C major chord (piano)
Wise method: Find the C major chord from the C major scale using the “1 – 3 – 5” method
Look at the C major scale below, written in treble and bass clef. (If you can not read sheet music, start by remembering where these notes are placed, between the lines or on the lines). Start with just one stave, e.g. with the treble clef stave (the upper set of lines). The G is on the second line counting from bottom to top. The F is between the first and the second line counting from bottom to top. The first note, C, needs an additional line below, just drawn for this note head.
Assume for a moment, that the normal step from one note to the next note note in the scale would be a whole step (one whole tone difference/interval in between). This whole step consists of two semitone steps also called half steps. The transition from C to D in the scale is a whole step. You skip a black key on the piano, because C and D are white keys. Going from C to the black key in the middle of C and D would be a half step. From C to D are two half steps, which are a whole step.
Every scale except the chromatic and the whole tone scale and other rather extraordinary scales have two occurrences of a half steps within the scale. The other steps usually are whole steps. The difference in sound that different scales can produce, e.g. major and minor scales, arises from the exact positions (relative note numbers counting from 1 to 7) at which these half steps occur. For example in all the major scales, the half steps occur between the third and the fourth note, and between the seventh and eighth note (8=1). In aeolic minor scales though, they occur between the second and third note and between the fifth and sixth note. That makes the difference between happy and sad in the sound of major or minor songs, chords and scales. So it is important, where these half steps exactly lie.
Fortunately, there is a simple trick for you to remember:
- All major scales: remember just the number “3”
- All aeolic minor scales: remember just the number “2”
Because we go one note up in the scale when building it, it is obvious that after the 3 comes the 4. And after the 2 comes the 3. So you don’t have to remember the latter of the notes, the number increases automatically by 1. But then, 3 + 4 equals 7, and 7 is the start of the other half step in the major scale. And 2 + 3 equals 5, that is the start of the other half step in the minor scale.
So just remember:
major: “3” -> from there you can say: “half step between 3 and 4, 3+4 = 7 -> other half step between 7 and 8”
minor: “2” -> from there you can say: “half step between 2 and 3, 2+3 = 5 -> other half step between 5 and 6”
Now you can build every major and aeolic minor scale. Click here to actually see how it’s done.
Note: besides aeolic, there are 2 other types of minor scales: melodic and harmonic, but more to that on the scales pages.
By knowing the scales, you can later insert embellishments, bass notes and other notes in your playing, making your music much more interesting and musical. Also, you can write melodies or play solo improvisations by using notes from the scale.
Now you have the scale, finding the chord is simple.
No matter whether major or minor, the recipe is “1 – 3 – 5” for all major and minor triad chords.
To build the chord, take the first, the third and the fifth note of the corresponding scale (C major) and play them together.
1 = root (here C)
3 = third (here E)
5 = fifth (here G)
Shortcut method to play the chords quickly for everyday use
The piano keys are arranged in semitones next to each other. To find the “C” note, find any group of 2 black keys. There are groups of 2 and groups of 3 black keys on the piano keyboard. When you have found any group of 2 black keys, the “C” is the white key below the lower of the 2 black keys, as shown in the image of the C piano chord root position. The leftmost red note is a “C”, as well as the lowest of the three higher notes.
When you have found the “C”, play it and hold it down with your right thumb, then go up the keyboard and skip 3 semitones (3 keys), play the fourth one, a white key called “E” with your third finger of the right hand, hold that, too. Then again skip 2 semitones (keys) and play the third one, a white key called “G” as shown in the image of the C major piano chord in root position.
So the quick formula to find all major triad chords in root position is: Start with the chord’s root note, then skip 3, skip 2. (That means skip 3 semitones, play the next, then from there skip 2 semitones, play the next).