This one has been a long time coming: let’s learn some ‘70’s songs on the piano! Annie from Team PI21D gave me the day off and made an awesome video showing how you can use just four chords to play six ‘70’s piano songs. She’s a big fan of ‘70s music! And there are some great hits from John Lennon, Abba, Fleetwood Mac and more here.

As always, chords are the key to unlock so many awesome tunes. It’s just a matter of knowing how.

Where to Start With ‘70’s Songs on the Piano

To play songs on the piano, whether they are ‘70s songs or not, you need to know three things:

  • The notes
  • The chord formulas
  • The chord progressions

If you don’t know these three key pieces of information, playing ‘70s songs on piano is like learning a foreign language. Daunting, to say the least!

Fortunately for you, those three things build off of each other. And learning the basics first makes everything easier going forward. Let’s start with the notes on your piano or keyboard.

Know the Notes

Take a look at the keys on your instrument. See how they follow a pattern that repeats sets of black and white keys? That pattern is your friend, because there are really only 12 notes that repeat all the way across. If you know those 12 notes, you know them all.

Find a set of two black keys. Now choose the white note directly to the left of that pair of black keys. Got it? You just found a C note.

The notes go forward (aka to the right) from there. If you play just the white notes, they run from that C note, like this: C, D, E, F, G.Then they go back to the beginning of the alphabet, to A, B, C. So every set of white keys is really:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

There, that’s not so bad, is it? And the black notes get their names from the white keys they are next to, so that becomes easy after you know the white ones. (More on that topic here.)

Okay, now that you know how to find notes, you need to learn chords!

Use Chord Formulas

Playing ‘70s songs on piano isn’t just about wearing flower chains and rocking your bellbottom pants, you need to know chords. And thankfully, you really just need the chord formulas in your head: you don’t have to memorize all the chords that exist.

The chord formulas make most chords so easy to play. Let’s look at the most common type: major chords.

Major Chord Formula

The major chord formula is 4-3. That means you just have to:

  1. Place your thumb on the root note, the note the chord is named after.
  2. Next, place your next finger 4 keys to the right.
  3. Finally, place your next finger 3 more keys to the right.

If you press those three keys at the same time, you’ve got a major chord!

You don’t even really need to know what those notes are for this to work. But if you’re curious, a C-major chord would be C, E, G. And a F-major chord would be F, A, C. And so it goes! Just remember, the formula is how I found those notes, not by memorizing them.

Fingering for ’70s Songs Piano & Beyond

I prefer to use my thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger to play chords. But if you watched the video above, you’ll see that Annie usually uses her thumb, middle finger, and pinky. So which is the right way?

I’m biased and want to call my way the best, but the truth is that whatever way gets you playing chords and not struggling to reach is probably the best way for you. Different sized hands definitely play a role in the decisions, but I encourage you to try a few different ways and see what works best for you.

What About the Left Hand?

While your right hand plays chords, you can play octaves with your left. This is easy:

  1. Find the root note of the chord (the note the chord is named after, such a C or D# or anything else).
  2. Place your left thumb and pinky on two of those same notes to the left.

Playing these octaves that correspond to the chord’s root note will add a really nice depth to your sound.

Song Example: “Imagine” by John Lennon

Remember the C and F-major chords I mentioned earlier? Let’s use them in a song example.

“Imagine” by John Lennon is a classic example of ‘70s piano music, and it’s so easy.

To start, play the C-major chord for four counts. Then play the F-major chord for four counts. Now repeat that! Because each verse of this song is really just alternating between those two chords. You can hold down the chords for four counts or play on the beat as you get more comfortable.

The next chord in “Imagine” is G-major, which you can find with that 4-3 formula.

Song Example: “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac

“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac also uses G-major. It basically just goes back and for between F-major and G-major the whole song! And again, you’ll be playing each of those chords for four counts.

That means you already can play two songs from the ‘70’s on your piano, with just three chords. Amazing. Let’s work on one with a minor chord:

Minor chords sound very different from major chords, but they are just as easy to play. The minor chord formula is 3-4.

  1. Place your thumb on the root note, the note the chord is named after.
  2. Next, place your next finger 3 notes to the right.
  3. Finally, place your next finger 4 more notes to the right.

Press them all together and you’ve got a minor chord! Notice how it sounds a bit more sad melancholy compared to the brightness of major chords.

A great ‘70s song to practice with a minor chord? “Stayin’ Alive,” the classic BeeGees song. Playing each chord on each beat makes it really upbeat and punchy, very fun.

The Left Hand for Minor Chords

You can do the same thing in your left hand when you’re playing minor chords as major chords. Just play octaves based on the root note, the name of the chord. So if you’re playing an A-minor (Am), just play A notes in your left hand! Easy peasy.

’70s Songs Piano Chord Progressions

On to chord progressions, a.k.a. sequences of chords that you play in different parts of a song. Any combination of chords that sound good together can be a chord progression. They can be just two chords alternating, or a lot more!

Putting Four Chords Together

The most popular chord progression is going to combine what we’ve already learned so you can play even more awesome ‘70s songs piano! It’s so popular that it’s almost impossible to count how many songs have some version of this progressions.

The 4-chord progression I’m talking about is: C-major, G-major, A-minor, and F-major. What songs can you play with this progression? Here are a few:

  • “Let it Be” by The Beatles
  • “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver
  • “Mamma Mia” by Abba

There are so many more, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

How to Find More Chords for Songs

Whenever there’s a ‘70s songs piano practice in your schedule, you can find chord progressions easily for free online. Just Google the name of the song plus “chords.” When you click on the top result, you’ll almost always get the song lyrics with some basic information listed. At this stage, what you’re looking for is chord names listed above the lyrics. That will tell you exactly where the chord changes are!

Capital letters alone mean major chords, so C, D, G, A#, and so on… they’re all major chords.

If a chord is a minor chord, it will have “m” after it, such as Am, C#m, Em, and so on.

You may also see slash chords, chords with funky spellings and numbers, but most songs really will have mostly major and minor chords. For those less common chords, you can usually use the “simplify chords” option to find easier versions. Or you can stick around and learn more about chord types here. 😉 

Go Practice ’70’s Songs Piano!

It’s time for you to go do some ‘70’s songs piano practice! And if you need a bit more guidance on notes, chord formulas, and Piano In 21 Days resources, sign up here for my free 5-day workbook.