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Illustrated Tour of Sheet Music: Part One


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Piano Chords
Chords seen in piano music.

Go to the Piano Chord Charts: Major Chords | Minor Chords | Dim. Chords | Aug. Chords

Image © Brandy Kraemer

How to Play Piano Chords

Types of Chords

Chords come in various sizes, and can create various moods centered around harmony or dissonance. The smallest chords contain two notes; however, these are more accurately referred to as intervals, because a chord’s type (major, minor, and so on) is dependent on its having one more note …

Which brings us to the triad; a three-note chord made up of the following:

  • Root Note: Foundation for the entire chord; names the chord with a letter.

  • Third: A major (M3) or minor (m3) interval above the root.

  • Fifth: May be “perfect” (P5), diminished (♭5), or augmented (♯5).

Building Triad Chords

A triad’s type relies on both its third and its fifth; or, more specifically, the distance between these notes and the root note. Compare the four most common triad types using C as the root:

 ■ C Major
  Root: C
  M3: E
  P5: G

 ■ C Minor
  Root: C
  m3: E
  P5: G

 ■ C Diminished
  Root: C
  m3: E
  ♭5: G

 ■ C Augmented
  Root: C
  M3: E
  ♯5: G

Building Larger Chords

A triad can stand alone as a chord, or it may be expanded upon to form a larger chord. You can simply add another root note to the triad to make it a 4-note chord (C-E-G-C); or, intervals may be added to change the chord type:

●  Seventh Chords
   A triad chord with a seventh interval added above the root:

  ○ Cmaj7: C - E - G - B (M3, P5, M7)
  ○ Cdom7: C - E - G - B (M3, P5, m7)

  ○ Cmin7: C - E - G - B (m3, P5, m7)
  ○ Cm/M7: C - E - G - B (m3, P5, M7)

* Try It: Build yourself a Caug7 and a Cdim7 chord based on the above principles.

Seventh Piano Chord Diagrams:

See More Musical Symbols:
Staff & Barlines    ■Note Lengths     ■Articulation Marks    ■Repeat Signs
The Grand Staff      ■Dotted Notes      ■Dynamics & Volume      ■Segno & Coda Signs
Time Signatures       ■Accidentals        ■Key Signatures      ■Pedal Marks
Tempo Commands     ■Piano Chords         ■Music Rests          ■8va & Octave Commands

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