How to Build a Chord in Three Easy (Half) Steps.

Make Your Piano Sound Like The Song

Building chords is one of the simplest concepts to grasp when learning to play organ or piano. To build chords, you don’t need to know how to read music; the simple chart below will help, plus a little basic music theory.

The first thing you need to do is identify middle C, as we’ll make that the root note of all the chords described here. Middle C is in the center of your piano, immediately to the left of two black keys.

Second, you need to know that the distance between any key on a piano is a “half-step.” Going from white key C to the next white key D is a whole-step because a black key is in the way. This black key represents a half-step—it is C#. A half-step higher than C# is D (the next white key) and another half-step will take you to the black key D#. By this logic, a half-step higher than E is E#, right? Wrong—you’ll notice there’s no black key in the way here, so the next half-step is the white key of F.

how to build a chord

Building chords is simply a matter of describing the distance in half-steps between notes. The easiest chord to play is the chord of C Major. This chord begins with middle C. You then go up four half-steps to E and another three half-steps to G—the notes of this chord are therefore C-E-G, and the formula is Root-4-3. (Play it, it makes a beautiful sound!) The same formula works to make other Major chords. The chord of F Major is R-4-3, or F-A-C. The chord of D Major is R-4-3, or D-F#-A.

The chart below shows how the same formula can be applied to other “flavors” of chords. The names of these chords can be intimidating, but the formulas are simple: again, they simply describe how many half-steps you take from your root note up the keyboard.

For instance, the chord flavor called a “seventh” uses four notes instead of three. Its formula is R-4-3-3, or, if C is the root note, it’s C-E-G-A# (or Bb). This is the chord called C7. Properly speaking the A# is Bb—remember, all the black keys have two names, either the sharp of the note they follow or the flat of the note they precede.

—adapted from Play Piano in a Flash, New York, Hyperion, 2004.

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