Updated: Nov 25, 2020

A chord is also called a triad, which is typically a group or a set of three (or more) notes played simultaneously. A chord can be three notes or more, whereas a triad is always three notes arranged in thirds. When all three notes are struck together at the same time, this is called a “block chord”. When struck non-simultaneously the chord is said to be a “broken chord“ or arpeggiated” (which means they are played consecutively not at the same time).

I teach triads to my piano students from the very beginning. When first learning triads, I have my students play chords in a “close position.” A close position means the notes are as “close” to each other as possible. In other words they are not spread out beyond an octave. In an open position there is more than one octave between the top and bottom notes.

Bands and choirs use this method for creating beautiful harmonies. You use the root (C chord - C is the root), a third (which is three notes up from C – counting C – which is an interval of three) and a fifth above the root. If the singer is singing a third, then you want to add the root below the singer and a fifth above the singer.

Major chords are indicated by a capital letter (by itself) “C.” The minor chords are indicated by a small “m“ in the chord symbol; for example a C minor chord would be written as Cm. There are augmented chords (C+), suspended chords (C sus) and a diminished chord (C dim). Chords can be played in multiple ways. If you have three notes C, E, G, you can also play the same chord in a different order E, G, C (inversion 1) or G, C, E (inversion 2). A “lead sheet” uses chord symbols for accompaniment.

Once you’ve learned how to play the chords in various ways, feel free to double the chord notes an octave above (sounds energetic) or below (sounds heavy, sad). If you are a singer, sing along with your favorite song and try finding a note below or above what the artist is singing that harmonies with the singer. Whether it’s singing or playing piano, chords/triads are what it’s all about. Listen to Koko Higa sing “Hello” and play chords on the piano to accompany her vocals.


What is the difference between a rock guitarist and a jazz guitarist?

A rock guitarist plays 3 chords for 10,000 people A jazz guitarist plays 10,000 chords for 3 people

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