I have struggled to find a system to learn all chords .With maj, min, 7th. maj7th , 6ths and all the rest and then inversions of all these chords ,I have given up time and time again but I want to play what I like before I leave this planet (I am retired)

Is there a method as there seems to be endless chords ? and I want to use both hands . I can read music up to about 3rd grade and can play most scales. I know the theory re formation of chords but the task seem impossible

  • 1
    Try using them in progressions/improv/<whatever jazz people do :P>. Notice when you're playing it in a piece. Using them can reinforce your learning.
    – bjb568
    Feb 7 '15 at 0:26
  • Have you searched on line for piano chord charts? I know they sell them in music stores but I would bet you can download some for free from the internet. Feb 7 '15 at 7:26
  • A chord is simply multiple notes. So yes, there is effectively more combinations than you can learn. Why learn chords devoid of context?
    – user28
    Feb 7 '15 at 16:35
  • Go through the circle of fifths. Teach the chords that are in that key.
    – user54929
    Dec 13 '18 at 15:13
  • Which chords? The I chord in C major could be one of at least C, C6, C(add9), CMaj7, CMaj9. What about inversions, which OP has also asked about?
    – ex nihilo
    Dec 13 '18 at 18:57

Learn them (and their inversions) as you play songs that contain them. Over time you'll learn them all, and better than just rote memorization since you're playing them in context. One at a time, you'll get them all.

To add, also study the structure of chords, like you said - a major chord is made of a root, major 3rd and a perfect fifth - so you should be able to figure out any major chord knowing this (and their inversions) - learn the rules for what other chords are defined as, and you'll also pick them up much more quickly.

One by one you'll get them all - it gets easier over time. I've only been learning chords for 2 years, and I feel pretty comfortable forming a whole lot of them reading off a chord chart on the fly.


It does seem to be a daunting task, looking at all the different varieties of chord. However, chipping away a bit a t a time is the way to go. Knowing scales is a good way to make inroads. If you are technically minded, this idea might help: There is a formula for the major scale notes - TTSTTTS. Taking the first (root) note of any scale, move up a tone (T) finds you on the next note used from that scale. Up another T finds the next note, etc.On piano, it's pretty clear, and it doesn't really matter which octave you play in, although the middle of the keyboard will sound clearer.

The next step is to realise the formulae that make up the different chords.Basic ones are 135 (maj), 1357 (maj7), 135b7 (dom7), 1b35 (min) and 1b35b7 (min7).

Each formula relates back to the major scale/set of notes in a key.With some chords, an extra note is added, with others, a note is swapped for a different one.

Don't worry about inversions, as, though they can appear complicating, they merely use the same notes that you play for a chord, "but not necessarily in the same order"

After getting this lot under your belt, it's straightforward to sort out 6ths, sus 4s, 9ths and so on, as they follow the same ideas.

One problem with all this is that each and every chord on keys has a different pattern,so it's daunting. However, there are several that fall into the same patterns, which can be handy for someone trying to make sense of it. In C major, the 3 main chords happen to comprise of white keys: C=CEG, F=FAC and G=GBD. they often go together to accompany songs. The same idea happens in Amaj. White/black/white translates to AC#E for A, DF#A for D and EG#B for E, so your fingers only change position, but not shape.

Try to stick to chords in one key when studying, rather than go through all the majors, then minors and so on.That way it'll make more sense, musically.

Sorry, couldn't condense this any more! But bit by bit, it'll work.

  • @FrankDodd you can start with the key of C. Then choose the 3 main chords that Tim mentioned above: C, F and G. With these 3 chords you can play almost every song. Once you master them, you can also use the A minor chord (still in the key of C). For using both hands... A shortcut is to play the chord with your left hand and the melody with your right. Don't worry if the progress seems slow - i took 6 months to master the key of C, but now can play comfortably in 5 keys. Good luck☺
    – mey
    Feb 7 '15 at 22:53
  • "...stick to chords in one key when studying..." I gave the opposite advice in my answer (for different reasons) but this I agree this is good to do especially with keys giving one trouble (Bbm and Bm for me.) Dec 13 '18 at 22:27

Others note that you should learn chords in a musical context. That's true, but I think the crux of your question is getting over the feeling of bewilderment over too many chords. I think you want to "woodshed" on keyboard chord shapes to breakthrough that problem.

Time to set constraints and look for patterns...

First, be mindful of chord symbol redundancies. add6 chords for example. C6 is an inverted Am7 and Cm6 is an inverted Am7b5. All those symbols may obscure the fact there is a small set of basic chord types.

Start with a reasonable set of basic chords:


  • major
  • minor
  • diminished

IMO skip augmented. It's certainly rare. And, there is some theoretical debate if it's a true tonal chord.

Seventh Chords

  • Major seventh
  • Minor seventh
  • Dominant seventh
  • Diminished seventh
  • Half-diminished seventh

There are other seventh chord types, but those above are the commonest.

Find patterns and reduce.

There are six keyboard shapes for the major triads and another six for the minor triads. The roots of those major triads are F ascending to Bb, and the minor roots are from Bb ascending to Eb. Chords on the other roots are duplicates in shape. So, the "shape" of the C major triad (all white keys) is the same for F major and G major. Skip the duplicates in the beginning. When you get comfortable with the reduced set advance to the whole set of 12 chromatic roots.

Every major seventh and dominant seventh chord contains the set of major triads, and likewise for the minor sevenths and minor triads. That means 3/5 of the set of seventh chords can be conceived of as the triads you already know with the addition of only two more intervals a major seventh and a minor seventh above the chord root.

If memory servers, there are 8 shapes each for the major, minor, and dominant seventh chords. So there is some reduction to exploit with that too.

Regarding my idea of reduce and skip, you could do it literally, and it might be helpful at the very beginning to save time and hand fatigue, but it's better to think of it as mental reduction. Be aware when practicing that Cm, Fm, and Gm are the same shape and so on. It's not exactly 12 totally different minor triads, it's 6 with duplication.

Half-diminished chords are the same as a minor seventh chord with the chord fifth lowered. Yes, it's a different chord. Yes, it has a different harmonic function in a key, but in terms of keyboard fingering technique it's only a half-step alteration of the minor seventh.

Full diminished seventh chords. When inversions are accounted for, there are only three kinds of diminished seventh chords! So, Bb diminished seventh is the same group of notes as D diminished seventh. They are inversion of the same chord.

If you total all of those shape types - and exclude the duplicated triads - you get about 35 unique shapes. The basic triads and seventh chords are not endless and you can manage them when you constrain and reduce.

But, how to handle all the inversions?!

The first part is mental. Realize inverted chords are all alterations of the basic root position chord. Don't let that mentally psyche you out as 4 times more stuff to memorize. Think of it as modifications of what you already know.

The second part is the actual practicing of the inversions.

First, play the root position chords until they become familiar.

Next, incorporate the inversion into repetitions of practice drills. Instead of playing pattern X three or four times, move through the various inversions for each repetition.

When practicing these chord forms move through the root chromatically - ascending and descending - rather than the circle of fifth. Yes, a circle of fifth pattern will better reflect harmonic function, but I think you are trying to deal with the keyboard fingering challenge. When fingering is the main concern, I think the chromatic progression is more beneficial. In the beginning it will be challenging. Your fingers will get all mixed up. But when you finally overcome that challenge your command of the keyboard and control of your hands will be greatly improved.

Another practice pattern that seems to help me is repeating pattern x over three octaves without loosing a steady beat. Don't keep repeating stuff with your hands locked into a position. If you're having finger independence trouble, that's another story, and you may need to stay in a position for a while. Otherwise, don't get stuck in one place. Move up and down to the next octave for each repeat. If it's difficult, slow down the tempo. I have found repetitions in this manner are a great exercise of keyboard harmony.

Consult some classical piano methods for ideas of the actual patterns to practice. But, just hitting the 'block chords' is a simple and quick way to get started now.

If you devote about 30 minutes to an hour each day concentrated practice for 6 months, I'm sure you will overcome this problem!

...before I leave this planet...

Because we are determined in our goal, I thought I should add something about the harmony foundations of jazz and classical styles. After getting the fingerings under control these are the important harmonic patterns.

  • jazz major iim7-V7-I6
  • jazz minor iim7b5-V7b9-im
  • jazz an alternative substitutions for the V chord... major iim7-bII7b5-I6 and minor iim7-bII7-im
  • classical cadences: perfect, half, deceptive, phrygian, Neapolitan sixth, and augemented sixth (consult a harmony textbook for examples.)
  • classical rule of the octave - major and minor.
  • classical circle of fifth - simple triads and seventh chord suspensions - 3rd example, bottom of this page.

All the above patterns should be played in all major and minor keys.


Don't try and just memorise the chords, learn the relationship between each note, in semitones, so you can work out any chord when you don't remember it (by counting up from the root in semitones).

In fact, you don't even need to memorise that pattern: you probably already know one example of every chord. So if you forget how many semitones there are between each note of a given chord, just look at an example and count.

If every time you don't know a chord, you work it out using logic instead of looking it up and just hoping to remember, pretty quickly you'll find you know all the chords.

By analogy, it's like the difference between learning times tables with, and without being able to multiply. You could sit down and just memorise all the random numbers, sure, but if every time you forget, you do the math instead of just looking up the answer, pretty soon you're just gonna realise you know them all.


Well, get a chromatic button accordion keyboard. Then there are only three possible variations of each chord type (1st, 2nd, 3rd row) instead of 12, for a 75% saving of learning effort. And if you have a 5-row keyboard, you can, in a pinch, replace the 2nd and 3rd row variations with just a displacement of the 1st row pattern.

For pianos, there are Jankó keyboards. Instead of 12 basic patterns, you then only have 2 basic patterns, and those are expected to be shifted since you have even more repetition rows.

History has been more favorable to the CBA keyboards than to Jankó.


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