Piano Chords: Do I Really Need To Learn All Those Chords?
Good morning. This is Duane, and over the years, a lot of people have asked me something like, “How many piano chords do I really need to know?” I think couched in that question is a fear of, “Oh, wow! I don’t want to learn hundreds of chords, or thousands of chords.”
Well, the answer to that question is easier than you would suppose. The answer to that question, “How many chords do I really need to know?” is, “As many as you need.”
Now that may sound like a cop out but it’s absolutely true. You don’t need to learn chords that you’ll never use, okay, but you need to learn chords well on the chords you will use. For example, if you want to play complex jazz, then the answer to that is thousands and thousands and thousands of chords, because it’s not just the chord itself, but it’s voicing of the chord.
For example, here’s a G minor 7th (music), but jazz pianists often play (music) that kind of sound, okay? Now that involves thousands and thousands of chords in each octave, but only if you want to play that sort of thing. If you don’t … let’s say that you’re playing at a country church. Typically, you play three-note chords there. You’ll play (music) chords like that. (Music). Sometimes rhythmically, sometimes straight, and so on, but you don’t need a whole bunch of chords.
If you’re playing in a rock group, same thing there. They’ll have a certain chord (music). Certain chords you’ll need, but a lot of chords you won’t need, so the answer is, “As many as you need.”
Let me just go through the possibilities of chords so far. We haven’t gotten into extended chords at all. We haven’t learned about sixths or sevenths or ninths or 11ths or 13ths, or altered chords or anything like that. We’ve just been talking about the basic chords, so let me just walk you through the basic chords once more, and calculate how many chords we can come up with.
First of all, there’s seven octaves on the keyboard. (Music). One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. There’s seven octaves in which you can build chords, okay? All the chords you learn in that span … if you learn that chord (music), that applies to that octave, and that octave, and every other octave, so, when you learn a chord, you’ve already learned seven more because they’re playable in any other octave. You got that? Okay.
We learn the 12 major chords and we said that three major chords were all white (music), C, F and G, and then three major chords had a black third (music), D, E and A. If you’re not up to speed on that, look up some of my other videos on the basic major chords. Three chords were black on the outside, white on the inside, like an Oreo cookie. (Music), D-flat, E-flat and A-flat. One’s black and, that’s G-flat, and one is … two are counted left over. The B chord, which is white, black, black and the B-flat chord, which is black, white, white.
We learn those 12 chords (music), and we’re able to play those fairly rapidly. Then we said that to make a minor chord, all you do is you lower the third, so in any minor chord, just lower the third of a major chord, whatever it is, okay? So, you learn 12 chords and suddenly you’ve got, what, 24 chords because you’ve learned to change a major into a minor, so there’s 24 different chords.
Then you learned diminished chords, and that was made out of a lower third and a lowered fifth, so you can add another 12 to that. We were at 24, that’s 36, and then you learn augmented chords, which were you raise the fifth a half step and that takes you to 48 chords. Forty-eight basic chords. Major, minor, diminished, augmented. Major, minor, diminished, augmented. Major, minor, diminished, augmented. Major, minor, diminished, augmented, and so on. Those are 48 basic chords, but, you can turn each chord upside down three times, can’t you? In other words, three positions of each chord.
The root position of a chord (music), that’s root position of the C chord, now I’m going to turn it upside. I’m taking the C off the bottom, putting it up on the top, so that’s the same chord, but it’s inverted. (Music). That’s the first inversion of the C chord. I can do it again. I can turn it upside down (music), and that gives me a new voicing of C. It’s called “second inversion,” all right? If I turn it upside down again, I’m in the next octave, aren’t I?
Okay, so I can multiply those 48 chords times three inversions. That’s 140 … I mean that’s … yeah, 144 chords. We’re up to 12 dozen chords, 144 chords, okay? Now, each chord, each of those 144 chords, can be played in each octave, so I can play them here (music), here (music), here (music), here (music), here (music), here (music), here (music), okay? All over the keyboard, so, suddenly, I’ve multiplied the 144 times the seven octaves and I come out with something a little over a thousand, maybe 1,007, something like that, okay?
So, there’s way, way, lots of chords that are possible, but you don’t have to learn the ones you’re probably not going to use. It’s good if you do. I know a whole bunch of chords that I never use at all, and it’s good because then it gives you confidence that you could form them if you need to, all right, but you don’t have to. It depends on what kind of music you’re playing, and where you’re going to play at.
So, the answer to, “How many chords do I need to know?” The answer is, “As many as you need.” Now tomorrow we’re going to get into more complex chords. We’ve learned the major and minor, diminished and augmented, now we’re going to take up diminished seventh chords, and then seventh chords, and then major seventh chords, and augmented seventh chords, and minor seventh chords and diminished, half diminished seventh chords, and then major ninth chords and dominant ninth chords, and ninth chords with a flat. Flat nine in other words.
We’re going to learn an eleventh chord and a thirteenth chord and then we have to get into voicing, because all those chords can be played in different ways, right?
Okay, that’s it for today. Hope I’ve whetted your appetite a little bit for learning more chords, but if not, that’s fine. You’ll learn the chords you need to learn. Okay, that’s it for today, and if you enjoy this sort of thing, come on over to Play Piano and sign up for our free piano tips. You get something like this most every day, and if you like piano and music as much as I do, you’ll enjoy it. We’ll see you there. Bye-bye for now.