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Root Position Chords

Root Position

Root position chords are a group of three keys that are in their most basic position. Their relationship to one another is relatively equidistant. Think of chords as three objects stacked on top of one another, like the three books in the illustration.

Each object (book/note/key) represents a piano key, and thus each chord contains three notes. The chord is the sum of the three notes. The basic formula for chords on the white keys (the simplest example) is play a key, skip a key, play a key, skip a key, play a key,

Three Objects Stacked In Varying Orders

The notes in chords are not always stacked in the same order. In other words, the three objects are always the same objects, but may appear in different places in the stack. The positions are bottom, middle and top.

The Bottom Key Is The Same Name As The Chord

Stack of Three Books

Look at the stack of books displayed: from the bottom, they are, currently, Green, Blue and Red. But they could be stacked in any order, Blue-Red-Green, or Red-Blue-Green. In order to play in a piano style such as Singer Songwriter Style which encompasses almost all popular music, your first task should be to learn all twelve major chords in root position.

Root position is defined as the position in which the note that is the name of the chord, "C," is on the bottom. Let's start with a C chord. You need to visualize a C chord as a group of three white piano keys played (for the purposes of this illustration) with the left hand. You may look at the piano and ask, "But which three white keys? There are dozens of keys!" 

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Common Root Position Chords

Learn these root position chords. If you played the three keys at the same time on a real keyboard, that is the sound of the chord:

C Major = 1 3 5 

D major = 2 #4 6 (#4 is the black key in between 4 and 5.)

E major = 3 #5 7 (#5 is the black key in between 5 and 6.)

F Major = 4 6 8 

Use The Black Keys To Navigate

It's easy to find a C chord at the piano. Look at the pattern in the black keys on the piano. You'll notice there are groups of two and three black keys, alternating across the entire keyboard. The note C is defined as the white key to the left of any group of two black keys. Go ahead, plunk out a C, anywhere on the piano. Now that you've found C, and yes, there are several on the piano, let's make a chord. Put more simply, "play a key, skip a key, play a key, skip a key, play a key." Or, in Piano by Number, 1, 3 and 5.

Find The White Key To The Left Of Two Blacks

In fact, you can make root position chords all over the piano, starting on any note, if you use the above formula. Try it. Play root position chords all over the piano, only on the white keys. The first objective of any student seeking knowledge of the chords is to learn the root position. Learn at least the following chords: C,F,G,D,E and A. Start with a C chord in root position and build from there. It's easy to scale the massive structure of music theory if you start in the right place and proceed slowly. 




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