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How to learn piano chord progression (with chart to print out)


By Colin Forrester

There are many piano methods, especially online piano guides start you off learning chords straight away. In my opinion, this is not the correct way to learn the piano.
You should learn the value of notes, rhythm, musical terms, posture, and everything else that has been previously talked about well before approaching chords. However, without understanding chords and how they structure a piece of music, you will have no idea when it comes to composing your own work, songwriting or to learning how to improvise (should these be your aims). There is another post which is more of an introduction to chords for beginners.
What is a chord?
A chord is when you play two or more notes together. Chords are numbered in Roman numerals. To truly understand chords you must learn what the triad is.
You probably know that triad comes from the word tri, meaning three. So the triad is a chord with three notes. The three notes that make up the triad are the fifth, the third, and the root note.
The triad can start on any note in the scale. Below is a simple chord chart:


G
E
C
A
F
D
B
G
E
C
A
F
D
B
G
A
C
A
F
D
B
G
E
C

Chord Progression
When you get a series of chords in a row, it is called a chord progression. The root, the third, and the fifth are common chord progressions.

Learn the chord system and play along to any song or compose your own music ~
When you learn the chord system you will recognise which chord fits in with which melody.
All composers are masters of the chord system. If they hear a melody, they already know which
chord fits that particular phrase. To understand the chord system you must learn and understand the following terminology:
  • The tonic (or position 1) is the first scale degree of the diatonic scale (eg: c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c). The triad formed on the tonic note, the tonic chord, is usually the most significant chord. So a piece of music in the key of c major can start with a triad on the tonic - C (c, e, g) 
  • supertonic  (position 2) — second scale degree (the scale degree immediately "above" the tonic);
  • mediant — third scale degree (the "middle" note of the tonic triad)
  • subdominant — fourth scale degree (a fifth "below" the tonic)
  • dominant — fifth scale degree (this chord often precedes the tonic when finishsing/resolving a piece of music)
  • submediant — sixth scale degree (the "middle" note of the subdominant triad)
  • leading tone (or leading note) — seventh scale degree (the scale degree that "leads" to the tonic, this is also referred to as subtonic)
  • subtonic - also seventh scale degree, but applying to the lowered 7th found in the natural minor scale


A simple way to start is to use a song pattern is this structure (the key being C major):

Tonic (pos1) Subdominant (pos4) 1 Dominant (pos5) 1 4 1 5 1
So using the chords below it would be:


C major F major C major → G major → C major → F major → C major → G major → C major

This is a basic way of composing a verse for a song and is the foundation of 12-bar blues progression (the difference being the chords have 7ths added)


When you have trained your ear, you will be able to sit down at any piano and play a single note (or even, a chord) in the right-hand and already know which chord to play in the left-hand. If you get it wrong, your trained ear will hear that it doesn't sound quite right. 
Try starting a chord on a different note, and keep trying until it sounds right. If you can understand
this at such an early stage, you are halfway to understanding how chords work.
You will probably find that getting chords to work takes a lot of hard work, but it is worth it.
You're an asset to any band when you know how to play chord
Bands are always looking for piano players that understand chords, especially pop, rock and jazz bands.
Most of this type of music is based around chords and chord progressions.
By studying and practicing all of the above, your ear will be trained to understand and distinguish musical notes.
A simple way to train your ear is for someone to sit at the piano and play any note. You will try to sing the exact note that is being played. When you get this right, and note of a different pitch should be played and you will try to sing this one as well.

When you become accomplished at this task, you will then try and name the note that is being played.

It is very satisfying to write your own music. Learning how chords work makes composing and creating your own music simpler. 

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