Think of chords as three objects stacked on top of one another. Each object represents a piano key, and thus each chord contains three notes.
The notes in chords are not always stacked in the same order. In other words, the three objects are always the same objects, but may appear in different places in the stack. The positions are, obviously, bottom, middle and top.
In order to play in a piano style such as LEAD SHEET STYLE, which encompasses almost all popular music, your first task should be to learn all twelve major chords in root position.
Let's start with a C chord. You need to visualize a C chord as a group of three piano keys played (for the purposes of this illustration) with the left hand.
You may look at the piano and ask, "But which three keys? There are dozens of keys!"
It's easy to find a C chord at the piano. Look at the pattern in the black keys on the piano. You'll notice there are groups of two and three black keys, alternating across the entire keyboard.
The note C is defined as the white key to the left of any group of two black keys. Go ahead, plunk out a C, anywhere on the piano.
Now that you've found C, and yes, there are several on the piano, let's make a chord.
Play that key named C, hold it down, and then skip the next white key to your right. Play the next white key. Then skip the next white key, and then play the next white key.
Put more simply, "play a key, skip a key, play a key, skip a key, play a key."
If you are a piano teacher, consider the theme to the kids show, Rugrats. The easiest way to get a child to understand chords is to play them the opening bars of the Rugrats theme, which contains a perfect group of ascending two-note chords.
In fact, you can make root position chords all over the piano, starting on any note, if you use the above formula.
Try it. Play root position chords all over the piano, only on the white keys.
Now let's go back to the C chord.
Note that the bottom key of that chord, the one furthest to the left, is the key we found and named C, and is the one called the "root."
For that reason, because C is the bottom, or lowest, key in the chord, the chord is named after the C, and is thus called a C chord. C is the root of the chord.
The first objective of any student seeking knowledge of the working of chords is to learn the root position of at least the following chords: C,F,G,D,E and A.
Start with a C chord in root position and build from there. It's easy to scale the massive structure of music theory if you start in the right place and proceed slowly.
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