If I told you that only one page of information – or one video – would be the last resource you ever need to learn piano chords for beginners… would you believe me? Let’s put that claim to the test today with my overview of simplified piano chords and a free PDF download that you can use to master the most common chord types. Sound good? Let’s get started.

Common Ways to Learn Chords

How do people usually learn piano chords for beginners? Well, there are a few common ways:

  • Memorizing notes within a scale
  • Memorizing chord structure
  • Memorizing individual chords

Each of these methods have pros and cons. The first two rely heavily on music theory, so you’d need to learn a lot about music scales and chord formation before you could ever start applying them. You’d have a teacher say something like “a major chord is the 1, 3, 5 of the major scale” or “a major chord is a major third combined with a minor third.”

Yikes. I technically know what those two statements mean, but even I don’t want to have to think that way too often! Learning chords that way means tons of music theory and abstract thinking before you can get to the real part: playing those darn chords!

What about the third option? I see this as a pretty common method for people who are self-taught or who are beginners. It seems to make sense: learn what notes are in each chord and play them. It can definitely work if you only need to know a few piano chords for beginners. Or if you have an awesome brain for memorization.

But let’s put this method into perspective. There are over 300 potential chords to learn on a piano (324, to be exact). Some are more common than others, but still… you’re in for a LOT of memorization work if you only want to learn chords this way. My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Frankly put, none of these are great options for beginners to learn piano chords. Let’s look at my preferred method.

My Chord-Learning Secret

learn piano chords for beginnersThis may not exactly be a secret since I keep sharing this information with people over the internet! But it’s still a much less common option, and I really don’t understand why. You see, my chord-learning secret is simple: chord formulas.

Don’t get scared off by the word “formula,” because if you can count to ten then you already know enough math for these formulas.

Chord formulas tell you what note to start on and where to place your fingers for the remaining notes, without needing to memorize which notes in each chord. The most common chord formulas don’t even require any advanced theory. These are truly piano chords for beginners.

Piano Chords for Beginners: Learning in a Logical Order

If your goal is ultimately to play songs you love on the piano, chords are just a stop along the way to get to songs. But there is some foundational knowledge that you must be familiar with before you can learn piano chords for beginners with my method. That is…

The Notes

You have to know the notes on your piano. There’s no way around it. If you don’t memorize the notes, you will always be backtracking and panicking as you try to play chords. This is such an incredibly important thing to learn, I can’t overstate it enough!

The good news is that there are only 12 notes that repeat over and over again on your piano or keyboard. That means only 12 names and their accompanying positions to remember. If you can remember the names of your office colleagues or your extended family, you can learn these 12 notes. Heck, you might even get to know the names of these notes better than those cousins you only see once a year. 😉

So take some time to memorize the notes (I teach this in Day 1 of my free 5-day workbook, check it out here.) You can thank me later AND you can move on to chord-learning with confidence. Awesome!

Major Chords

As the most common kind of chord, major chords are super-important to know and fortunately very easy to learn. All you have to do is start with the root note and then use this 4-3 formula. Here’s how this works:

  • Place your right thumb on the the root note (the note the chord is named after)
  • Count 4 notes to the right then place your next finger there
  • Count 3 additional notes to the right and place your third finger there

As long as you count all the notes correctly (not just the white ones), you can play any major chord with ease. And the cool thing is, you do not have to memorize each note or even worry about the names of them once you identify the root note!

Major Chord Songs

Not every song has only major chords, but there are some great classic tunes from the 50’s and 60’s that do. Songs like “Twist and Shout,” which uses a progression of Cmajor, Fmajor, and Gmajor. It’s an iconic combo and I recommend you try playing it once you’ve learned the major chord formula. Such a fun song with piano chords for beginners!

Minor Chords

The next most common chord type? Minor chords. Similarly to major chords, these are simple and use a handy little formula that is: 3-4.

Here’s how it works:

  • Place your right thumb on the the root note (the note the chord is named after)
  • Count 3 notes to the right then place your next finger there
  • Count 4 additional notes to the right and place your third finger there

As long as you count all the notes correctly, you can’t go wrong! The minor chord formula is so simple but really adds more versatility to your sound. These are the chords that can sound a bit more melancholy or sad if you have a lot of them. They also give a nice contrast in songs that have mostly major chords.

Again, notice that you do not have to know every note in a chord to play it this way. Even if you run into some trickier chords with lots of flats or sharps (the black keys), you still do not need to memorize more than the root note and the formula itself.

Minor Chord Songs

Songs with only minor chords aren’t as common, but nearly every song you hear nowadays will probably have a minor chord or too. Whether it’s a popular Taylor Swift song like “All Too Well” or an obscure death metal track on BandCamp, minor chords are everywhere.

What to Do With Your Left Hand

So far we’ve only talked about chords, and your right hand. You might be wondering: what about the left hand?

Simply put, with my approach you will play bass notes (also called octaves) with your left pinky finger and thumb. Those notes should match the root note of the chord you play in your right hand. It’s a fantastic and easy way to add more depth to your sound.

What About Less Common Chords?

Not every song is made of just major and minor chords, even though many are. How can you prepare for songs where there are less common chord types? These are the chords that are not really considered piano chords for beginners. Cadd9, Em/D, Gm7, Fdim… what should you do when you see these scary-looking chords?

You have a few options:

  • Memorize them using music theory-heavy methods we discussed earlier
  • Try to find simpler substitute chords
  • Panic and give up on the song

Or… why not just keep learning chord formulas and start from there?

Piano Chords for Beginners: Using the Formulas PDF

Even though chord formulas are the simplest way to play piano chords for beginners, I want to be clear about one thing. I don’t expect everyone to constantly keep every single potential chord formula at the forefront of their mind. As you get very familiar with all different kinds of chords, you will start to build unconscious competence. You’ll eventually know what most of them are without looking them up.

But you shouldn’t feel guilty if you sometimes need to look up an unusual chord formula. In fact, I’ve created a handy-dandy little resource that is going to simplify chords for you. By the time you start applying the formulas in this resource and realize how helpful this is going to be, you might want to name your next child after me. Or your new puppy. I’m not picky. 😉

So with further ado, here is this small-but-mighty, never-expiring, no-strings-attached document that I like to call The Formulas.

piano chord formulas for beginners

You don’t have to sign up for anything, you don’t have to pay, all you have to do is download this awesome PDF and use it forever. Or as needed. Whatever works for you. 🙂

A Closer Look

When you open the file, you’ll see that it lists the most common piano chords for beginners first, majors and minors. Then you’ll also see the less common ones like major and minor 7ths, slash chords, suspended, 2nd chords, diminished, augmented, and other variations. There are even two scale formulas to help you with more advanced piano studies later. (No need to worry about that while you’re focused on piano chords for beginners.)

Whew! That list sounds intimidating until you look a little closer and realize that they all still have formulas. Memorizing the most useful formulas – and knowing you can always come back to this document when you need to – is the easiest path to confidence with beginner piano chords.

You Have Options

Just so you know, the formulas are the simplest way to express how these chords work. But if you feel bored with the most basic versions, or want to find alternate versions to spice things up, you have options. For one thing, every single possible piano chord has two possible alternates called “inversions.” You can learn about inversions here or within my full Piano In 21 Days course.

There are also multiple versions 7th chords, 2nd chords versus Add9 or 9th chords, and more. I explain some of these options in the video above, so make sure you check that out if you haven’t yet. The point is, you can keep chords pretty simple and straightforward, but you also have a lot of room to play and experiment with musical choices as you grow in confidence. The starting point is piano chords for beginners, the end goal is competence and fun – however far you want to take this.

What to Do With Rare Chords

what are piano chords for beginnersThe awesome chord formula PDF I’ve provided here for free is going to give you 95% or more of what you need to play almost any chord you encounter in normal songs. That said, there are always a few weird exceptions or rare chords. Let’s briefly think ahead to how you will handle a different chord that doesn’t appear to fit into any of the chord formulas I’ve given you.

For example, you might see something like E6. No 6th chord formula on that PDF, is there? Never fear: this is where those scale formulas at the bottom come in.

All you have to do for E6 is look at the major scale formula to figure this out. (If it was an Em6, you’d look at the minor scale formula.) Count the 6th note in that scale and add it to a normal Emajor chord. If it was Em6, you’d add the 6th note from the minor scale to a normal Eminor chord. It’s as simple as that.

If you see a C11, you’d follow the same principle. In this case though, you’d add the 11th note in the major scale to a Cmajor chord. Got it?

Piano Chords for Beginners: Wrapping Up

In addition to my chord formulas resource, I have a free 5-day workbook with your name on it here. Getting started on the piano doesn’t have to be hard or stressful. It can be as simple as memorizing the notes on your instrument, learning piano chords for beginners, and gradually building competence from there.

The sky’s the limit! I can’t wait to hear where your piano journey takes you.