8 Essential Piano Chords Every Pianist Needs to Know

Once you’ve memorized the notes on the piano, it’s time to put them together to create piano chords! Here, Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L. reviews the eight chords to master first… 


Except for most minimalist or avant-garde of styles, every musical genre is based on chords. From Mozart’s piano concertos to the Beatles’ hits, chords are foundational. Memorizing them is essential to songwriting, reading new music, and understanding the theory beyond the basics of piano. The fact is that there are dozens of piano chords to learn, but here’s a list of what I consider to be the most important.

1.  C major

This consists of C, E, and G, most easily played with fingers 1, 3, and 5.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

2.  C major 7/9b

For more advanced students, try  a jazzy C major 7 flat 9.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

3.  G major

This consists of G, B, and D, also played with fingers 1, 3, and 5.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

4.  G major, first inversion

A great variation is to play an inversion of G major, like the first inversion. To play this, your right hand finger 1 plays B, finger 3 or 2 plays D, and finger 5 plays G. Your left hand finger 5 plays B, finger 3 plays D, and finger 1 plays G.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

5.  A minor

This consists of playing A, C, and E with fingers 1, 3, and 5 in both the right and left hands.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

6.  A minor 7

Play the A minor chord, but add G or G#, depending on the type of minor that it is.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

7.  F major

This consists of F, A, and C, played with fingers 1, 3, and 5 in both the right and the left hands.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

8.  F major, second inversion

For those of you who love a variation, try the second inversion of F major. This means playing, with your right hand, C with finger 1, F with finger 3, and A with finger 5. Your left hand would play C with finger 5, finger 2 or 3 plays F, and your thumb plays A.

Here’s a video of how to play it:

If you hadn’t noticed already, my list of essential piano chords comprised of the one (I), four (IV), five (V), and six (vi) chords of C major.  (Beside each number in you’ll see Roman numerals. These are often used in formal theory instead of Arabic number (1, 2, 3…).) Those different chords in different combinations together can make up what are called progressions. The progressions that those particular chords of any major or minor key make are found in many pop, country, and rock songs. Try playing these piano chords in any key in different orders to find the basis for a new song of your own. On the other hand, you might just hear the progression of one of your favorite tunes. Either way, you might just have a hit song on your hands.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!

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Photo by pedrobonatto

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