Two Note Chords for Kids

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Two note chords for kids is an invention of mine that fits the capabilities of young hands, and sets up the correct position for three note chords.

The simplest place to start learning chords for kids is to try to acquaint the child with the concept of skipping a piano key.

Children are most at home with adjacent piano keys at first.

This is natural, like the way a toddler laboriously lumbers up each step of a stairway.

You don’t notice toddlers skipping stairs at first.

It is the same with piano keys.

Once a child is able to move comfortably from one adjacent white key to the next, they are ready to skip over keys, like the game leapfrog.

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Make a game of skipping over keys. In Piano by Number that would be playing the keys 1 and then 3, or 2 and then 4.

I call it Skippy, where the child has to find all the skipped intervals they can on the piano, using only white keys.

Once they are doing that, it is a simple matter to show them that if they play the two notes at the same time, it is called a chord.


Have them play every chord they can find, with two fingers. I suggest the 2nd and 3rd fingers because they are the strongest. Insist on this fingering so they get used to that pair of fingers as a unique tool. It is their instinctive choice of fingers, anyway.

The next step involves the black keys, as an aid to finding chords infallibly at the piano. Anything that promotes awareness of the groupings of the black keys is a victory.

Start by showing that chords are named by the lowest key. That is, the name of the lowest key (furthest to the left) is the name of the chord.

Two skills are required for a child to do this: they must distinguish left from right and groups of two black keys from groups of three black keys.

At this point perhaps you are beginning to see how multi-skilled even the simplest actions are at the piano, especially to a child who is only now acquiring those very motor skills.

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To distinguish left from right, I use a glissando. I use it as part of a little game that we play every time they complete a task. When they complete a small task, I make mock celebration out of it, and play a sort of vaudeville ending riff (F, G and then C chords.)

At the end of this vaudeville, I add a quick glissando upwards, which I train them to respond to by hitting the very top white key on the piano, like a musical period on the end of a sentence.

They love this. You can teach many things with it, like timing and planning.

But the real point of the Vaudeville Ending Game is to give children a natural sense of direction at the piano.

The prime piano skill for kids is up/down, and that is difficult to grasp sometimes on a topsy-turvy instrument like the piano, where up is right and down is left.

I vary the game, and sometimes playing a glissando going down, in which case they have to scramble for the lowest key on the piano.

Regardless of which type of glissando I play, the comic question is always posed, “Which direction was that, up or down?”

You have to play this game and ask this question a thousand times until they suddenly get it, and then one more skill is under their belt. Every other skill at the piano depends on this.

Once they know left from right, you can say, “A C chord is just to the left of the two black keys.” If they can observe the group of two black keys, another giant task in itself, they can then find C chords all over the piano.

I find it easiest to put a C sticker on the first C below Middle C, and another on Middle C. The reason for this reassurance strategy is simple: I don’t want them to fumble finding chords, because the flow of music will collapse and they won’t enjoy it.

Anything that keeps the music going is a victory; anything that stops the music has to be fixed when appropriate. That’s why stickers make sense and produce results. Besides, you can always remove the stickers suddenly and see how they do without them, involving an entirely separate group of memory games.

Strangely enough, about 50% of the kids who start out with stickers will ask for them to be removed when they feel ready.

Follow the child’s lead and keep the music going.

The more a child feels they are reproducing a recognizable piece of music, the more they will want to try it further.

It’s far easier to teach a child who is interested and has been engaged on their level.

Once you engage a child’s real attention, they are ready to be transported patiently to somewhere higher.

Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press


Root Position Chords

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What Is A Root Position Chord?

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As introduction, we should point out that the name “root” comes from classical music theory. The root is the name of the note upon which the chord is based. Thus, the root of a three note C Chord is the single note C.

Chords have three notes, placed vertically, bottom, middle and top.

  • Top
  • Middle
  • Bottom

Root position means that the bottom note of the chord is the same as the name of the chord. Thus, a C chord will have the note C in the bottom position, an F chord will have an F in the bottom position.

C Chord:

  • G (top)
  • E (middle)
  • C (bottom)

F Chord:

  • C
  • A
  • F

You’d be surprised how hazy kids are about identifying the bottom note of a chord. Since the keyboard is “on its side,” down is to your left, and up is to your right.

You have to play games with it again and again until kids know what “bottom” means on the piano.

Perhaps you are beginning to understand the logic of key stickers when introducing a child to a subject so rigorous as chords and music theory.

It is pointless having the child confused with note names. We are trying to get them to compute chords, which is much more complicated.

So we name the keys for them with stickers so they can make the additional, more complex calculation about chords, not just notes.

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I’ve found that younger kids get confused by three note chords, mostly because three note chords require the thumb, which is shorter than the other fingers and puts the hand at a very strange angle.

So I let them play two note chords with the two strong fingers, the 2nd and 3rd. Older kids can handle bigger chords.

As soon as a child knows 3 or so chords, I start putting them together in groups, or “progressions.”

I ask for basic combinations like, C G C. And C F C. And F G F.

This requires them to think up the chord quite quickly, and I always rush them like we’re at a carnival and someone else wants to go on the ride. “Hurry up, kid! You’re holdin’ up the crowd!”

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The next step is to get the child to find the chords without reliance on the stickers, but by using the unique pattern of the black keys.

I point out that a C Chord has the lowest note on a C, which is the white key to the left of any group of two black keys. I then ask them to play every C chord on the piano, regardless of if there is a sticker there or not. It forces the kid to look at the black keys as a navigational aid.

We then find every F chord (next to the three blacks) and every G chord (in between the bottom two of the three blacks.)

All of this is to force the child to be a good observer and detective.

Critical thinking and careful observation are crucial piano skills.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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Chords for Kids

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Chords are groups of three keys, usually played by beginners with the left hand. They are the DNA of music, and are present in every musical construction.

Even melodies are really just chords where the notes are not played simultaneously but sequentially, with a few other notes thrown in.

Chords have one additional quality, emotion. Each chord literally produces an emotional response like sad, happy, mysterious or angry.

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So the first thing I teach kids after we have played a few melodies of familiar songs, is to show them simplified, two note versions of chords.

Two note chords allow kids to have easy physical control while playing them, usually with the second and third fingers.

I avoid the thumb at first as it is shorter than the other fingers and using it puts the hand at an uncomfortable angle: it’s not a fingering game, it’s a memorization of location game.

I use chords in two ways.

One, the child is asked to include chords with the left hand if they feel comfortable. Remember, the ability to play with both hands is dependent on the child’s brain hemisphere development, so expect less of younger kids.

Two, I use chords as “ear training,” a course which consumes most of the first year of conservatory training. The child is asked to identify chords, evaluate their emotional quality, and gain facility playing them all over the keyboard with both hands.

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Almost like color-blindness, some kids “get” the quality of each different chord, and others have no idea that there is any difference at all.

This is lack of audio awareness is almost always true of very young kids, who somehow have not yet developed this peculiar audio-emotional skill, or at least are unable to express it. Just brush past it and work on getting the chords visually, ignoring emotional evaluations.

The easiest way to demonstrate the emotional quality of chords is to play bits of songs and ask the kids what they think. (This is essentially college ear training.)

So play the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth and the child will go, “Spooky!” Play Annie and they will say “Happy!” You make up songs, too. The pace should be very fast from one song to the next.

You have to expose them to listening over and over. In fact, I play a game called the Chair of Doom, a mock game show in which we switch chairs, and I play while they listen in the Chair of Doom.

After I play a bit of a song, they must answer with an emotional quality, or dramatic explanation. “Happy, sad, ballerinas,monsters,soft rain.”

Any answer will do, I never contradict them, except when they confuse happy and sad. This such an essential difference that if they get it wrong, we work on it a little extra.

So, allow two note chords, and offer younger kids the option of playing without chords.

If a younger child shies away from chords, they are not ready.

I have seen kids reluctant to use chords for a year suddenly start using them voluntarily.

Simplify chords, but add them to every song so they are available.

Remember that chords BY THEMSELVES are easy for even younger kids, but their combination with the right hand playing melody may be problematic. This involves a wholly separate issue, playing with both hands.

Kids love chords, if you make it simple enough.

Build from there.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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