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"The Ultimate Guide to Finding Chords on the Piano: Tips and Techniques"

When we begin our musical adventure, one of the great things we can start learning is chords. This is in no small part due to chords forming the backbone of much of the music we love - both contemporary and classical and all the bits in between!

When we start learning, we can make simple arrangements of our favourite songs using simplified versions of chords. By simplified, I refer to this because there are so many different types out there: sevenths, thirteenths, major sevenths, minor sevenths, sixths, suspended seconds and fourths, diminished and augmented (both of which can also be seventh), ninth, flat five - a lot! And when you consider that any note on the keyboard can be the root of a piano chord, it potentially seems a minefield of unlimited chordal possibilities.

However, most chords can be simplified to major or minor. We just need to know how to find them!

Let's explore exactly how we can do this...

Finding Major Piano Chords

It is highly unlikely that you don't know at least one major triad at this point. Usually, beginners will learn the C major triad to begin: C - E - G -but you may be so far into your learning that you've learn other such chords as F and G major as well.

Let's discuss how the chord is made up in one of two ways:


Naturally, we will start our chord with the note of the chord we want to find.

So for C major, we need to find C. Because this is the note after which the chord is named, this is called the 'root note'.

Now let's think about the intervals between the notes from C to E and C to G so that we can find a rule that can be applied to other chords.

C to E is a third.

C to G is a fifth.

If you are counting in tones and semitones:

C to E is two tones.

C to G is three and a half tones.

If counting these in semitones;

two tones = four semitones

three and a half tones = seven semitones.


  • a semitone is the distance between a note and the note immediately right or left of it, whether that be a black or white note e.g. B - C / E - F / C - C#.

  • a tone (or a whole tone) is two semitones, e.g. C - D / E - F#.

(Keeping the above structure as our reference, I want you to consider the importance of the third interval - the C to E - over the fifth interval as, as you will later discover, the fifth translates across both major and minor chords).

how to find c major triad chord on piano keyboard using tones and semitones


Another great way for finding chords is to remember - similarly to our interval numbering above - the numbers 1 - 3 - 5 and pick them directly out of the respective major scale.

The C major scale is:

C - 1

D - 2

E - 3

F - 4

G - 5

A - 6

B - 7

and as you can see, I've bolded the notes that are 1, 3 and 5: C - E - G.

how to find c major triad chord on piano keyboard using scale

Pro tip: if you use the scale such as the C major above and pick out chords from it using the same intervals (i.e. leaving one note between your three notes), you will pick out the chords based around each note respective to the very key signature that your scale is in. For example, if I use the C major scale above and start on D, then locate my next two notes using the same distance (leave a note between each) I get D - F - A. This is the D chord that fits into the key of C major. Remember that the scale repeats after 7, so if you run out of notes - just repeat!


Let's use the intervals method to find the chord of C# major.

Firstly, locate C#.

Then, we need to find the third and the fifth.

We've established that there are two tones / four semitones between C# and the third, so we need to count up four individual notes or two groups of two from this root note:


D - 1

D# - 2

E - 3

F - 4

Now we can conclude that F is our third.

All we need to do now is find the fifth.

If you are good with intervals, you will already know what the fifth from C# is. However, if you need to count that's OK. But when you do, try and make a conscious effort to remember the intervals you are learning for quick reference in the future!

Let's count three and a half tones / seven semitones from C# to find the fifth:


D - 1

D# - 2

E - 3

E# - 4

F# - 5

G - 6

G# - 7

And there it is! The triad of C# major is C# - E# - G#.

how to find C sharp major triad chord on piano keyboard using tones and semitones

Now let's find the chord of E major using the scale of E major.

Our E major scale is made up - as is standard - of tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, tone, semitone (back into root / tonic).


E - 1

F# - 2

G# - 3

A - 4

B - 5

C# - 6

D# - 7

Our E major triad, therefore, is E - G# - B.

how to find e major triad chord on piano keyboard using scale

Finding Minor Piano Chords

We've now learnt how to identify any major triad on the piano.

Let's investigate minor chords the exact same way and see if we can spot any similarities!


Due to it being the relative major of C, it isn't unlikely that you will learn A minor as your first minor chord. This is, therefore, the example that we are going to use.

Whilst working out our major chords, we already discussed the interval that is the fifth. The fifth is as true to a minor chord as it is to a major: remember how the interval of a fifth is called a perfect fifth as opposed to a major or a minor fifth, like most other intervals? This is because the distance on its own effectively creates an empty space that can be turned major or minor...

...and in the context of major and minor chords, it's the third that alters it:

The triad of A minor is A - C - E.

So let's explore the intervals.

A - E is a fifth, and this we can by now accept.

A - C is indeed a third, however

if we count this out using tones and semitones, you will find that you are counting one and a half tones / three semitones (as opposed to two tones / four semitones for a major chord).

how to find a minor triad chord on piano keyboard using tones and semitones

This is because - although the interval is a third - it's now a minor third. The interval in C major of C - E is a major third!

So here comes a learning point for you:

  • a major third is two tones / four semitones

  • a minor third is one and a half tones / three semitones

So now we have established how many tones there are between the notes of a major and minor triad, it would be far more fitting at this stage for me to request you learn the intervals and then learn the simple rule:

Major Triad: Root - major third - fifth

Minor Triad: Root - minor third - fifth

If we decided to swap the majors and minors that we have learnt and apply our learning to find C minor and A major, those ahead of me will have already observed that there is a mere semitone between a major and a minor chord.

  • To make a major chord minor, lower the third by a semitone.

  • To make a minor chord major, raise the third by a semitone.

Therefore, C minor is C - E♭ - G

and A major is A - C# - E


Using A minor as our base again, let's just further exemplify how a scale can be used to pick out notes 1 - 3 - 5 of a standard chord.

If we wish to find an A minor chord, we need an A minor scale. If you have read my previous blog on the different types of minor scales, don't panic! You can use any of these as your basis, but I'm going to use the harmonic:

A - 1

B - 2

C - 3

D - 4

E - 5

F - 6

G# - 7

As you can see, 1 - 3 - 5 from the A minor scale means we can deduce that the A minor triad is A - C - E.

how to find a minor triad chord on piano keyboard using scale


Let's use the intervals method to find F minor:

Finding the minor third from our root note - F - is as straightforward as counting up three semitones / one and a half tones:


G♭ - 1

G - 2

A♭ - 3

Now we have found F - A♭, we just need to find the fifth.

If we don't already know the interval, we can count three and a half tones / seven semitones to learn it!


G♭ - 1

G - 2

A♭ - 3

A - 4

B♭ - 5

B - 6

C - 7

And there we have it. F minor is F - A♭ - C.

how to find f minor triad chord on piano keyboard using tones and semitones

Let's use the scale of A♭ minor to pick out 1 - 3 - 5 and find an A♭ minor chord:

A♭ - 1

B♭ - 2

C♭ - 3

D♭ - 4

E♭ - 5

F- 6

G - 7

So the triad of A♭ minor is A♭ - C♭ - E♭.

how to find a minor triad chord on piano keyboard using scale

Creating a Fifth Piano Chord

Somebody asked me a few weeks ago is it were possible to have a chord of just two notes.

Answer: Kind of.

Strictly, this would be an interval. However, you can officially consider it a chord if at least one of those notes is played across two or more different pitches.

The most common example here is the fifth chord.

To create a fifth chord, all you need to do is remove the third and replace it with one of the existing notes you are playing at either a higher or lower pitch.

This would then be written using the root note followed by 5. For example, a C fifth chord would be written as C5.

Using C as an example, we will remove the third note (E or E♭, depending on whether you are thinking C major or C minor) and now you are left with the interval - a perfect fifth: C - G.

Now add another C either at the top, or a G at the bottom (or both - you can use both hands) and you have created a C5 chord!

example of notes for a C5 chord on piano
C5 - example one

example of notes for a C5 chord on piano
C5 - example two

Sometimes block major or minor triads can sound a little heavy, so a fifth chord is a great way to give your music breathing space. It is also a great alternative for performing instead of a chord you aren't familiar with.

For example, an F7sus4 requires one additional and one substituted note from your typical F chord. You may not know that yet, however, so until you do - an F5 will sound OK in its place because it removes the third, which is the note that is being substituted in the more complex chord above.

Inversions and Bass Notes

Now you have discovered the triads, play around with inversions.

An inversion is simply where you reorganise the same notes i.e. putting a different note in the bass.

For example, C - E - G is known as C major root position. Reorganising that to E - G - C is now C major first inversion, and reorganising again to G - C - E becomes C major second inversion.

When a chord is written as an inversion, it is done so by the simple use of a forward slash followed by the note name that is in the bass. For example, a C major second inversion would be written as "C / G" (remember we only specify tone when it is minor, and this would be done so using the letter 'm'. For example. C minor would be written as 'Cm'. If this isn't written, we can assume major).

Additional Bass Notes

The same pupil who asked me about two notes being a chord also asked me if a chord can be more than three notes.

They certainly can!

One simple way that we can explore these is to add a different note into the bass each time. You can use two hands for this exercise as it's more a familiarising and listening one, but try playing the following melancholic chord structure:


Am / G

Am / F

Am / E

Piano chords exercise moving and adding bass notes

or a slightly more upbeat one:


C / Bb

F / A

Fm / A♭


Piano chords exercise moving and adding bass notes

Note how the bass note doesn't have to be part of the triad we have learnt. We're adding an extra note!

And whilst it's true to say that you are creating chords that might have more technical names than I've given above, this is an exciting way of hearing how different notes can create different effects on the simple triads you already have.

Keep your eyes open for more blog posts where I explore more complex types of chord and how they can help develop your music. Meanwhile, however, enjoy playing around with these basic triads and explore how different chords sound when put together.


Jack Mitchell Smith is a piano teacher based in Macclesfield, Cheshire. Click here to find out more.

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