. Here are two short lessons explaining the basic theory behind scales:

Whole and half steps in scales:

The major scale:

Once you know a thing or two about scales and the concept of raising or lowering notes by half steps, the endless chord charts will begin to make more sense. You will be able to use the them to quickly understand different chord types rather than painstakingly memorize one chord at a time.


Mr. Taylor’s Double Vision

Steinway double keyboardThis model D concert grand by Steinway & Sons, developed by Emanuel MoĂłr (1863-1931), is the only Steinway equipped with a double keyboard. It was built by Steinway for Werner von Siemens of Berlin and sold to him in 1929. The piano was purchased by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961 for the use of Gunnar Johansen, artist in residence at the university at the time. After Johansen’s death in 1991, it remained unused for many years until John Schaffer, director of the School of Music, and Christopher Taylor, professor of piano at the school, began discussing the prospect of restoring it to optimum playing capacity several years ago. The completion of the rebuilding project by Steinway in 2007 marks the beginning of a new stage in the instrument’s life. This remarkable instrument is now used for selected tour dates by Taylor and heard in concert at its home at the university.

Christopher Taylor demonstrates the unique features of a special instrument that combines the harpsichord’s ability to double its keyboard with the sound of a modern Steinway piano:

The lower keyboard of 88 keys resembles that of a typical piano. The upper keyboard of 76 keys is one octave shorter in the treble but sounds one octave higher than the corresponding key on the lower keyboard. Each keyboard can be played independently but both can be coupled together by depressing a pedal located between the una corda (far left) and sostenuto (second-from-right) pedals. A catch mechanism allows the pedal to be retained in its depressed position. When the keyboards are coupled, each note played on the lower keyboard sounds both its own pitch and that of the key directly behind it on the upper keyboard, one octave higher. As a result, polyphonic textures available to the player are greatly expanded, volume levels may be increased, and chords which extend over two octaves may be played with one hand.


Recommended Book: The Russian Piano School

The Moscow Conservatory piano school enjoys pride of place among Russia’s musical institutions. Its outstanding graduates have included Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Medtner, Richter, Gilels, Ashkenazy and Pletnev. Yet while their mastery transcends any process of formal teaching, behind these great names lies a teaching process whose workings are little known to the outside world – except in occasional publications such as Heinrich Neuhaus’ The Art of Piano Playing.
The Russian Piano School offers a further and fuller insight into the views on technique and interpretation of several of the 20th century’s greatest Russian teachers and performers. Contributions come from the elder generation of Alexander Goldenweiser (a friend and contemporary of Rachmaninov), his pupil Samuel Feinberg, Heinrich Neuhaus and Konstantin Igumnov, as well as from a younger generation including Yakov Flier, Lev Oborin, Yakov Zak, and Grigorii Ginzburg, who tutored many master pianists of the present day. The book addresses several of the major technical and interpretative problems facing the pianist. This book should be of interest to both piano teachers and students, to professional performers, and also to many amateurs who aspire to reach beyond the first foothills of Parnassus.

Part One offers a series of writings that illustrate the philosophy and methods of the school:

  • The Road to Artistry, Samuil Feinberg
  • Advice from a Pianist and Teacher, Alexander Goldenweiser
  • Some Principles of Pianoforte Technique, Lev Oborin
  • Some Remarks on Technique, Konstantin Igumnov
  • Notes on Mastery of the Piano, Grigorii Ginzburg

Part Two gives a privileged insight into the classroom methods of various teachers as they work with students on that repertoire in which Russian artists have always particularly excelled – Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev:

  • Beethoven’s Appassionata: A Performer’s Commentary, Samuil Feinberg
  • Three Answers to Questions about Beethoven’s Sonata Appassionata, Sviatoslav Richter
  • Work on Beethoven’s Sonata in A major Opus 101, Heinrich Neuhaus
  • Chopin Etudes (based on classes with Samuil Feinberg), Maria Eshchenko
  • Reflections on Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, Yakov Flier
  • Notes on Chopin’s Ballade in F minor, Alexander Goldenweiser
  • Chopin’s Fourth Ballade in F minor, Konstantin Igumnov
  • Lessons with Yakov Flier (on Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1 and Prokofiev’s Sonata No 3), Nina Lelchuk Lelchuk
    Yakov Zak as Teacher (on Liszt’s B-minor Sonata, Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody), Olga Stupakova

Christopher Barnes
, professor of Slavic languages at the University of Toronto, has translated hitherto unavailable essays, critiques and lectures from the leading teaching lights at the Moscow Conservatoire. Pursuing a parallel interest in music, he studied piano privately and is known as a lecturer-recitalist and a broadcaster on Russian musical topics. He is currently at work on a monograph on Scriabin and a history of Russian pianism.

This book on amazon.com


Piano News Flash – November 2011

Piano Street’s monthly series of hand picked piano related links.


Piano News Flash – July 2011

Piano Street’s monthly series of hand picked piano related links collected during July 2011.


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