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How to play your first chords on a piano or MIDI keyboard

Master The Keyboard
(Image credit: Future)

Chords are the building blocks of a lot of modern music, and the more of them you can play, the greater your songwriting prowess is likely to be. 

Here, though, we're going to keep things very simple, showing you how to play your first chord - a C a major triad - on your piano or MIDI keyboard.

Playing your first triad chords

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: A chord is a number of notes played at the same time, and three notes played together is known as a triad chord. To play a C major triad, start by placing your right hand on the keyboard as shown above.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 2: The chord of C major is made up of notes C, E and G, so that corresponds to fingers 1, 3 and 5 in this position. The trick when playing a triad chord is to really focus on getting all three notes down at the same time, with equal weight, so to start off, just play the notes C and E together, as a two-note chord, with fingers 1 and 3.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 3: Play this combo through a few times to get the feel of it. Ensure that finger 2 doesn’t accidentally press the D key, hovering above the keys at all times, but without sticking out like a snail’s antenna as in the picture. Instead, focus on keeping the pressure on fingers 1 and 3 nice and even, while keeping finger 2 out of the way and relaxed.

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(Image credit: Future)

Step 4: After getting the hang of this, swap to playing the notes C and G together using just fingers 1 and 5. This is known as a power chord, or power fifth, as we’ve removed the third from the chord. The little finger is usually the weakest to start with, so try and play both notes with equal strength.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 5: The difficulty many beginners face when playing chords is keeping the unused fingers clear of the keys that aren’t required - in this case it’s fingers 2, 3, and 4. To do this though, the temptation is to stick them out at a crazy angle, so try and keep them as relaxed as possible. Play the power chord a few times until comfortable.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 6: Time to combine these two techniques together to build our C major triad. We need to play the power chord again, but now with finger 3 involved. Placing your hand correctly over the five keys C to G, press down with equal weight on fingers 1, 3 and 5, to play the notes C, E and G, keeping 2 and 4 out of the way but still relaxed.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 7: Hold the chord for a second, then lift off and repeat, getting the three notes down cleanly and evenly without fingers 2 and 4 getting in on the act. Once you’re confident with framing the chord, set up a metronome or simple beat in your DAW and practise hitting the chord cleanly on the downbeat – beat 1 – of each bar.

Master The Keyboard

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Step 8: Time to get the left hand in. A C major triad played with the left hand at this point is a reversed version of the right hand, so the fingering for playing the notes C, E and G will be 5, 3 and 1. Work through the same process as the previous steps, but using the left hand, until you can confidently frame a chord with either hand.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 9: Finally, let’s bring the two hands together. Get the metronome or beat going once more and practise playing the chord with both hands on the downbeat until you are able to reliably get all the notes out with both hands at the same time. Start slowly and build up to a faster speed gradually as your confidence builds.