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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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.