How easy are piano chords in a song?

How do we use piano chords ?

Piano chords are groups of notes that are the foundation of the melody and harmony of a musical piece. All the notes in the group are played at the same time. A chord may be held for one or more bars or it may change within a bar, depending on the style of the song. The most important requirement is that chords must be in sync with the rhythm of the song.

Position of the hands

handy

The best position for playing chords is that in which the wrists are almost horizontal and the hands are slightly cupped so that the finger tips touch the notes, fingernails down. This makes it easier to strike the notes all at once.

What notes do we play?

The basic chord is the tonic triad which consists of the first (root), third, and fifth notes. The ‘root’ identifies the key. For example:

In the key of C          The tonic triad will consist of C, E and G

In the key of G          The tonic triad will consist of G, B, and D

In the key of F           The tonic triad will consist of F, A and C.

 

Are there chords other than the tonic triad?

Yes. In the key of C, any of the notes can be altered to give a different sound. If the E is changed to E flat, we get a sad ‘minor key’ sound, also if the G is changed to G sharp, we say the chord has an augmented fifth, and a different sound.

How do we know what chords to play ?

Many people are able to play by ear through experience with chords. Others use  music sheets to guide them through a song. After practicing with music sheets, they usually can play through the chord progressions by memory.

1. The music sheet can consist of piano notes and lyrics, but the chords are shown above the stave as seen below:

your song

In the above sheet, notice the line where the lyrics begin. You play C chord before the first syllable ‘it’s’, and where the lyrics say ‘funny’ it is time to strike another chord  F maj7 on the syllable ‘fun…’ The next chord G/B is played before the word ‘this’, the next, ‘side’ coincides with E minor and so on. From sheet music we can accompany our singing assisted by the chords. Listen to how it sounds in the song by Elton John and hear him strike the chords at the right time.

2. If sheet music is not available, we can play using a sheet with just lyrics and the chords inserted exactly above where the chord is to be played.

great

The first line contains the chords of the introduction and the first chord(C) of the first verse of this hymn starts on ‘Great’ , the next one(G) on the syllable ‘faith’ and so on.

The chords of the verse are the same, and are played in the same progression so once the first verse and chorus are worked out, playing chords for the rest of the songs is very easy.

 

3. Lead sheets contain just melody line and chords and chord charts contain chords only, and these are sometimes preferred.

 

Do you play only notes from sheet music or have you ever tried playing chords ?

Have you ever tried to play chords, guided by music sheet, lead sheet, chord chart or by ear? Which method do you find easiest, and why ?

 

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8 Comments

  1. Diane

    Hi Joy – thanks for sharing this informative article. I have often thought of learning the piano, but never got round to it. However, my grandson has now started having lessons, so having read your post, at least I now understand what he is talking about when it comes to playing chords! I am looking forward to reading your other pages and finding some tips that might help him in his musical journey. All the best, Diane

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Diane, I am sure your grandson will benefit from your support, and you will also enjoy the learning process. You are welcome to read other posts and examples from my website. Thank you for your comments.

      Reply
  2. Darren

    There thing I found hardest when I learnt to play with chords was the coordination of my fingers to go in time with the melody I was playing.

    I started off with 1 key chords until I got my timing and then two keys to help with finger positioning and then 3 and 4.

    Do you think this was a good way to learn?

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Darren, a good method you could use would be to  find the full chord and play very slowly and after practicing, you could increase the speed gradually. This would help you when reading new chords as you went on to learn other songs. If, however, your method worked eventually, then that is fine. In learning piano sometimes we try new ways of getting to the same result. Thank you for your comments.

      Reply
  3. Matt's Mom

    I have tried playing the piano before and this is something that I would like to pick up.  I am actually purchasing a home where they are leaving the piano behind.  I don’t know how good of a piano it is, or the brand but it’s a starting point for me.  I think having the lyrics with the notes above seems simpler.  But the best way I would imagine is to learn how to read music on the sheets, am I correct?

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Matt’s Mom. If you have notes written above the lyrics, you would be playing one note, and there is no indication of how long to hold each note. A music sheet has all the information. You can start with songs written for ‘easy piano’ and work your way up to music sheets that are more advanced. Wishing you the best as you start your music. Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  4. Gomer

    It’s been a long time since the last time I played a guitar and a piano by chords. I regret that I agreed with my mother to sell our Yamaha keyboards, I miss playing and singing now. I still can remember the tonic triad that you said here, only the ones with chords like Cdim7/Eb, I’m a little bit confused of what they are now and how do they sound. Can you elaborate more on them? And what’s the meaning of “dim” in the chord Cdim7/Eb?

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Gomer. The simple chords are indicated by just one letter. For instance chords of F, G, C are made up of the triad (notes one three and five) of each key, as you know. Chords can be altered to give a particular sound and you would have to study what kind of effects you wish to hear in order to decide how to alter the basic chord. A flat 3rd would give a sad sound, a dominant like C7 would sound like it is leading to the chord of F. Cdim7/Eb means you play Eb in your left hand and in your right hand you play C, Eb, Gb, Bb (diminished). It is never too late to learn to play piano, and to bring out the musician that you are. Thanks for your comments.

      Reply

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