Piano Lesson Five: More Piano Chords

More About Piano Chords:  Today we are going to get our heads around forming chords. We will illustrate just how a chord can be built on any note at all.

So far, we have dealt with Major Chords, but as you will see in the next exercise, there are other chords which appear when you build chords on every note of a scale.  These chords, the Minor chords, and the diminished chords,  have a different quality of sound to the Major chord.

In these following diagragms, we have named the chords as they fall naturally on the notes of the C Major scale.  We have notated these chords for you in both the Treble Clef, and the Bass Clef.

Play these chords on your piano or keyboard.  It is really very easy, as once you have your hand locked in the chord position which uses 1, 3, 5 of the fingers, missing one note between each played note, you simply move the hand up the keyboard from note to note, from chord to chord.

Note that the major chord has a distinct pattern to its formation:  if you look at the keyboard at the top of our page, visualize the major chord on C.  This starts on note C which counts as the first note of the chord.  However, from the C to the C# counts as one semitone. Count all the black notes and the white notes as semitiones (half tones) From C# to D counts as the second semitone.  D to D# counts as the third semitone. D# to E is the fourth semitone.

The C major chord consists of the notes C, E, G. Of course, E is the second note of the C major chord.  So we see that this is exactly 4 semitones away from C, the root note.  From E, we count up only 3 more semitones to the G, which is the third note of the chord.

A Major Chord ALWAYS uses this formation, 4 semitones up from the root note gives you the middle note of the chord, and 3 semitones higher still gives you the top note of the chord in its root position.

This means that you can build a Major chord on any note at all, without any knowledge of whether the chord should use ‘black’ notes.  You can work out these chords by logic yourself, using this formula of semitone sequences.

There is a magic formula for the Minor Chord too – you might be able to work this out for yourself if you play one of these Minor Chords, and analyse it.  We will discuss the formation of a Minor Chord in another lesson.  For now, just work on getting acquainted with Major Chords and how to formulate them yourself.

Sequence of Major and Minor Chords with one Diminished Chord: So – here is the diagragm of the sequence of major and minor chords as they fall in a major key – any major key.  The diminished chord falls on the seventh degree of the scale. The same sequence of chords will occur on ANY major scale, and EVERY major scale,  no matter what the beginning note is.

In a major scale, the patterning of chords is always:


Note that the Minor chords which fall on the 2nd, 3rd and 6th degree of the scale, have a plaintive, sad quality about them compared to the Major, which is bright and cheerful.

You can see that there are only THREE major chords which are formed on the notes of a major scale.  These are the first chord, or TONIC chord, and the ones on the FOURTH and FIFTH degrees of the scale.  These are very important chords which are known as the PRIMARY TRIADS.

PRIMARY TRIADS appear on the same points of a Minor scale, on the first degree, the fourth and the fifth, but so far we have not explored the minor key as yet.

The Primary Triads, that is, the chords on the first, fourth and fifth degrees of any scale, form the basis of harmony as we know it in the Western world. These three chords, the  chords built on the first, fourth and fifth degrees of a scale, are the most commonly used in all our music, no matter what the genre:  Church music,  nursery rhymes, folk songs, classical music, and popular music all use the Primary Triads more than chords built on the other degrees of the scale.

For practice, I want you to write in the two notes of the chords above the root note in the diagragm below.  We are using  the  scale of C Major in the Treble Clef.  After completing the chord formation, I want you to write in the type of chord below each chord:  Describe whether it is Major, Minor or Diminished.

Now your theory practice is to write in the chords above the notes of the G Major scale.  Again, write in the type of chord underneath each chord after you have completed them. Remember that the same sequence applies as for the C Major Scale, so look at that for the clues.

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