Learn to Play Piano

Rocket Piano is an easy way to learn to play piano with over 12 months of step-by-step lessons: Classical, Pop, Country, Rock and Blues.

Online small business ideas
Free piano lessons

Free piano lesson 3 - Basic chord structures PDF Print E-mail
Written by philip   
Tuesday, 14 April 2009 19:18

Lesson 1 – Get to know the notes on a piano
Lesson 2 – Basic scale theory
>  Lesson 3 – Basic chord structures
Lesson 4 – Learn to play two songs
Lesson 5 – Practice your ear
Lesson 6 – Notes and fingering
Lesson 7 – Add melody to chords
Lesson 8 – Understanding and expanding chords
Lesson 9 – Harmonic principles and progressions




[In this lesson it might help you to zoom in (normaly Ctrl+ or Ctrl+scroll mouse up) to see tiny simbols better]


If you are acquainted with basic scale theory, then chord building is just one step further. A major chord consists of any combination of notes 1, 3 and 5 of the major scale built on the root-note of that chord. The root-note of any chord is indicated by the name of that cord, e.g. the root note of D7 is D (where D=1), or the root note of C9 is C (where C=1). See the example below:

Notes and numeration on the piano

Notes 1, 3 and 5 make up a C Major cord (C, E and G).




A Minor chord consists of any combination of notes 1, b3 (flattened 3'd) and 5 of the major scale built on the root-note of that chord. Cm (C minor) would have a C, Eb and a G.




Lets apply the same principle to a D chord:

Notes and numbers in the key of D

A D Major chord would take the same formula: 1, 3 and 5 of the major scale built on the root note (in this case D). A D Major chord will consist of a D, an F# and an A (see the above picture).



A D Minor chord would consist of a 1, b3 and a 5. That translates to a D, F and an A. Note that the b3 (flattened 3'd) is an F in this case, which is a white note. The relationship of the notes of a D minor chord to one another is exactly the same as a C minor chord – only the point of reference changes. This is the same for all chords.




What would the notes be for a Eb major?




Hover Eb   G   and   Bb to see the answer.



If you understand the basic principle how major and minor chords with different root notes are formed, you will be able to play any major and minor chord in any key.




Let's now move on to extended chords. You don't need to know all the chords to move on to the next lesson. Some of these chords are used in fairly advanced jazz. You might want to bookmark this page and use it as basic reference for all chords.

Notes and numeration on the piano


In the above example, the numbers 1 through 13 indicate notes in the scale of C. This numeration is used as reference for all the C-chords – not chords in the key of C, but C-type chords, like C, Cm C7, C7b9, etc. The same principle is applied to all chord types of a certain key signature. For example, for the construction of all E-chords, the scale of E major is used as reference. For all E-chords then, the following numeration would apply: E (1) F# (2) G# (3) A (4) B (5) C# (6) D# (7) F# (9) A (11) C# (13)




The 9th, 11th and 13th notes are essentially the same as the 2nd, 4th and 6th notes respectively, but:
A 9th chord is distinguished from a 2nd chord, for it includes a 7th or a b7.
An 11th chord is distinguished from a 4th chord (suspended), for it includes a 7th or a b7, as well as a 9th.
A 13th chord is distinguished from a 6th chord, for it includes a 7th or a b7, a 9th and in some cases an 11th (but not necessarily).




Major formulas:


Major:     1 3 5  
7:             1 3 5 b7
9:             1 3 5 b7 9
11:           1 3 5 b7 9 11
13:           1 3 5 b7 9 (11) 13 (11th normally omitted)


maj7:      1 3 5 7
maj9:      1 3 5 7 9
maj11:    1 3 5 7 9 11
maj13:    1 3 5 7 9 (11) 13 (11th normally omitted)





Minor Formulas:

m:              1 b3 5
m7:            1 b3 5 b7
m9:            1 b3 5 b7 9
m11:          1 b3 5 b7 9 11
m13:          1 b3 5 b7 9 (11) 13 (11th normally omitted)



min7:           1 b3 5 7
min9:           1 b3 5 7 9
min11:         1 b3 5 7 9 11
min13:         1 b3 5 7 9 (11) 13 (11th normally omitted)



If you understand these basic chord structures, you should be able to work out any chord.


Take time to understand this...




Some exercises:




Of what notes would a D9 consist of?


Hover D   F#   A   C   E to see the answer.




Of what notes would a Am13 consist of?


Hover A   C   E   G   B   D to see the answer.







Other formulas:


sus (or sus4):    1 4 5 (3d occurs occasionally in jazz)
6:    1 3 6
m6:    1 b3 6
aug (or #5):    1 3 #5 (also occurs in combination with other altered notes, e.g. aug7 or 7#5 = 1 3 #5 b7)
dim:    1 b3 b5 bb7 (minor thirds, e.g. Cdim = C D# F# A)


All other altered notes are normally indicated, e.g.:

Add9 or 2:    1 3 5 9 (or 2)
7 b9:    1 3 5 b7 b9
7#5 b9:    1 3 #5 b7 b9
13 b5 b9:    1 3 b5 b7 b9 (11) 13 (11th normally omitted)
7 b9#9#11 b13:    1 3 5 b7 b9 #9 #11 b13



Alternative notation:


Long chord descriptions become clumsy (last example), and many jazz musicians prefer shorthand for some of the longer chords:


7Alt instead of 7 b9#9#11 b13 (some notes are omitted occasionally)
Phryg (Phrygian chord) instead of susb9
M instead of maj7
Some prefer lower case for a minor chord (e.g. c instead of Cm)
Some prefer + instead of # (e.g. +5 in stead of #5)
Some prefer - instead of b (e.g. m-5 in stead of m b5)
Some prefer ø instead of dim
Some prefer ½dim7
or ø7 instead of 7 b5


Advance to Lesson 4.