As a child, I took organ lessons during which my teacher taught most of the chords by their inversions to minimize the amount of travelling on the keyboard required by the left hand.

For example, A was played A C# E and C was played G C E. To move from A to C, you don't move your thumb, just the other fingers. An advantage of this technique was that I rarely have to look at my fingers.

Now that I'm older, I find myself accompanying groups on the piano more often than on the organ. Since I can't depend on the foot pedals to play the bass line, arpeggio'd chords don't sound right using my current fingering.

I understand I need to learn to play chords with the root note as the lowest note. Unfortunately, 25+ years of developed muscle memory are coming back to bite me and I can't seem to unlearn past patterns even though I've been trying for years.

Other than blind determined practice, can you suggest tricks to help unlearn ingrained habits? Did anyone have to go through a similar process on the guitar, for example?

  • 2
    I don't think you can leave determined, repetitive practice out of the equation. But a thought that comes to mind is that you could start the "unlearning" process by playing only the chords root note (with your left hand) along with the right hand until that becomes automatic. Then add root and third (or root and 5th) and play until that becomes automatic then add the 3rd note of chord and repeat. This step by step approach that begins with an emphasis on the root of each chord might be easier than trying to play the entire chord in a way that goes against your learned instincts. May 19, 2016 at 22:38
  • It's unclear what you want to end up with (or why). Playing every chord in root position every time does not seem desirable.
    – David K
    May 21, 2016 at 22:34
  • @DavidK: I agree. Howerever, at this time, the only chords I can consistently play correctly in root position are G, A and B. Everything else sounds off when arpeggioed. What I'm trying to do is to expand my skills.
    – chabzjo
    May 24, 2016 at 20:33
  • The fingering technique you mentioned works very well on any keyboard instrument, not just the organ. I suspect your problem is not fingering-related.
    – Richard
    Jul 21, 2016 at 2:18

5 Answers 5


Why not learn a bass-chord pattern with your left hand. Keep the great inversions you've learned. Just add the bass note a la stride style.

Root position voicing will sound weird if you play all chords in root position.

Ask a bass player to play with you.

Program a midi bass.

It might sound weird to you to be playing your good voice leading style, but what do others say? Often our perception of the weaknesses in our own playing isn't felt by our listeners.


you need to learn to sightread and know where you are on the keyboard as preliminary

you need to know your scales and build your chords off that

then practice root position, first inversion, second inversion, (+ further inversions) using hand over hand technique

when doing the D7, know that you can always omit the 5th if you'd like. Some do, dome don't

practice some pieces that allow you to improvise your own chord choices: Somewhere over the rainbow, for example, (it's C Am Em C7 F C/E C7 F Fm C/G A7(b9) D7 C7 C6). Instead of following what is written try doing the inversion or root position of those.

Lastly, have fun.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you are playing chord-based, not notation-based, songs along with modern music ensembles.

If this is the case, learn to substitute your left hand for your feet: instead of playing the root of the chord with a foot, you will need to play it as an octave with your left hand in the bass range of the piano. (Play the chord in any inversion with your right hand in the treble range.) If you have trouble reaching an octave, you may pick one note with your left hand.

If you play this way, it will not sound odd. However, I would note that fingering alone should have no bearing on the sound of the piano. It sounds from your question and comment that you may be having trouble finding out which notes correspond with each chord name. Refer to this chart if that is the case: http://www.8notes.com/piano_chord_chart/

  • Actually, I play the melody (note-based) with my right hand and chords (chord-based) with my left hand. The reason fingering sounds odd on the piano is if I try to arpeggio a chord, the first note is not always the root. For example, if I arpeggio "C", it would start with G, then C, then E.
    – chabzjo
    Jul 27, 2016 at 21:50
  • It sounds like you're playing inversions of chords when you want to play them in root position. Is that correct?
    – Richard
    Jul 30, 2016 at 18:22
  • That is correct.
    – chabzjo
    Aug 8, 2016 at 20:43

Don't just improvise from melody and chords. Get some actual piano music, learn to play it as written. You'll discover patterns and textures that can be applied to your freer playing.


I would suggest practicing first playing just two note chords, and always playing the root as the bottom note, but keeping the other note where it is, or however you are used to playing it. So using your example of an A Major chord, A-C#-E, I would suggest playing just A and E and then when you move to the C Major chord play just the C and the E, so you don't move the E, just the A up to the C. If you have a really big hand you could move the A down to the C, but that's a stretch. As you get more familiar with playing the root and one other note, you can try adding an additional note.

As other people have mentioned, the way you learned chords is generally a well respected and good way to play chords because the notes don't jump around a lot. It's called good voice leading. So I don't think you should try and unlearn that technique. Try just adding to your existing technique to find a sound that works better for what you are playing now.

However, you could also try another common accompaniment technique of playing root - fifth - root chords for every chord. For example, A Major would just be A then E then A an octave higher. Then the C Major chord would be C - G - and C an octave higher. This is helpful for just getting used to jumping around to root position on every chord and has an added benefit of not worrying about whether the chord is major or minor. Hopefully this helps!

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