Learning to play the piano usually means starting from the beginning. That usually means getting familiar with the keys on the piano and learning where middle C and the surrounding notes are located on the staff. Everything progresses from there.
And while traditional methods of learning piano are often the best ways to do so, it doesn’t mean it is the only way to do so. Learning to read chord charts is quickly becoming just another way to learn how to master the piano. And it is a great way to get started at a faster rate.
The ideal situation for a beginning pianist is to learn both methods so that you can play nearly anything. These musicians will definitely have the upper hand.
Ready to learn how to read and play a piano chord chart? Let’s go!
A piano chord is what happens when you play more than one key at a time. If you take three fingers on your left hand, for instance, and hold them down simultaneously, you have a chord. What kind of chord you are playing and whether or not it even sounds pleasant is another thing.
We’re going to break this down so pay attention. The piano has 12 tones. These twelve tones move up or down the piano chromatically. Or as part of the chromatic scale. Each white key and each black key are included in this scale. So, in other words, each step you take is a half step from the one before it and after it. And once you go up 12 steps you are at the same note you started on, just an octave higher.
For example, each are ½ steps: C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B
Different types of chords are created using steps.
Major Chords consist of 3 tones, the root, the third, and the fifth. Between the root and 3rd, you will always have 4 ½-steps and between the 3rd and the 5th, you will always have 3 ½-steps
Minor chords also consist of 3 tones, but the distance between them is opposite a major chord. For instance, the distance between root and 3rd is 3 ½-steps and the distance between the 3rd and 5th is always 4 ½-steps.
There are many other different types of chords, including diminished, augmented, and 7th chords. But there is plenty of time to learn about them later.
So now that you know what chords are, let’s talk about chord charts.
Chord charts usually go hand-in-hand with lead charts, but they may or may not show the lyrics. Rather, they focus on the type of chord to be played, how many times to repeat it, and when to switch to the next chord. After all, it is a chord chart, right? They are designed to show the chord symbol and the beats on which it is to be played.
Here is an idea of what you will see on a chord chart: F \ \ \ Am \ \ \ C \ \ \ F \ \ \
The letters represent the chords you are to play and the \ symbol tells you how many times you repeat the same chord.
So, how do you read it? Well, the chord chart gives you the corresponding chord. It is up to you to find the best way to make it fit musically. That’s the best part about having musical freedom. You can switch things up based on the beat or the genre of music you are playing.
Many people consider the chord and the following \ marks to represent quarter notes. They go with the downbeat. But, here’s the thing – you don’t have to do it this way. You can hold down that chord for an entire whole note (four counts) if you’d like. Or treat it like a half note and hit it twice. Whatever works for you and whatever feels more comfortable.
Generally, when you play chords, it is done by the left hand since the right hand is busy with the lead. But if you are solely playing a chord chart, then the lead isn’t an issue. That means you can play the chord using either hand.
Are you seeing the pattern of freedom here?
To successfully read a chord chart, you will need to have an idea of how to build a chord. Major chords are usually written in uppercase, such as F. This would be the F-major scale. For minor chords, you will encounter lowercase, such as Am. This would symbolize the A-minor scale. Keep in mind that augmented, diminished, and seventh chords will also appear, but we have not discussed those here.
If you decide to play the chords with your right hand – which is the majority of pianists – then you will need to develop a bass line. This bass line is supportive of your chords and will usually consist of the root note of your chord. Whatever that is for your right hand, you will just play that note with your left. If the sheet says F/A, then you would play the F-major chord with your right hand and an A note with your left.
You get a little more freedom when you learn to play a piano chord chart. See, in regular musical notation on the staff, it tells you exactly when to play, when to rest, and everything is counted out specifically. Unfortunately, although it is a great method that everyone should learn, it doesn’t allow for creativity and freedom at the piano.
Using chord charts means you can make the music your own. And, when you are following a lead or a lyricist, you can accompany much easier – without the rigidity. It will all flow much easier.
Of course, the only way to know if you will truly enjoy playing with piano chord charts is to give it a try. Are you ready?
This content was originally published here.