This is where it gets exciting. We are ready to make some music, to play sounds that are meaningful and enjoyable.
First, find the middle group of keys and sit squarely in front of it. You can now reach all the keys left and right.
Take your right hand, and 3 fingers – thumb, middle, pinkie. Place them over any of the groups, on white keys 1, 3, 5 (or Do, Me, So) and play them all at the same time.
You have just played a chord. In fact it is one of the most common chords in popular music.
It’s actually the chord called “C Major”, but that line of thinking is one of the “blind alleys” down which I spent too much time for no valid reason. In doing so I failed to learn other, far more valuable stuff, until much later. Not a mistake to be repeated.
The truly valuable stuff is the PATTERN. The “1, 3, 5”. The “Do, Me, So”. Dozens of chords are identical to this.
Keep your hand in the same shape. Lift it and move it a few keys to the right, so the thumb is on the 4th white key in the group (the other 2 fingers should be on keys 6 and 8). Play those 3 notes together.
Another massively common chord.
In this case it’s “F Major”, but I’ll be explaining all that esoteric stuff shortly.
One more, just to stress the point. Move your hand one more right (so you’re playing keys 5, 7, 9).
This one is “G Major”.
You might realise, at this point, that I’m using the letter method (A – G). You might also realise that there are only 7 letters (ABCDEFG), thus there are only 7 possible chords.
You now have 3 of the most common chords in modern music. Practice moving smoothly between these 3, in any order you like. You will begin to recognise these as sequences you hear every day.
I need to make a few little “pitstops” now, to pick up some loose threads or close off some important gaps. I’ll call them “Pitstop 1”, “Pitstop 2” etc. The sequence is not important, but they “flow” better in the order I’ve laid them down.
Looking deeper at the chords we just played, in the context of the tetrachord and the keyboard.
- the middle group keys as 1m, 2m, etc
- the lower group keys as 1l, 2l, etc
- the higher group keys as 1h, 2h, etc
Looking at the first chord you played, you used keys 1m, 3m, 5m. Count the keys between these. Remember that they are “half-steps”, so count all the keys (black and white).
- between 1m and 3m there are 4 “half-steps”
- between 3m and 5m there are 3 “half-steps”
Once you clearly understand this, check out the other 2 chords. You will find EXACTLY THE SAME PATTERN. Even more exciting, this is the pattern for ALL MAJOR CHORDS.
You should be able to start on any one of the 12 keys and play the pattern “1, 3, 5”. You now have a repertoire of 12 chords.
We’ll come to their names shortly. And I’ll also explain my contradictory remarks like “dozens of chords” and “only 7 chords” (I assume you spotted that, right?).
I’ve put a complete table of chords on one page of this site. You can check your answers there.
Since we’re talking about major chords, it’s logical to touch on minor chords, just to get them out of the way. They are ultra simple.
Where we had keys 1, 3, 5 spaced out 4 “half-steps” then 3 “half-steps” for the major chords, all we do is move key 3 down a “half-step” and we have the minor chords. Thus the spacing is now 3 “half-steps” then 4 “half-steps”. This is the pattern for ALL MINOR CHORDS.
Job done. All we’ve done is move our middle finger one key left.
Don’t forget that all keys count, whether black or white. For the 3 chords you know so far (C Major, F Major, G Major) your middle finger will now be on a black key and you are playing C Minor, F Minor, G Minor.
Check it out on the chord chart.
Just as with the “majors”, you should now be able to start on any one of the 12 keys and play the modified pattern (“1, 3, 5” but with middle finger one key left). You have now increased your repertoire by another 12 chords, making 24 in total.
You can see how easy this is, once you know the patterns.
I find it utterly mind-numbingly shocking that so-called professional music teachers can even begin to consider making a whole song-and-dance subject out of this tiny, miniscule, event. I moved my middle finger ONE KEY LEFT. Is that really worth a whole school term? No wonder kids give this stuff up as “hard work” and “boring”.
There are several different ways to play a chord. So far we’ve played all 3 notes together. That’s perfectly fine, and it’s generally how it’s done.
But we can add “colour” or “flavour” in a number of ways.
One very simple variant is to play the 3 notes, rapidly, one after the other. Much like you played “Do Re Me”, but slightly closer together in time.
Another variant is to play note 1 alone, followed by 3 & 5 together. Try it – 1, 3&5, 1, 3&5, 1 …
Either just adds that little bit of spice or texture. This is called “splitting” or “breaking”, and you’ll hear the phrase “broken chord” said.
To add “breadth” you could play 1l with 3m and 5m. Or 1m with 3h and 5h. You can’t do this with only one hand, so play note 1 with left hand and use right hand for 3 & 5. It’s called “voicing” the chord. Doing this also helps you understand that they really are the same notes in each group.
When you’re feeling brave you could also “mix and match” the second variant(s) with the first variant(s). There are no real “rules”. Be creative (even if it stinks). You’ve seen in the “virtual keyboard” video just how creative one can be. Don’t get hung up on fantasies about “rules”.
As someone once said “Rules are for the guidance of wise men, and the obedience of fools”.
This is called “inversion”.
Our first chord was 1, 3, 5. More pedantically, it was 1m, 3m, 5m. But sometimes that strict pattern forces you to move all over the keyboard. You’ve already experienced transitioning across 3 chords, and you’ll have found it involves lots of travel.
Inversion solves that. Try this out:-
Play the C chord as you did before (1m, 3m, 5m), the the F chord (4m, 6m, 1h). It’s a big move.
Now “invert” the F chord. Instead of 4, 6, 1 play 1, 4, 6 (ie 1m, 4m, 6m). It’s the same notes, but much shorter travel. In fact 1 finger doesn’t move at all, and the other 2 move only 1 key to the right. Neat.
When you get to play fast paced music this “travel” issue is “make or break”. So “inversion” is a very common practice.
Thus far we’ve used mainly right hand, with a slight involvement of the left hand. Take what you now know, about how to play the chords with your right hand, and work out how you can play those same chords with your left hand.
Here’s a clue, using chord C:-
Take your left hand, and 3 fingers – pinkie, middle, thumb. Place them over any of the groups, on keys 1, 3, 5 and play them all at the same time.
Redo this page, using your left hand instead of your right.
You’ve made ENORMOUS progress. Congratulations.