In this article you will learn all 12 major chords, and how to play them! There are 12 unique notes at the piano, which means we can build a major chord on each of those 12 notes - C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, Ab, A, Bb, an B. There is also a secret formula that only the wisest of piano instructors know about that allows you to build major chords starting on any note! Ok, so maybe it's not a secret formula. But it is a pattern that is very simple to memorize and can be used to easily build a major chord starting on any note of the piano. Let's get started!

Learn All 12 Major Chords: Understanding Tonalities

What is a tonality? A tonality is a collection of notes that possesses a certain characteristic of sound. We generally deal with two very basic tonalities in music: major and minor. We might say that major chords sound happy while minor chords sound sad, if we are speaking in very broad and general terms.

What follows below is an explanation of how to build major triads. As the name suggests, triads are 3-note chords. Is there such a thing as 4-, 5-, or 6-note chords? You betcha. Chords can have many many notes. But a basic building block for all of them is the major (and minor) triad. These three notes represent the fundamental chord tones of a major (or minor) chord.

So, which three notes are we concerned with when building major chords? In order to play a major triad we need to find the root, 3rd, and 5th of the major scale. Playing these three notes together produces the major triad.

Learn All 12 Major Chords: Finding the Root, 3rd, and 5th

Major chords and major scales are very closely related. In fact they're sort of the same thing. A major chord is built by using the notes from the major scale.

The starting note for any major scale is called the root. The 2nd note of the major scale is a whole-step above the root. The 3rd note is a whole-step above the 2nd. The 4th note is a half-step above the 3rd. And the 5th note is a whole-step above the 4th. And that's our formula! Root, whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step.

So here is that formula applied to a C major scale:

learn all 12 major chords 1

Now, to be clear, a major scale contains 7 notes. But in order to build our major chords we only need to be able to find the first 5 notes of the major scale.

Once we've found those first 5 notes, we simply select the root, 3rd, and 5th. Playing these three notes together gives us a major chord.

learn all 12 major chords 2

There is another way to quickly build a major chord. Choose any starting note (the root). Count up four half-steps to get to the 3rd. Count up three more half-steps to get to the 5th.

learn all 12 major chords 3

Practice building major chords in all 12 keys. Doing so will not only help you memorize the chords but will also help you become familiar with the sound of major, and the relationships of half and whole-steps within the scale.

Understanding key signatures is all about learning your 12 major and relative minor scales. And in this article we're going to help you make sense of all of those terms. In fact, you may be happy to learn that there is a little trick that we can use to quickly determine which major key a particular key signature represents. So let's get started on this all-important music skill!

Understanding Key Signatures: What Are They?

Let's try to make this as simple as possible. A major key (in music) is just a collection of 7 different notes. So a key signature is the name we give to a particular collection of 7 notes. And the good news is that there are only 12 major keys, and therefore only 12 key signatures, that you need to memorize. There are also 12 minor scales, BUT those 12 minor scales are related to the 12 major keys because the key signatures are exactly the same. Said more simply, you only need to memorize 12 different key signatures but there are 2 names for each key signature.

Understanding Key Signatures: How to Read Them

Key signatures appear immediately to the right of the clef. Although this collection of sharps and flats looks like they are staggered up and down, we have to read them in a very specific order - from left to right. So in the example below (which happens to be the key signature of B major) we read the sharps in the key signature from left to right as F#, C#, G#, D#, A#.

Understanding Key Signatures 1

The same is true for flats. The key signature below is Ab major and the flats are read "Bb, Eb, Ab, Db."

Understanding Key Signatures 2

Understanding Key Signatures: Trick for Reading Major Keys

In order to quickly read a key signature and know which major key you are in, simply do the following:

  1. For FLAT KEYS: Find the 2nd-to-last flat. This is your major key.
  2. For SHARP KEYS: Find the last sharp and go up a half-step. This is your major key.

Let's try a couple examples:

Understanding Key Signatures 4

In the example above we're dealing with flats. The 2nd-to last flat is 'Db,' which means this is the key signature for Db major.

Understanding Key Signatures 3

In the example above using sharps, we see that the last sharp is 'G#.' Moving up a half-step from 'G#' brings us to 'A.' Therefore this is the key signature for 'A' major.

Understanding Key Signatures: Relative Minor Keys

As we mentioned above there are ONLY 12 key signatures. But, each key signature can be either a major key or its relative minor key. To know for sure whether you're in a major key or a minor key you need to look at and listen to the music to see if it centers around the major tonality or the minor tonality.

In order to find the minor key signature you simply find the major key signature and count up to the 6th degree of that major scale. This 6th scale degree represents the root of the minor key.

For example, below is the key signature for E major.

Understanding Key Signatures 5

The 6th degree of the E major scale is C#. This means that C# minor and E major share the same key signature. So now when you see this key signature you will know that there are two possible keys represented: E major and/or C# minor.

"What should I practice at the piano?" It's a question we all ask ourselves, whether we are just beginning our piano training, getting back into some lessons after time away, or looking for ways to re-invigorate our study. Think of the things you practice as items on a menu, and your goal is to select items that help you build a balanced, nutritious diet.

What Should I Practice? TECHNIQUE

What menu items fall into this category? "Technique" is all about getting your fingers loose, limber, and stretched. If we were to compare ourselves to athletes, technique exercises at the piano would be equivalent to stretching and any pre-game activities (layup drills, batting practice, light jogging, etc). For beginners, technique exercises include playing through the 5-finger scale (in parallel and contrary motion) or practicing the "grab" technique. For more advanced students, technique exercises may include scales, arpeggios, or Hanons. It's a good idea to start your practice session with technique exercises since they can be viewed as the warmup portion.

Example (in a 30-minute practice session): 5 minutes of Technique exercises

What Should I Practice? RHYTHM

The great thing about rhythm practice is that it is inherent in everything we do, so we are able to incorporate our rhythmic practice into other tasks at the piano. But for beginners, it's important that we isolate some of our rhythm practice. This includes being very familiar with (and able to quickly recognize) whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and 8th notes (for starters). Clapping and vocalizing rhythms is a great start and can be done away from the piano (in the car, at the gym, in the shower - anywhere!)

Example (in a 30-minute practice session): 5 minutes of Rhythm practice

What Should I Practice? EAR-TRAINING

Ear-training refers to the skill (a long-term, acquired skill) of being able to accurately identify the things you hear. This means being able to play at the piano the things you hear (for example, a song on the radio). But it can also mean simply being able to associate the things we hear with musical concepts: is that song in a major or minor key? Does the melody go up or down in pitch (direction of the notes)? What is the rhythm of whatever is being played?

Example (in a 30-minute practice session): 5 minutes of Ear-Training practice

What Should I Practice? READING MUSIC

Ahh, the grand-daddy of them all. Reading music is all about looking at notes on the page and being able to play them at the piano. This requires us to learn about the grand staff, sharps and flats, time and key signatures, and pitch and rhythmic notation. Usually a student will be assigned a song to learn, challenging the student to call upon all of the above-mentioned skills in order to be able to competently play the selected repertoire.

Example (in a 30-minute practice session): 10 minutes of Reading Music practice

What Should I Practice? IMPROVISATION

Every practice session should include a time for fun - a free, no-rules section that allows students to explore whatever they wish. We call this "improvisation" simply as a catch-all term. It can mean trying to play through a favorite song, writing or playing your own musical ideas, or simply exploring the sonic capabilities of the piano (low and high registers, chords, dissonance vs. consonance, etc).

Example (in a 30-minute practice session): 5 minutes of Improvisation practice

Piano success is attainable for every student of every age and ability. As a longtime piano teacher, I've been asked every question possible regarding piano lessons: Am I too old to begin? Is my son/daughter/grandchild too young too begin? Do I need a piano? A keyboard? Do I need to practice everyday? For how long? Can I teach myself? ...And many more! In this article we'll answer all of those questions, but we'll do so by giving you 5 tips to help you attain piano success. These 5 tips represent the traits, qualities, and skills that are the mark of almost every great piano student. And great students eventually become great players!

Piano Success Tip #1: Routine

Age is almost never an indicator of piano success. I suppose there is a minimum age (perhaps 4 years old or so before formal lessons make sense) although introducing music to babies on any level is a great idea. I have never encountered a student who is too old to begin learning the piano.

A better indicator is the student's commitment to a practice routine. This really should mean a daily commitment to practice for a minimum amount of time (perhaps 20-30 minutes per day - although more is going to get you to your goal faster). And "practice" really means working on new material that challenges your ability, as opposed to simply "playing" for your own enjoyment or songs that you already know.

Piano Success Tip #2: Tools

Do you need a piano? No. Keyboards are oftentimes just as good. But if you are using a keyboard it really should be one that has weighted keys, meaning it has the same feel as playing a real piano. You certainly can learn on other types of keyboards. But some students struggle when learning on a non-weighted keyboard and then moving to a real piano, often stating that the keys "feel too heavy."

Piano Success Tip #3: Teachers

Well, a good teacher is a pretty essential element in your piano success. Here at HomeSchoolPiano we pride ourselves on being able to offer students video lessons that feature a real person with human explanations, not just a video that spits out midi displays and script. Our videos also allow you to see what the teacher is playing using our virtual keyboard, clearly highlighting and labeling every note. Our methodology is clear, calculated, and constructed in a way that allows you to assess your learning. These - we think - are the makings of the best teachers and piano instruction.

Piano Success Tip #4: Active Listening

The best students are those who listen - not just to their teachers (haha) but to music. Sounds easy, right? Well, active listening is more about thinking critically of what is being played in the music that you're studying. When a student is learning a new piece of music, it helps tremendously to find a recording or video online and listen to specific details of the music - tempo, dynamics, articulations, phrasing, rhythms, texture, etc. By being familiar with the music you're learning, you can become a very efficient practicer.

Piano Success Tip #5: Repertoire

This sort of goes best with Tip #3 because part of being a good teacher is giving students repertoire that is both stimulating and matches their needs. Students are developing technique and fundamental musicianship skills. A good teacher knows how to present material that is interesting to students but helps them acquire or hone a particular set of skills suited to their ability level.

In this article we will focus on the importance of understanding skips and steps at the piano. And we will use this information to help us become better music readers. Let me reveal a little secret that professional musicians know that beginners often don't. Ready? Advanced musicians often don't read every note in a piece of music. This is especially true when sight-reading. How do they do it? They have an advanced understanding of skips and steps. And you can start acquiring these skills now, too! So let's see how understanding "skips and steps" at the piano can make us better readers.

Understanding Skips and Steps: Distance Relationships

Let's start with steps. "Steps" refers to half-steps and/or whole-steps. When we see steps in music we say that the notes are moving in "step-wise motion." This means that the notes (of a melody, for example) are moving up or down one note at a time, not skipping any notes.

Let's try an example in the key of C major. With your right hand, place your thumb on middle 'C', 2nd finger on 'D', 3rd finger on 'E', 4th on 'F', and 5th on 'G.' Now play up the C major scale and back down, one note at a time. You just played the first 5 notes of a C major scale in step-wise motion. There were no jumps, or gaps, or... SKIPS!

Now let's see what that looks like in written music form.

Understanding Skips and Steps 1

As you can see, the notes move up and then down one line or space at a time.

Now let's look at skips:

Understanding Skips and Steps 2

What do you notice just by looking at the music above? There are notes missing, spaces where notes could be written but are not.

So simply by looking at the music and understanding what skips and steps are, we can understand relative distances between two or more notes.

Understanding Skips and Steps: Reading Music

So you might be saying, "that's great. I get it. But how does it help me read music?" Let me show you an example.

Understanding Skips and Steps 3

The example above begins on ‘F.’ The beginner player would likely proceed by reading every individual note: E, D, E, F, C, C, Bb, A, Bb, C, etc. The advanced player would likely only read the ‘F’ and the ‘C.’ Why? How?

The advanced player understands that he is in the key of F major, and the notes are moving step-wise through the key. So he does not need to read every individual note. Instead,he simply follows the contour of the melodic line - a fancy way of saying “the direction of the notes.” When the notes are moving up or down in step-wise motion they do not need to be read individually. Simply begin on ‘F’ and go down to the next note, then down again, then up, then up again, and then… a skip down. Skips often DO need to be read individually (especially if the skips are large jumps). So by reading this way, the advanced player is following the direction of the notes, simply understanding up and down relationships wherever they are present, and not over-working by trying to read each individual note.

You do not need to be an advanced player to start practicing this skill, so try focusing on this concept in your everyday practice!

In this article we'll discuss the importance of establishing a practice routine in order to achieve piano success at home. As is said, "practice makes perfect." Everyone assumes that they understand what this means. But one thing we've learned after years of teaching students of all levels of ability is this - students need to be taught how to practice. Here we'll look at three crucial tips to establishing a practice routine.

Establishing a Practice Routine - Tip #1: A Little Bit Everyday

Definitely, definitely the most important part of establishing a practice routine that leads to success is understanding that you must make a commitment to practice. What kind of commitment? Well, an everyday commitment is best. Now, before you get concerned that your busy life won't allow you to make an everyday commitment, understand that we're not talking about hours of grueling practice.

The analogy of going to the gym is quite apt. Let's say you want to be in shape by July 1st and it's March 1st right now. If you wait until June 30th to start working out and you go to the gym that day and spend 24 hours there, lifting the heaviest weights you can find, the result will be a lot of soreness. You won't be in great shape the next day. But if you go to the gym everyday from March 1st through June 30th for 20-30 minutes, working out diligently while there, you'll have some real results on July 1st. The hard part is getting to the gym.

The same is true with piano practice. Binge practicing won't do it. A little bit everyday (say, 20 minutes) is the path to success. The hard part is sitting down to practice. So set the commitment right away.

Establishing a Practice Routine - Tip #2: Be Efficient

Let me describe a common scenario. A students sits down to practice for 20 minutes. They have an error in measure 9 of the piece they are learning. So naturally, they decide to practice that section. But instead of starting at measure 9 and focusing specifically on the mistake, they start back at measure 1 and play up to measure 9, playing 8 measures of music in which they are already proficient. This is inefficient practice. It might seem like a small thing, but consider the math. If measure 9 takes 5 seconds to play correctly, and the student intends to focus on this measure for 5 minutes, she can play it 60 times. If playing measure 1-9 takes 22 seconds, then that same 5 minutes yields only 13 repetitions. Compound this type of practice over 20 minutes and you'll see that an efficient practicer can get a lot done in a little bit of time.

Establishing a Practice Routine - Tip #3: Be Organized

A student should approach a 30-minute practice session with a sense of organization. For example, the first 8-10 minutes should be spent with warm-up, technique-based exercises - things like scales, arpeggios, or Hanon exercises. The next 8-10 minutes could be spent on a particular skill, such as transposition, transcription, or ear-training. The last 10-15 minutes could be spent on repertoire and completing a piece of music. This is just one example of how an efficient, organized 30-minute practice session could be conducted.

In this article we're going to answer the question, "What are half-steps and whole-steps?" For starters, half-steps and whole-steps are an important concept in music, and they are especially important building blocks for constructing things like chords and scales. One of the especially nice things about the piano is that it is a very visual instrument with the sequential layout of black and white keys. Being able to see the notes of the piano laid out in this pattern will help us to better understand this half-step and whole-step relationship. You may find it helpful to be near your piano or keyboard as you read through this article.

Half-Steps and Whole-Steps: Starting with Half-Steps

In a nutshell, half-steps represent the smallest possible movement from one note to another note. In other words, when we move by a half-step we are moving from one note to the next closest note, in either an up or down direction. When we say "up," we mean "up" in terms of pitch - meaning starting from the left side of the piano and moving right. Moving "down" in pitch is obviously moving from right to left.

So if we start on 'F' and move up in pitch to the next closest note, we are moving left to right from 'F' to 'F#' (or 'Gb'). This movement - from 'F' to 'F#' - is a half-step up. If we start on 'F' and move down in pitch to the next closest note, we are moving right to left from 'F' to 'E.' This movement - from 'F' to 'E' - is a half-step down.

Half-steps and whole-steps 1

Half-Steps and Whole-Steps: ... and Now Whole-Steps

Simple math tells us that two halves equal a whole, so two half-steps equal a whole-step. It really is that simple in music. If we move up or down by two whole-steps we are moving in whole-steps. (Using the illustration above), if we move from 'F' up a whole-step we arrive at 'G.' If we move from 'F' down a whole-step we arrive at 'Eb.'

Half-Steps and Whole-Steps: A Simple Formula

Now you may be saying to yourself, "ok, all this half-step and whole-step talk is great, but how is it going to help me play the piano?" Well, we're glad you asked. Because by understanding a simple little formula of half- and whole-steps, you can build major and minor scales and chords in all 12 keys.

Let's take a look at a simple formula that will help you find the first 5 notes of a major scale in any key.

Half-steps and whole-steps 2

First, choose a starting note (let's use the illustration above and start on 'D' for our example). From the 1st note (D), move up a whole-step to the 2nd note (E). Then move up another whole-step to the 3rd note (F#). From this 3rd note, move up a half-step to the 4th note (G). Then move from the 4th note up a whole-step to the 5th note (A). These are the first 5 notes of a D major scale - D, E, F#, G, A.

Try to memorize this formula and practice using it to build all 12 major scales.

The Internet has drastically changed how we learn and process information.

With YouTube and other online video sites, it’s easy to find a tutorial on just about anything. However, this unfettered access to information can cause students to learn less, not more. It’s a fact that information overload can result in a loss of ability to make decisions or process information.

Homeschoolers know the importance of properly presenting information to a student. Too much information, they are overloaded; too little, they are bored.

This is where a piano teacher comes in. A good teacher knows how to dole out information to a student so they are stimulated yet not overwhelmed.

According to a recent study conducted by The Research Institute of America, e-Learning has the power to increase information retention rates by up to 60%.

So how do you effectively learn the piano on your own?

First, be sure to find a program that has a solid curriculum. There is nothing worse than getting started in piano lessons only to find out that 6 months down the road the program goes nowhere.

The benefit of HomeSchoolPiano is that the curriculum takes students about 2-3 years to complete depending on their skill level when they start and how much they practice.

After HomeSchoolPiano, students can move into our larger PianoWithWillie program which has thousands of lessons and develops students into full musicians that can even play professional if they're so inclined.

You also want improvisation to be a part of your home-learning piano curriculum because it is through improvisation at the piano that we get to express our own creative voice.

Improvisation is so important is because this is what allows us as pianists to express what we hear in our own mind. No two people will improvise the same way. Just like painting, dancing or acting, improvisation gives us the ability to tap into an area of our humanness that can be utterly breathtaking.

As a professional pianist and teacher for more than 25 years, I've learned that there are 5 critical components that need to be a part of any piano program.

Let me share with you the 5 components with you now...

#1 - A Human Teacher

Lessons need to be taught by a human being. In our ever increasing world of technology and automation, it is important for students to make a human connection with their piano teacher. This can be done live or via video.

Learning the piano is like learning a language. We weren't taught to speak by a computer...we learned from our parents, family and teachers. Learning the piano is no different. As humans we learn so much through facial expression, tone and the human voice, and while software can be a fun tool to accompany lessons, make sure the piano lessons are taught by a human being.

I know that there are many software-only solutions to learning the piano that connect to your computer with a MIDI cable. In my experience, these programs are not a full-featured solution for learning the piano. Software solutions to learning the piano usually contain games to play, but in all my years teaching and performing, I've never met another musician who learned their instrument via software!

#2 - See What's Being Played

When I was learning the piano, one of the difficulties I faced was being able to see what my teacher was playing. Either they played too fast, or their hands were in the way for me to clearly see what they were playing.

This is why it is important to find a program that makes it easy to see what is being played. Look for a piano program that allows you to slow down the video and also features a virtual keyboard of some kind to make it easier to see EVERY note being played.

Video lessons are superior in this regard because you can stop and start lessons at will. The virtual keyboard, along with the ability to control the playback speed, is a powerful tool to ensure that every student finds piano success.


#3 - Is There a Clear Method?

It's easy to find piano tutorials on YouTube and other websites. However, too often these videos are "one offs" and do not tie together into a larger method.

All good piano methods will teach students how to read music and play rhythms. Great methods also teach students how to use their ears, create their own music and learn to improvise.

Look for a complete program that includes both reading music along with ear training and improvisation. This is the best way to create a well-rounded pianist that has all of the tools necessary for lifelong learning.


A piano program that has a clear method is one of the most important components for piano success.

#4 - Testing Your Knowledge

As with any method, it is important to test your knowledge. Make sure that any piano program you choose has quizzes that allow you to see how well you're absorbing the information.


#5 - Keep the Record Straight!

The last component that's critical is having access to a running record of your progress. When teaching privately, each of my students would have a notebook where we would record their assignments and notes.

Using technology, this ongoing "record of achievement" can now be stored online.

No matter how you keep records, it is important to record progress so you can go back and see all of your accomplishments.

Learning to play the piano is a wonderful gift. Use the information in this email to get the best possible piano lessons for you and your family.

If you are looking for a piano program that contains all five components mentioned in this email, take a look at HomeSchoolPiano.

This price includes lifetime access to all of the HomeSchoolPiano lessons. This means you pay once and own it forever. Since up to 5 students per house (this means you get a main "parent" account in addition to 5 more student 6 accounts in total) can use the system, it is easy for everyone in the family to learn the piano.

We've heard a lot about the science behind music education and its long term benefits.

There are numerous articles and studies how the benefits of music education. A study reports that older adults who took lessons at a young age can process the sounds of speech faster than those who did not. (source: NY Times)

But what are the real world benefits of learning the piano that can affect your child right now?

Here are 5 benefits of music education that, as a parent and educator, I believe make the biggest impact on a child's life. Best of all...they can be seen in less time than you think:

  1. Increased concentration - students learning an instrument need to focus on the task at hand. Since music does not move as fast as video games, television commercials or other electronic gadgets, it helps improve their concentration.
  2. Self-esteem - learning an instrument takes work and can be frustrating. However, once they can play their first song they have an extreme sense of accomplishment. This challenge builds self-esteem in our children.
  3. Ability to express oneself - music gives them an outlet for their emotions. They can express feelings like happiness, sadness, anger and love through the instrument. This is especially important for children since their emotions can quickly change and they don't always possess the life skills at that moment to express themselves through words. Music can be an outlet and conduit for these emotions.
  4. Self-confidence - playing a song for family or friends is a special way for children to build their self-confidence. Performing in front of others also improves public speaking skills.
  5. Creativity - since our homeschool piano lessons include improvisation, students are learning to create music...not just read it.

Of course there are many other benefits like improved dexterity, teamwork, memory and speech skills.

Out of all of these benefits though, I think the most important is that when a student learns music, they also learn about life-long learning. Students learn to better themselves through practice, goal setting and perseverance. These are the skills that I believe turn children into the leaders of tomorrow.


Piano lessons for the entire family. Great for absolute beginners or those who are coming back to the piano.
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