Archive for October, 2013


This is a diagram I drew for my own use, to help remember the shapes of the major chords on the piano. As you can see, there are just a few basic shapes:

  1. Straight (C, F, G, F#)
  2. Up wedge (D, E, A)
  3. Down wedge (Db, Eb, Ab)
  4. L shaped (B and Bb)

In addition, some chords are mirror images of the others – that is, black keys become white keys and white keys become blacks. For example:

  1. F and F# (all white keys vs all black keys)
  2. D and Db (and all the wedge shapes)
  3. B and Bb (the two L-shaped chords)

Also note that similar chord shapes are neighbors on the Circle of Fifths (C, F and G for example).

After I worked these patterns out on my own, I saw that a number of piano instruction books use them to introduce chords, for example, Marvin Kahn’s Complete Guidelines for Improvisation for Piano Vol 1-3.

After you play around with the major chord patterns, you can do the same things for the other chords – minors, augmented, diminished, etc. There are patterns there, and by discovering them yourself, you tend to learn them better.

Caveat: People approach music in different ways. And knowing the chord patterns is only the very beginning. I do find that it has helped me make sense of the other aspects of music.

If you like this pattern-oriented approach, there are other books you might enjoy. For example:
Ed Roseman’s Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People
Ward Cannel and Fred Marx’s How to Play the Piano Despite Years of Lessons.

Read Full Post »