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What Piano Chord Is This – Chords for Major and Minor Keys

What Piano Chord Is This – Chords for Major and Minor Keys
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Are you confused about the right keys and notes to play on the piano?

Just in case you know what they mean, do you have a hard time identifying piano chords?

Do you often ask, “what piano chord is this?”

Music is full of important terms and some diagrams. Understanding of terms such as the chord is particularly important for musicians and aspiring music personnel. We like to think basic knowledge of the chord can differentiate an experienced and inexperienced musician.

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So, what are chords, and what role do they play in music?

The term chord as will be subsequently defined, is an ambiguous word in music. Many subheadings fall under it. For example, we have the major chordminor chorddiminished chordaugmented chordseventh chordninth chord, and it never stops.

As a result, precision is particularly important when treating the subject of chords. So, you should start by deciding on what kind of chords you want to know about. With this understanding, what areas will we cover in this article?

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More importantly, the major and minor chords will be our focus. This is an incredibly good point to start. It helps your understanding of other kinds of chords.

Furthermore, we will cover the area of the inversion of these chords. This is not to say other aspects will not be discussed on the sidelines.

So, if you aim to get a basic understanding of especially the major and minor chords, you should read on.

If you prefer a visual explanation of this article, below is a detailed and helpful video.

Video: What Piano Chord Is This (Chords for Major and Minor Keys – Part 1)

Chord – Defining the Musical Concept 

As earlier stated, considering the various varieties, this is an ambiguous term in music. However, every kind of chord has an underlying definition. 

A chord is a harmonic combination of more than one note/key played simultaneously. Playing or singing a chord gives a harmonic feel. To understand a chord, you should be able to tell the difference between melody and harmony. What is the difference?

Melody

Let us see how we can define it in the simplest way possible. Melody implies a piece of music comprising of rhythm (beat), pitch (tonal height of depth), timbre (tonal peculiarity), among others.

It is considered a linear progression, as one note or key comes after another. For a melody, not more than one note is used at a time. Let us see an example. The common song and rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star can be sung or played melodically.

This means that you play the notes of the song, just the way they are. That way, you would have:

d: d: s: s: l: l: s:-

f: f: m: m: r: r: d:-

s: s: f: f: m: m: r:-

s: s: f: f: m: m: r:-

d: d: s: s: l: l: s:-

f: f: m: m: r: r: d:-

Quite a common song and rhyme in many parts of the world, the solfa note is written above. Playing or singing the song’s melody, will be the same as playing or singing it the way it is written above. Nothing more and nothing less. 

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Harmony

Harmony cannot exist without a melody; same way you can’t use a bullet without a gun. Harmony needs the platform of a melody to operate. What is harmony?

What Piano Chord is this
Photo Credits: Mateo Carlo Glenn Yoldi, flickr.com

Harmony is the use of one or more pleasant melody, apart from the original melody of the song. Still using the previous Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as an illustration, what will a 2-part harmony sound like?

The Original Melody will be sung or played this way:

d: d: s: s: l: l: s:-

f: f: m: m: r: r: d:-

s: s: f: f: m: m: r:-

s: s: f: f: m: m: r:-

d: d: s: s: l: l: s:-

f: f: m: m: r: r: d:-

On the other hand, the supporting melody (harmony) as shown below, will be played simultaneously. The choice of notes in harmony can vary as guided by harmonic laws. For this article, the 2nd melody (harmony) will be:

d: d: m: d: f: f: m:-

r: t: d: l: f: s: d:-

m: s: r: s: d: s: t:-

m: s: r: s: d: s: t:-

d: d: m: d: f: f: m:-

r: t: d: l: f: s: d:-

The second melody will be played simultaneously along with the main melody. If done correctly, the player would have made music pleasant to the ears.

So, harmony or harmonies is the essence of playing chords. The harmonic notes can be 2, 3, 4, or more. The idea is that a single strand of melody has to be supported by one or more other melodies which gives us a harmony.

Rudiments for Playing Chords

In learning to play chords, you need prior knowledge of some things in music. For starters, you should know all the music keys, even if you will not be playing on every one of them. Next, the knowledge of the basic solfa notation also known as the diatonic scale is equally important.

As a result, before we continue with finding or identifying the various chords, let us discuss some of these concepts.

Music Keys

When you see the English alphabets used in music, the first thing you should think about is Music Keys. In total, 7 letters of the English alphabet are used in music. They are the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. They are known as music keys.

For instance, instead of saying Letter A, you are to refer to it as Key A Major. Simply put, these 7 letters are referred to as keys. However, these 7 letters are not the only music keys. The 7 letters are known precisely as the Major Keys.

The music keys are the various tone range that music is played or sung. You can play or sing a song on different keys.

As also found on the piano, the music keys can be divided into 2 categories. There are the Major Keys and the Minor Keys. How can you tell the Major Keys from the Minor Keys on the piano? The major keys are the white-colored keys, while the minor keys are the black-colored keys.

Now that you know the Major keys are the letters A – G, how about the Minor keys?

Minor Keys

On the piano, the Minor Keys are the black-colored keys. As against the 7 major keys, there are 5 minor keys in music. The minor keys have the sharp and flat signs attached to the 7 English alphabets. They are called with the signs. 

On the whole, these signs are called accidentals. There are 3 kinds of accidental signs. However, the third sign is not used to describe a minor key but used in sheet music. On that note, pay more attention to the first two signs below.

# – Sharp

♭- Flat

♮ – Natural

The Sharp (#)

This sharp sign raises any note or key by a semitone or half-note. It is more like moving forward in music. For instance, if you were on key A Major and used a sharp, you would move forward to Key A#. That is pronounced as Key A sharp.

The Flat (♭)

The flat is directly opposed to the sharp sign. It lowers a key or note by a semitone or half-tone. This is like moving one step backward in music. For instance, if you just played key B major and applied a flat, that would take you back to key B♭.

The flat and sharp keys are the basis for minor keys. The minor keys are called with the sharp or flat tag used with it. Also, the minor keys are right in between the major keys except in between B – C and E – F. Let’s go over the minor keys in between the major keys.

Between:

A – B = A# or B♭

B – C = No Minor Key

C – D = C# or D♭

D – E = D# or E♭

E – F = No Minor Key 

F – G = F# or G♭

G – A = G# or A♭

To sum it up, there are 5 minor keys in between the major keys. They can either be called by their sharp or flat names. For example, you could either say F# or G♭. Either way, you would be saying the same thing.

Concerning the entire music keys, there are 7 major keys and 5 minor keys. In total, there are 12 music keys.

This means that music can be played or sung in 12 different melodic ranges. In a tabular form, the major and minor keys are listed below.

Major KeysMinor Keys
Key AA# or B
Key BC# or D
Key CD# or E
Key DF# or G
Key EG# or A
Key F
Key G
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Identifying the Music Keys on the Piano

That is the point of knowing the music keys. You should be able to identify them and that is what we are about to teach you. As stated earlier, the white keys are major keys, while the black keys are minor keys.

When you strike a white key on the piano, it is a major key. Likewise, any black key struck is a minor key. If you look well at the piano, you will notice the arrangement of the black keys.

Identifying the Major Keys on the Piano

The black keys are in sets of twos and threes. The twos or the threes may come first. Whichever comes first is not so important.

The next thing you will notice is that no 2 or 3 sets of black keys follow each other. After a set of 2 black keys, you will find a set of 3 black keys. If that is not the case, you will have 3 black keys and 2 black keys following. 

As a beginner, the black keys are particularly important in helping you identify any of the music keys. It the list below, you see how the black keys are focal points for identifying most of the white keys.

Key C – White key before every set of 2 black keys.

Key D – White key in between every set of 2 black keys.

Key E – White key after every set of 2 black keys.

Key F – White key before every set of 3 black keys.

Key G – White key after key F

Key A – White key after key G

Key B – White key after every set of 3 black keys.

As a recap, the white key before every set of 2 black keys is Key C Major. From that point, you can start counting. After that, you have D, E, F, G, A, and B. You will notice that the white key before every 3 black keys is Key F Major.

Identifying the Minor Keys on the Piano

Of course, at this point, you know the black keys are the minor keys on the piano. If you observe critically, you will see there are no black keys in between key B – C, as well as key E – F. This explains why there is no minor key in between these major keys.

The names of the black keys are determined by the white key around them. For example, the black key between key F – G is key F# or G♭.

The sharp sign indicates that it is a step ahead of the white key. The flat sign indicates it is a step backward from the white key. You can choose to call it by either the sharp or the flat tag name.

To sum it all up, let us write out all the music keys in the manner at which they follow each other. Let us say the piano starts from Key A, as most keyboards start from Key C

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

There you have all of the music keys listed in progressive order. For the sake of intervals, as would be used when dealing with chords, this progressive arrangement is important.

Also, the Minor Keys are not less important than the Major Keys. They all have the same value and are treated that way.

Solfa Notation

Also known as tonic solfa, the solfa notation refers to the various sounds used in music. There are 7 major sounds with some minor ones in between them. The major sounds are known as the Diatonic Scale.

At large, both the major (diatonic scale) and minor sound are called the Chromatic scale. Just as the case with major and minor keys, there are 7 major and 5 minor notes. The sounds of these notes are pronounced as follows:

Major NotesMinor Notes
DohDe
RayRi
MiFe
FahZe
SohToh
Lah
Tee

Furthermore, the major solfa notes have technical names. These technical names can also be used when talking about chords. For example, we have the tonic chord of a minor or major key.

Below is a table showing the major solfa notation, the degree, as well as the technical names for each of them.

Solfa NotationDegreeTechnical Name
Doh1stTonic
Ray2ndSupertonic
Mi3rdMediant
Fa4thSubdominant
Soh5thDominant
Lah6thSubmediant
Tee7thLeading Note
Doh8veHigher Octave

From the diagram above, you can see the technical name for each of the solfa notation. Sometimes, music personnel would rather describe the diatonic scales using the technical names. This informs the need to know them by heart.

Besides, the technical name can be used to refer to the chords of each solfa note. For example, we could say identify the dominant chord of Key C Major. This means the chord of the 5th degree also known as soh.

Kinds of Chords

There are various kinds of chords. Any bid to explain all of them will wear you out. However, we will stress the basic ones, while mentioning some of the others in passing. Let us start with the most common of all chords, Triads.

The Triad Chord

A triad is one kind of chord that harmonically consists of three notes or keys. These three notes can be played together, or in arpeggio style. How are the 3 notes of the triad selected?

That depends on if it is a minor or major chord. For the Major chord of any key, you can use the 3:2 semitone apart formula. For the Minor chord, use the 2:3 semitone apart formula. What does this mean?

Distance in music, which is known as interval, is important when finding music chord. We calculate the distance in music using a system of tones and semitones. Semitones can be termed as half-notes movement, while tones are a full-note movement.

A semitone is a distance between one music key and the next one behind or in front. For example, there is a semitone or half-note difference between Key A and Key A# or B♭. In the same vein, there is a semitone or half-note difference between Key B and Key A# or B♭.

On the other hand, the distance between Key A and Key B is a tone or a full note. That is to say that 2 semitones equal a tone.

The understanding of the tone and semitone system is particularly important for finding and identifying chords. Below, we have all the music keys, so you can identify the intervals between them.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

The Triad Chord on Major Keys

So, back to the identifying Major Chords with the 3:2 semitone apart technique. First, you need to pick a root key before you find the chord. The root key is also known as the tonic key. For our first illustration, let us use the Key B.

This means the Key B automatically becomes the first key in the triad. Next, you count 3 semitones ahead and pick the 4th key as the second key in the triad. Using Key B as an example, the next key would be Key D# or E♭.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

After getting the 2nd part of the triad, you are left with the 3rd key. For this part, you are to count 2 semitones further and pick the next key. Using the Key B illustration, that would be F# or G♭.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E – E – F – F# or G – G – G# or A♭

So, for the Triad of Key B Major, we have the following:

BD# or E, and F# or G

Let us try on more examples of a Major Chord, using Key C. That means the Key C automatically becomes the root key of the chord. As seen above, the next step is to count 3 semitones and pick the next key. That key would be Key E.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

This means that we are left with finding the last part of the triad. Next, we count 2 semitones from the 2nd part of the triad and pick the next key. That key would be Key G.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

So, for the Triad of Key C Major, we have the following:

CE, and G

The Triad Chord on Minor Keys

Now, let us also explain how to get the triad chord for a minor Key. The formula for getting the triad of a minor key differs from the major key. For the minor key, you would use a 2:3 semitone apart formula.

This means after picking your root or tonic key, you move 2 semitones ahead, picking the 3rd key. Next, you end the triad by moving 3 semitones ahead, picking the key after it. Let us use Key A Minor for our first illustration.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

Haven selected Key A major as the tonic key, count 2 semitones ahead, and pick the next key after it. That would be Key C.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

For the 3rd and Last part of the triad, move 3 semitones from the Key C, picking the next key. That would be Key E.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D♭ – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

So, for the triad of Key A Minor, we have the following:

A, C, and E

Let us have another illustration with Key C# or D♭ Minor as the tonic key or root chord. Automatically, Key C# or D♭ becomes the first part of the triad. Next, you move 2 semitones ahead and pick the next key. That would be Key E.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A♭

For the third and final part of the triad, you count 3 semitones from the 2nd part of the triad. After that, you pick the next key to it. That would be Key G# or A♭.

A – A# or B♭ – B – C – C# or D – D – D# or E♭ – E – F – F# or G♭ – G – G# or A

Inversion of Chords

Inversion is one of the ways pianists add glamour to their performance. When chords such as triads are inverted, the content of the triad remains. However, it is the structure that is changed.

To understand the concept of inversion better, let us invert some of the previous triad examples. As shown earlier, the triad of Key B Major is BD# or E, and F# or G. For this triad, we can have 2 inversions. We can do this by switching the positions of the triad keys. Let us see how this works.

BD# or E, and F# or G ——- Root Triad (chord)

D# or EF# or G, and ——- 1st Inversion

F# or GB, and D# or E ——- 2nd Inversion

As seen above, the use of inversions switches the position of the original chord. While the root chord was B, D# or E♭, and F# or G♭, the inversion will see it switch to either D# or E♭, F# or G♭, and B, or F# or G♭, B, and D# or E♭. Let us see one or two other examples of inversion.

For the second example, we will also use a Major key used previously. Let us find out the inversions of Key C Major. For Key C Major, the triad chord would be CE, and G.

CE, and G ——- Root Triad (Chord)

EG, and C ——- 1st Inversion

GC, and E ——- 2nd Inversion

This is another clear example of how the inversion works. In the illustration above, you can see how the original root chord’s structure is changed in the inversions. So, do inverted chords sound different from the root chord?

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They sound different as both retain the various melodies, although in different pitches. Also, the main components of the chords are not altered. This is considering how all of the keys are still intact.

Chord Progression for Solfa Notes on the Piano

We have discussed at length about the solfa notation and their technical names. All parts of the solfa notation have chords that can be played and inverted.

Below is a video explaining how piano chord are formed and played.

Video: How to Play Chords on the Piano (the quick way)

The tonic note is not the only note that can be harmonized into chords. In the same vein, the subdominant, dominant, and every other note can as well be turned into a chord.

As an example, instead of playing doh alone, a tonic triad chord will consist of dohmisoh. This is playing 3 harmonic notes rather than one melodic note.

So, just as we have 7 major notes of the diatonic scale, we have at least 7 basic chords for every key. Using roman numerals, we will explain the chord component of every note. In this regard, a triad will consist of the root notethird note, and fifth note.

From the table below, let us observe how basic triads are formed for every one of these notes.

Solfa NotationChord NotesChord Name
Doh – IDoh, Mi, SohI, III, V
Ray – IIRay, Fa, LahII, IV, VI
Mi – IIIMi, Soh, TeeIII, V, VII
Fa – IVFa, Lah, DohIV, VI, I
Soh – VSoh, Tee, RayV, VII, II
Lah – VILah, Doh, MiVI, I, III
Tee – VIITee, Ray, FaVII, II, IV

From the table above, you can see the basic pattern for choosing chords for every note. However, you should understand that this is only basic. It may be altered intentionally to make way for some exceptional kinds of chords. But still on this kind of chord, we have 2 divisions:

  1. Primary Chords
  2. Secondary Chords

The primary chords are the most important. They can give harmonic support to any melodic tone. The primary chords are the I, IV, and V. The secondary chords are as well important but can be done without. However, when used appropriately, they sound great as harmony support.

The secondary chords consist of every chord apart from the primary chords. They are chords II, III, VI, and VII.

Other Chord Patterns

Aside from the basic root, third, and fifth chord formulation systems, there are other ways chords are formed.

Other forms of chord include the Diminished chord, augmented chord, suspended chord, 7th chord, 9th chord, 11th chord, among others. Although these chords cannot be used at all times, they sound great when used appropriately.

Final Note

Are you interested in playing the right chords?

There are so many chords that can be used by pianists to spice up their performances. However, it is important to start with the basics.

By being practical about this article, you will be able to play these basic chords and make great music. Do not forget that with practice, you become perfect. Keep practicing and see yourself get better by the day.

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