The first key to remember when trying to make sense of the piano chord is that they’re based on…you guessed it…piano scales! In our examples, we will use the key of “C” but the formula applies to all keys.
Remember that the major piano scale for the key of C is C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C – where the first “C” is the root of all chords in the key of “C”.
One more thing: We use the terms lowered or raised a lot below.
- “lowered” means shifted down one-half step or made flat ().
- “raised” means shifted up one-half step or made sharp ().
We will reference this scale in our examples below.
There are Four Main Piano Chord Types each are further distinguished by what’s often referred to as their quality (Major, Minor, Augmented, Diminished, Suspended):
Let’s explore the construction of the triad chords…
The TRIAD PIANO CHORD:
Remember triads are the simplest chord pattern consisting of only three notes.
Further, these three-note (triad) chords can be one of the following:
Symbol: M or maj, implied if no symbol is present
This the probably the most basic and familiar chord form.
It consist of the 1st, 3rd and 5th note in a major piano scale.
Example: Cmaj or CM = C E G
This the probably the second most basic chord form.
It consist of the 1st, lowered 3rd and 5th notes in the scale.
Cm = C Eb G
Symbol: dim or o
Just like the name suggest, a diminished triad chord is a minor triad chord with the last note diminished or lowered one-half step.
It consist of the 1st, lowered 3rd and lowered 5th notes in the scale.
Example: Cdim or Co = C Eb Gb
Symbol: aug or +
Just like the name suggest, an augmented triad chord will last note in the chord augmented or raised one-half step.
It consist of the 1st, 3rd and raised 5th notes in the scale.
Example: Caug or C+ = C E G#
Suspended or Suspended Fourth:
Symbol: sus or sus4
Just like the name suggest, a suspended chord is a chord that when played doesn’t sound “resolved” The listener is sort left “hanging” or suspended, waiting for another note or chord to finish the sequence. It’s like the following incomplete sentence: “Once you play a chord…”
It ends without giving you what you need to complete the thought.
In a suspended chord the 3rd note is typically replaced by the 4th note.
It consist of the 1st, 4th and 5th notes (sometimes the 3rd note is also played)
Example: Csus or Csus4 = C F G