Major chords provide the foundation of all chord progressions and are simple and flexible enough for use in any musical rhythm.
To construct a major chord, begin with its root note (i.e. its namesake note), then count up four half steps for its third note before three further half steps take you to its fifth note.
Beginner pianists quickly discover that chords are built up of three notes called triads. A major chord always contains three notes – its root note (bass note), third interval note and fifth interval note – known collectively as the triad and used to construct all piano chords.
A basic major chord consists of three chord roots – A, C and E – played in root position with A as its lowest note, C in its middle position and E as its highest note.
Change the order of these notes to form different chords – this process is called inversion and it’s simple to learn. Just keep in mind that regardless of what inversion method is chosen, the root note remains constant – for instance a C major chord could be inverted into G-C-E or E-G-C.
Once you have mastered basic root, third and fifth interval chords, it’s time to experiment with stacking major triads. For instance, to make a D major chord simply count up four half steps from its root until F sharp is reached; from there add three half steps more until reaching A. Be sure to play these chords lightly and evenly and experiment with different rhythms to see how their sound changes.
Augmented and diminished chords provide an ideal starting point. These chords feature a tense and unstable sound and consist of one root note plus either a major third interval (such as C augmented chord) containing three notes: C, E and G#.
Major piano chords offer one more distinct advantage: no matter what key you play them in, their structure remains consistent. This means you can switch up their order while maintaining their third and fifth notes – minor goes first while major is at the bottom.
Once you have practiced all these scale positions thoroughly, you will gain a better understanding of how chords are constructed on the fretboard. This knowledge will enable you to play songs, solos and compose new compositions more confidently.
Use the above formula to build any major chord in any key. Simply find the root note, add in major third and perfect fifth, then complete your chord.
Example of C Major Chord F (Root), A (Major Third) and C (Perfect Fifth).
There are several other kinds of piano chords besides traditional major triads; sus2 or sus4 chords are popular options that switch out the third with either an untuned second or fourth note.
Another popular chord type is the augmented or diminished seventh. These chords contain more tones than triads but their dissonant tones are softened thanks to two perfect fifths present within them. Although augmented/diminished seventh chords may sound tricky at first, beginners usually prefer other arrangements.
Chord inversions are an excellent way to add some variety and contrast to your piano chords, each offering its own unique sound and feel when played. As soon as you internalize these shapes on the piano it becomes much simpler and helps build greater fluency when dealing with chord progressions.
Inversions involve shifting the lowest note of a chord up or down an octave – for instance, in root position a C major chord would appear like this:
Once we transpose that same chord up an octave for second inversion, it becomes: