Piano Chords: How Many Do I Need To Know To Play a Song?
Here is a transcript of the video in case you would like to follow along:
Good morning this is Duane and today I’d like to ask you a question. How many piano chords do you have to know to play a song? People have asked me that over the years; have many chords do I have to learn, it’s like they don’t want to learn that many chords. They think the chords are scary or something and they don’t want to tackle something bigger than they can chew off. I can kind of understand that feeling; I think I felt that way when I started learning chords as well. But the answer is, if you’re just starting, all you need to know really is 3 chords and those 3 chords are called the primary chords in any key.
For example, there are various keys you can play as. You can play in the key of C, you can play in the key of D flat, you can play in the key of D; you can play in the key of E flat and so on. There are 12 different keys you play in. Most people like to play in keys where they just have white keys. If you want to stick with the white keys for a while then you’d pick the key of C because it’s based on the scale of C which has nothing but white keys. The 3 chords you need to know are the 1 chord, in other words the chord built on the first degree of the scale, that’s the chord. 2 notes is an interval, 3 notes; it takes notes to make a chord; 3 or 4.
I mean, it takes 3 notes to make a chord but it could have 4 or 5 or 6 or any number actually. Let’s start up with 3 note chords and we just need to know 3 chords, 3, 3 note chords. The 1 chord is C because it’s the first note on the scale, the fourth chord is F, the fourth note of the scale and the fifth chord is G, fifth note of the scale. The reason for that is; those are the chords that will harmonize any note in that scale. In other words, you can’t play any note in that scale where these chords don’t harmonize. In other words, if you’re playing G it will harmonize at the C chord because it’s in the C chord. It will also harmonize with the G chord because it’s in the G chord.
It doesn’t harmonize too well with the F chord but it’s not terrible either, you can get by. For example if the melody was A; it doesn’t harmonize too well with the C chord or with the G chord although that’s alright. It harmonizes best with the F chord because A is in the F chord. The 3 chords you need to know to start off with are, 1, 4 and the 5 chord and you generally play chords in the left hand, you can play them in the right too. Most people start out just playing the melody in the right hand and chords in the left hand.
Let’s take a simple song, let’s take, “Oh when the saints,” C chord. “Oh when the saints go marching …” so far all we’ve had is the C chord. This note D doesn’t go too good with the C chord but it’s in the G chord, so I would go to the G chord. “Oh I want to be in that number,” what chord do you think you’d put with F? Well, it’s in the F chord isn’t it? That’s logical. (Piano playing) I harmonized all of “Oh when the saints go marching in,” with just C, F and G didn’t I? The 3 primary chords in the key of C; let me play it all the way through. (Piano playing)
I missed the second class chord which is G and then C. Let’s take another chord, another song. Let’s try “Happy birthday.” (Playing piano) Let’s try “Silent night.” (Playing Piano) Any simple song I can play in the key of C by just matching it with the 1, 4 and 5 chords. If I learned some additional techniques based on the same chords, I’m not changing the chords, I can make it sound a lot smoother. In other words, instead of just holding that note what if I played … if I broke up the chord like this and I played the chord in the right hand; listen to this. (Piano playing) Does that sound a little [inaudible 00:05:23] than, (piano playing)? Yes it sounds a lot [inaudible 00:05:27] and yet I’m playing the very same chords. I just played the C chord in the right hand, (piano playing) G chord in the right hand, C chord. In the left hand I played the notes of the C chord but I spread them out into; it’s called an arpeggio.
You’ve heard of archipelago, series of, well an archipelago is a series of notes like that. I just pushed down my [inaudible 00:05:56] I rolled them like that. Then I echoed the melody up here; if I do it exactly, listen. (Piano playing) You see that, just by expanding your knowledge just a little bit, I wasn’t actually adding any color tones or anything like that; I could add a lot more and I could add fills. Let me just take it a step further but I want you to know that I’m not changing any of the basic chords, I’m going to put in a color tone; I’m going to put in 9th and the 7th here, listen. (Piano playing)
Just by putting in some 6th and 7th and so on and changing the root a little bit, of the chord, I can add or get a much [inaudible 00:07:29] sound but that’s where you start. You start with those 3 basic chords and then build on that. It depends on the song you want to play as to how many chords you need to use. For example, there are lots of songs where you can’t, you have to use more than 3 chords and that mean learning more chords obviously. If I wanted to play; let’s say; “Green Dolphin Street.” (Piano playing) Now it’s terribly sloppy but I’d have to learn on the C chord, C minus 7th chord. Then I’d have to learn D minus 7th, D flat and C. A 7th, D minus, that’s a flat 10th, C. I have to go to F minus 7th, B flat, E flat; G 7th to the flat 9th and so on.
Knowledge builds on knowledge and so you learn 3 chords and then you learn a 4th chord and then you learn 5th chord and then you add 7th to those chords and 6th, 9th, 11th and so on; and gradually you get up to where you want to be. But it all starts with those three basic chords. What’s the answer to my initial question? How many chords do you need to know to play a song? You need 3; there are some songs you can play with 2 but not may, it’s 3 or more. Then after that, the sky is the limit as to what you want to do.
That’s my little tip for today, if you like this kind of thing come on over to Play Piano and sign up for my free newsletter on chords and chord progressions and everyday you’ll get something from me; probably in a way of a new chord progression or a new chord or a new video or something like that. I invite you come on over. That’s it for today, we’ll see you tomorrow with another tip; bye, bye for now.
Here is the video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jtlkkZPa2Y&feature=youtu.be
Wikipedia article on piano chords: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Piano/Chords_(and_pop_examples)
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