# What piano chords should I memorize?

Seems that there were similar questions, probably clear to most of forum folks, but still not to me as a piano beginner.

I found chords theory rather straightforward, however practicing seems a bit confusing. To be more specific, I found few recommendations to memorize (and play automatically) all major and all minor triads. Knowing that there exist Sus chords, seventh chords, ... as well as many inversions it becomes senseless to memorize them all.

So the question is if there exists some "reasonable" measure of what to memorize, if any ?

• I'd say you need to memorize how to form chords rather than chords themselves Feb 17, 2021 at 10:46
• I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to do. Are you having problems playing some actual pieces, songs or something? Or are you trying to first acquire all possible skills, so that you're prepared for anything? Feb 17, 2021 at 11:30
• Maybe it's wrong, but I didn't play some piece. I simply red theory and then watch few videos explaining practical matters of playing chords. Feb 17, 2021 at 11:34
• All of them, the list is finite. There are also useful, logical, formulas for building chords. If you know these it makes the task easier.
– user50691
Feb 17, 2021 at 11:36
• What's the purpose behind it? If you're reading music, the chords will be there as clusters of dots. Very different from trying to play pieces which are on lead sheets.
– Tim
Feb 17, 2021 at 16:12

I'll reiterate what others have said: first learn triads, major, minor and diminished. Then move on to the diatonic seventh chords: major, minor, dominant, half-diminished, and fully diminished. Extending the seventh chord set with ninth chords and the French augmented sixth (dominant seventh flat five chord) would be the next logical step.

Starting with a base of triads, it should be noted on piano there are only 6 chord "shapes" for major/minor triads. Several shapes repeat like `D`, `A`, and `E` major.

When moving on to the other chords it's good to think in terms of modifications and additions to major and minor chords and learning a few principles about the black/white piano keys for specific intervals. For example, minor and dominant seventh chords are formed simply by adding a minor seventh to either a minor or major triad. All minor seventh will be same key color except those involving `BC` or `EF`. You can look for key color patterns in the same way for other intervals.

The point is to start with a relatively small base of triads where you think of the chord as a single unit. But when that base is established you should start to think in terms of intervals. The base triads are practical, but limited. Learning all intervals in all positions on the keyboard provides for the full range of chords.

All intervals in all positions is basically 12 intervals times 12 roots, or 144 specific intervals. That brings us back to a large number of things to learn. I think the way to deal with this effectively is to learn chord movements rather than discrete chords. Two chord progressions like `V6/5 I` or three chord progressions like `ii7 bII7 I` sequenced up/down by step covers practical chord changes and technical coverage of the whole keyboard. It's also a good way to learn chord inversions by putting them in their usual musical context. You can systematically "rotate" through inversions, like this `V65 I`, `V4/3`, `V4/2 I6`, `V I6/4`.

If you play cadential progressions, things like the classical cadences and the jazz progressions `ii V I` in major and minor, and also with the alternative tritone substitutions, which is somewhere around a dozen progressions, and then sequence them up/down by steps, you will develop the basis for playing automatically lots and lots of chords and the flexibility to move beyond rote memorization of everything.

• Since the OP accepted this, I'd like to note that based on the OP's comments, the actual question is: "What piano chords should I memorize before trying to play any pieces." If this is the answer to THAT question, how is it possible that anyone has ever got to the point of being ready to play any music at all. The same comment applies to most of the answers. Feb 17, 2021 at 19:28
• @piiperiReinstateMonica this wording "before trying to play any music pieces" was not asked by the OP. It's not even implied. You made that up yourself. Feb 17, 2021 at 19:32
• OP said "Maybe it's wrong, but I didn't play some piece. I simply red theory and then watch few videos explaining practical matters of playing chords." To me it seems that the idea is to memorize everything first. I am very happy if I got it wrong and the OP doesn't have this nonsensical idea. At least @Laurence seems to have understood it the same way as I. (right?) Feb 17, 2021 at 19:33
• In what way does that preclude practicing chord while also practicing specific pieces? You are making up some scenario where the OP isn't going to learn any pieces until memorizing a set of chords. The OP didn't say that. I didn't say that. But clearly you are worried they plan to do that. So, write an answer with your recommendations and warnings. Feb 17, 2021 at 19:38
• I asked that from the OP. You assume that you understood correctly. Never assume that. Hello @Zoran can you help us out here. Feb 17, 2021 at 19:38

Understand how chords are built. Then don't bother with rote-learning. Learn the chords as they occur in the music you're playing.

• yep, that's what I was thinking. rather than learning individual chords learn how they're built is the answer. it'd be like saying "which programming language should I learn" .. completely depends learn the fundamentals then you can use all of them Feb 17, 2021 at 23:27
• Good point but terrible analogy! Feb 18, 2021 at 13:17

2.the 7th chords in root position.

1. chord progressions like cadence and 5th fall sequences with inversions.

2. dim.7 and +5 chords, N6 (neapolitanian)

3. aug. 6th chords (german, french, italian

Edit:

opposite to other answers I propose to elaborate the accompaniment of a new piece first with block chords and simple harmony and establish in a second step the extended chords. This kind of reduction and analysis may help as approach to develop the understanding of more complex harmonisation.

for a beginner it might be sufficient to know and understand the basic chords in C major and a-minor. (This can work like the moveable do or the R.N. Once learnt you can later transpose them in other keys and often it will be helpful to transpose other keys back to C and am.

• Never come across the need to read aug. 6th chords. Wouldn't they be written out in notes?
– Tim
Feb 17, 2021 at 16:14
• 6th chords are 1st inversion of root chords. It's like Laurence Payne says: their image in the note staff respectively the pattern of the keyboard must be memorized respectively recognized: a third and a fourth. Feb 17, 2021 at 20:24

Perhaps extending Laurence's answer, I agree that the best way to memorize is to learn them in music context. Play many songs, figure out good voicings and practice them. This way you not only practice the chords themselves, but learn practical associations. As on piano transposition is not trivial, make sure to practice in all 12 keys.

As a fellow beginner, I think it's important to recognize that knowledge and memorization are different from the muscle memory associated with learning an instrument. Learning how to construct a chord in theory can allow you to figure out how your fingers should be arranged for any particular chord you read about, but that's not what you'll do when you're actually playing.

To go from understanding chords in theory to actually playing chords as part of playing music requires developing a muscle memory for the relationships between the piano's keys and how you can move your hands between them. As you encounter chords in your practice, they will become implicitly encoded into the part of your mind that transforms musical intention into motion and, via an instrument, into the sounds that contribute to music. You can choose to focus on particular chords of interest in the genres you like to play and deliberately practice those progressions, which will help to strengthen that portion of the encoding, but you don't necessarily need to systematically practice every arbitrary chord. This means that some rarely encountered chords will feel 'weirder' than others to play, but they'll be related to things you already know and you'll be able to adapt.

For me, personally, following a self-learning process, I've found that a combination of practicing scales and learning/practicing simple songs has helped a lot with developing that muscle memory. I'm still just sticking to C/Am for the most part, but that suits my initial goals anyway, since my primary hobby is music production and I can always use the DAW to 'cheat' my recording in C into any other scale. If you're still at the point of poking at the piano and want to actually get into playing, leave the theory for a bit and try looking for those basic exercises. A lot of them are targeted at young kids, but that's fine, gotta start somewhere, right?

All of them.
What would happen if halfway through a piece you suddenly had to stop to work out what an E♭ minor 11 was as a first inversion, or how to voice it wide, with both hands without the bass sitting awkwardly on the third?
You learn these as patterns, not as absolutes. You're a human, not a computer ;)

• Yikes, stuff like this is why I'm currently a lot better at playing piano from sheet music than lead sheets. Feb 17, 2021 at 13:01

Most chords start out as triads. So learning the major and minor triads is essential.

Then they become more complex, with extensions, like 7, 9 11, 13. These simply add on to the triads in most cases, so knowing which are the m7 and 9 of E♭ major are, for example, you can play the whole chord -E♭9 - or an inversion thereof.

Understanding what difference say, a ♭5 of ♯9 makes in changing specific notes is good to know as well. So if you can play Cm, you can work out Cm7♭5 from there.

So, it's not such a daunting task as 'there are 1000 chords, learn them all'.

And, the more you get used to playing the basic triads as a start point, then adding extensions and/or changes, the more automatic it becomes to find your fingers getting there before your brain tells them to.