If you want a quick and easy, almost dirty way to learn how to play the piano, start with chords.
Some people say this is cheating; there is even an entire section of the music publishing industry dedicated to books known as fake books.
I say you gotta use what you got to get what you want, am I right? Of course I’m right!
I’m about to give you a tool that will seriously beef up your piano playing skills and round out your musical abilities. But first, I’d like to point out why it’s to your advantage to learn how to play chords:
You can accompany yourself
Imagine being able to sit down, sing a little tune, and play piano at the same time. It can be done and is easier than rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. If you decided to learn to play the piano because you’re really a singer and thought it would be a good idea to provide your own back-up music, well, first of all, you’re pretty smart. Second of all, learning how to play chords might just give you the right amount of piano skills you need and you won’t have to go too much further to reach your musical goals.
You can learn more songs
Most blues, pop, rock, country, contemporary—ok, let’s face it, most music that isn’t classical can be played with some chords or their variants in either one or both hands. And honestly, most of those large anthologies you purchase at the music store or on Amazon will have the chords proudly displayed over the top of the lead lines (the lines containing the melody).
You can learn more songs quickly
Because the majority of all songs non-classical are comprised of the same basic chords and progressions, once you learn your chords, you will learn songs at lightning speed.
So what is a chord?
A chord is a grouping of notes played at the same time.
There are as many variations of chords as there are scales: major, minor, seventh, blues, jazz—but let’s not jump too far ahead.
A major chord is comprised of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a scale.
Using the C scale as a guide, that would be C-E-G.
And voila! You have a C major chord.
You can play it with both hands at the same time, and you can even add a C on top to form C-E-G-C for a fuller sound.
What is a chord progression?
A chord progression refers to playing a series of chords—moving from one chord to another.
The best kind of chord progression for anybody to learn—not just beginners—is known as I-IV-V, or one-four-five.
You pick the first note of the scale and play its major chord—so let’s start with C and then the C chord.
Then, you go to the fourth note of the scale and plays its major chord—in the C scale, you’d move up to F and then play the F major chord (F-A-C).
Finally, you go to the fifth note of the scale and play its major chord—in the C scale, you’d move up to G and play the G major chord (G-B-D).
So that’s your basic progression: C chord to F chord to G chord and then back again.
How should I practice these?
It’s good for both hands to be playing the chords at the same time for now; it builds your muscle memory and makes things easier as you continue.
If you have the span, you can try to add the top note to the scales like we did earlier, to give a richer sound.
Eventually, the majority of the chord playing might be assigned to your left hand, as your right hand masters lead lines. But for now, practice with both hands playing chords at the same time.
What’s a good song for me to practice?
Depending on your taste, you can try Every Rose Has Its Thorns, Hound Dog, or my personal favorite, Blurred Lines (you know you want it).
Now that you’ve learned a bit about chords, you’re ready to move on to the task of learning to read music.