Piano chords: what are they, and how on earth are you going to memorize so many of them? You know there are 27 types of chords, right?

If that statement made your interest in piano come to a screeching halt, hang in there: you don’t actually need to memorize all the piano chords that exist. You don’t even really need to know all 27 types. So take a deep breath, and let’s dive into the real piano chord basics, the non-negotiables that aren’t going to make you wish you never even tried.

What are Piano Chords?

In its most basic form, chords are just multiple notes played at the same time. That’s true not only for piano chords but on any instrument. And like I said in the introduction, there are 27 different types or categories of chords!

But the awesome fact you need to know is that there really are only two main types of piano chords that you must memorize. And you don’t even have to memorize the piano chords within those two types. (Lucky you: I had to do a ton of tedious memory work on this as a kid in my traditional piano lessons!)

Major Chords

The first chord type you need to understand? Major chords. They are so easy to play and they happen to have a happy, upbeat sound. To play a major chord, use this formula: 4-3. Start at the note the chord is named after, then place your next two fingers 4 notes and 3 notes away (to the right).

Let’s look at an example. For D major chord (D), start with D (makes sense!). Put your right thumb on a D note, then count 4 keys to the right (make sure you include black keys, they all count). Put your next finger on that 4th note, then count 3 more notes to the right. Place your third finger there. 

You should have three fingers on three notes, the first one being D and the others found by counting four and then three to the right. Don’t worry about what those other two notes are called, unless that’s something you feel like reviewing. If you press those three notes, you’ve played a D major chord!

This method will help you successfully play any major chord. The 4-3 chord formula is easy peasy and is the most common formula for piano chords you will ever use!

Minor Chords

Next up we have minor chords: the second most common piano chord you need to know. These are played only slightly differently from major chords, but the difference in sound is dramatic. Simply put, minor chords sound sad! Or moody. Definitely not upbeat or cheerful like major chords do.

The formula for minor chords is 3-4 (aka the opposite of the major chord formula).

To play a C-minor chord, place your thumb on the C note. Count to the right by 3 and place your second finger there. Count to the right by 4 more notes and place your third finger there. Press all three notes together to play a C-minor chord on your piano!

As long as you remember this 3-4 formula, you never have to memorize any individual minor chord – unless you want to. 😉

After Piano Chords, What’s Next?

Now that you know the two most important piano chords, what comes next? Well, any song that’s not just one chord (that’s basically all of them) will combine chords in sequences called chord progressions.

Chord progressions vary from song to song, and I’ll be explaining how they work in my next post in this series on Music Theory 101. So make sure you stay tuned for the seven – that’s right, seven – remaining videos and posts in this series. Now go practice your chord formulas!