Piano chords are a wonderful thing. They open up a whole new world of music. They allow for endless improvisation on the piano. They are like their own language, separate from sheet music, and yet so intricately connected…
I can remember when I first started learning piano chords. My dad, a Julliard graduate, diligently taught me so much about chords from a young age.
I can remember the tediousness. The boredom, as I practiced finger exercises and patterns designed to get me to remember all the chords.
But now, years later, am I thankful? Oh yes I am! The truth is, memorizing piano chords takes practice. It does take diligence.
If you didn’t learn piano chords from a young age like I did, you might be tempted to say “Its too late. I can never remember all of these.”
Please, please don’t believe that lie. While memorizing piano chords can seem like a daunting task, it is never too late to learn. The truth is, there are a lot of things that can help speed the process up.
Those tips are what I want to tell you about in this post! But before we dive in, let’s cover some other common chord questions.
Do you need to memorize piano chords?
I thought it would be helpful to preface with this question – is it even necessary to memorize piano chords? I would say, yes, you do need to memorize your chords. The reason is chords are the foundation for SO many things in the piano.
If you just learn to read sheet music but ignore chords, you will be missing out on so much. By memorizing your chords, you will be able to understand the makeup of sheet music. Plus, you can go onto learn how to improvise with chords as well.
How Many Piano Chords are there?
Basically…there are a LOT. There are so many variations of piano chords. If you’re looking for a number to start with – there are 12 major chords and 12 minor chords chords. This is a great place to start if you’re a beginner. However, you can also move beyond this and learn many more chords. Further down in the post, I will expand on the types of piano chords more. 😉
What is the “the trick” to memorizing piano chords?
Unfortunately, there is not one “trick” to learning/memorizing piano chords. Except practice! What I mean when I say there’s no “trick” is that there is not one easy way out. There isn’t one secret that will magically get you to memorize all the chords.
That said, with consistent practice, anyone can learn piano chords. It’s not hard to learn them at all, it just takes diligence and consistency.
SO – are you ready to learn my best tips for memorizing chords? Let’s dive into the 9 tips!
Tip #1: Separate by Chord Type
The number one thing you want to do as you start learning piano chords is get organized.
There are a LOT of different types of chords out there! Some are extremely easy to learn and memorize, and others will take more diligence and practice.
A big part of getting organized is separating out different chords by their type. So, I thought I would take a minute to do this for you – make a list of the different types of chords you can learn!
This isn’t because you necessarily have to learn all the chords in this order. It’s more so you can see everything laid out before you get started.
Note: if you’re having trouble seeing how this relates to memorizing, hang in there with me! I’ll explain more soon.
Start With Triads
The easiest type of chord to start memorizing if you’re a beginner is triads. These are chords made up of just 3 simple notes.
To break it down even further, there are 4 types of triads:
And there are also variations of the major chords, such as “sus” chords and “2” chords.
I highly recommend starting with the major chords when you’re just getting started.
Move to 7th Chords
After learning triads, many people will move onto 7th chords. These are chords made up of 4 notes rather than just 3. There are 5 types of 7th chords, making them a bit more difficult to memorize:
- The Major 7th
- The Dominant 7th
- The Minor 7th
- The Half Diminished 7th
- The Diminished 7th
Tip #2: Know your goals
Now, after reading about all those types of chords, you might be thinking, “Whoa, okay! That’s a lot more than I was thinking! Do I really need to learn ALL of those?”
That’s where my second tip comes in – to know your goals. You do not have to learn all those chords that I just mentioned if you don’t want to. It all depends on your own personal goals.
If all you want to do is be able to play the latest pop songs on the piano, for example, you probably don’t need to learn diminished and augmented chords!
However, if you’re an aspiring classical pianist and want to go to college for music, you absolutely should learn all those chords.
To go a step further, if you’re learning Jazz improv, you’re probably going to need to know even MORE complex chords on top of those.
Here’s my point though: if you know what chords you want to learn, you will be able to memorize them faster. You won’t get distracted by other “shiny” chords that you think you need. You can stay focused on your goals and improve quickly.
So: what I recommend doing is grabbing a sheet of paper and making a list of all the different chords you would like to learn. After you get one down, you can mark it off the list to show you memorized it.
Easy Chords to Start With
Tip #3: It’s all about patterns!
Let’s get even more into the nitty gritty of memorizing chords. If you made a long list in the last step, you might be a little overwhelmed, thinking there’s just so many to learn.
But here’s the thing – chords are all about patterns. And once the pattern clicks, all you have to do is apply it to other chords that use the same pattern.
Take major triads for example. They are all built the same way: the first two notes are a Major Third apart, and the second two notes are a Minor Third apart. (Not sure what an interval is? Check out this helpful post & video).
And once you know all your major triads, guess what? Minor triads will be even easier. Why? Because all you have to do is lower the 3rd note of a major chord a half step to make it minor. (For example, a G major chord is the notes G, B, D. And a G minor chord is the notes G, Bb, D. The only difference is the B is lowered to Bb).
Once you know tricks like this, memorizing the chords becomes so much easier.
So my point here is – look for patterns! Patterns will simplify the memorization process so much.
Tip #4: Learn the chords in your favorite song
Here’s another helpful thing you can do to memorize chords faster – find a chord chart of your favorite song and learn those chords!
Let’s be honest: learning new things on the piano is just easier if it’s fun. Sometimes it can be easy to lose motivation with chords because it doesn’t seem like you’re actually playing something.
Of course, the truth is, once you learn chords it will open up a whole new world! But sometimes during the process you will get bored.
PLUS, I think we can tend to memorize better when it’s for something fun too! So, go ahead and search up a few of your favorite songs. If the chords are pretty simple, learn those ones next! You’ll probably find that you can remember them a lot faster.
Tip #5: Learn Inversions + do inversion exercises
As you learn chords, you might think all you need to know is the simplest version. However, inversions are a HUGE part not only of chords themselves but also a huge part of memorization.
I think one of the biggest things that helped me to memorize chords is doing inversion exercises.
- Regular Inversions up and down. Let’s say we were doing this in the key of D. You would start by playing D root position. Then, do first inversion & second inversion. Play root position at the top, and then come back down, ending where you started. Your goal is to be able to move up and down the inversions smoothly.
- Broken Inversions up and down. This is the same process, but with the inversions broken up. So this time, you would play “D, F#, A” separately. Then “F#, A, D.” Then “A, D, F#.” And so on and so forth.
If you’re having trouble conceptualizing this and you’re new to inversions, check out the video below. Inversions are explained in detail, and she also explains the broken chord inversions toward the end.
Tip #6: Have someone else test your knowledge
Once you feel like you have a good amount of chords under your belt, plus their inversions, another helpful thing to do is have someone else test your knowledge.
Sit down at the piano and have them call out random chords for you to play. Then practice finding them as fast as you can.
Of course, this will work best if you have a teacher or friend who also plays the piano. But if not, you can also write down all the names of the chords you know on a sheet of paper and have a family member call them out.
Tip #7: Make chords into smaller groups by shape
We’ve already talked about grouping chords together a bit, but there are even more ways this can be helpful! A great way to memorize your piano chords is by putting them into groups by the way they are shaped.
Here’s what I mean:
- D, E, and A major chords all have 2 white keys on the outside and a black key in the middle
- C, F, and G major chords all use white keys only
- Db, Eb, and Ab major chords all have 2 black keys on the outside and a white key in the middle
- B, Bb, and F# major chords are wild cards (in that they don’t have a common shape to any other chord)
Grouping the chords this way can help you remember them! Instead of them being a bunch of random notes put together, they become a predictable group you can remember.
Tip #8: Write down the chords
Another very helpful thing you can do to memorize chords is write them down. Yes, I mean on sheet music. You can practice writing in treble clef, and bass clef. You can practice writing inversions.
I know, I know. This can seem boring. But I would encourage you to at least try it! It will add an extra layer of memory – a visual one, rather than just muscle memory.
Tip #9: Be Patient, and Keep Practicing!
Despite all these tips, there might still be times where you feel like it’s taking a long time to learn and memorize chords.
But remember – these things take time. It is not an overnight process. You will be most successful if you practice consistently. Even just doing 20 minutes a day on your chords will get you far! The key is being patient, and not giving up.
If you do feel like you’re struggling, reach out to your teacher or a friend you plays piano. Sometimes doing it with someone else can make all the difference.
And lastly – know that I believe in you! It’s never too late to learn and memorize piano chords. With patience and practice, you will get there just like I did 🙂