How to Learn Chords in Less Than 0ne Hour

by Maurice Ellis - Date: 2007-04-15 - Word Count: 1336 Share This!

How to find chords and scales using simple formulas.
The only musical knowledge you need is the ability to read the melody line and how to find the notes on a keyboard. If you can do that playing keyboard is easy. If you can't do that please visit your local library and borrow a book for beginning piano.

Did you know that a keyboard can be played using mathematical formulas? Well, it can but some people find it difficult to get to grips with maths. However, with this system you only need to be able to count up to nine. Now, there are seven very simple formulas to help us find all the scales and most of the important chords. Here they are:
2212221: Scales.
4 + 3: Major chords. = Triad ( 3-note chord).
4 + 3 + 3: Major 7th. Chords (4-note chord).
4 + 6: = Major 7th. Chords = (3-note chord).*
*This is easier to play but I recommend you go for the full, 4-note 7th. chord using inversions.
3 + 4. Minor chords. = Triad (3-note chord).

3+4+3. Minor 7th. chords. (4 note chord).
3+3: = Diminuished chord.
4+4: = Augmented chords.

And that's all there is to it. Who needs chord charts? Just remember the 7 formulas above and you will be able to find all the scales and all the most widely used chords on a keyboard. And the great thing about this system is that you don't actually have to remember loads of scales and chords because, with these formulas, you already know them all!

Here is how it works:
Finding the scales.
Let's start where everybody starts from - Middle C.
Every note which we start with, for our formula, is always the 'Home Note', also called the 'Root note', and is zero-rated. In other words it is never counted. See below:
C scale. C is zero rated because it is the Home note.
0 2 2 1 2 2 2 1
If you start at C and count every note from there - including the black notes - using the above formula you will play the C scale. C is the home note. Now count 2 and we hit the D. Now count 2 again and we hit the E, now count 1 and we hit F, and so on. No matter which note you start on - as the home note - you will always end up playing the correct scale. Try it out for yourself right now. Easy, isn't it. In about two minutes you have learned how to play every scale there is. Great! Look at the scale of Bb below:
Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
0 2 2 1 2 2 2 1

Now for the best part!
How to play all the most important chords without having to remember how to play them all. And remember, count all the notes including the black ones but not the home note.
Major chords.
Let's start with C again:
Formula: 4 + 3

C is Home note. Count 4 which takes us to the E, then count 3 which takes us to the G.
So C + E + G is the C chord.

Now try Eb.
Eb is the Home note. Count 4 which takes us to the G. Now 3 which takes us to the Bb.
So - Eb + G + Bb - is the Eb chord. And there you have it.
I love this system.

Major 7th.
Formula: 4 + 6. (3-note chord).
Formula: 4 + 3 + 3. (4-note chord). (Major chord formula + 3).
C7: Home note C + 4 is E + 6 is Bb. ( C + E + Bb ) 3-note chord.

D7: Home note D + 4 is F# + 3 is A + 3 is C ( D + F# + A + C ) 4-note chord.
So, with the Major and Minor chords just add 3 to the count to get a 7th. chord.
Minor chords.
Formula: 3 + 4.
Let's start with F# minor.
F# is Home note: Plus 3 is A + 4 is C#. ( F# + A + C# )

Ab minor.
Ab is Home note: Plus 3 is B + 4 is Eb. ( Ab + B + Eb )
N.B: Major and minor chords are usually always triads - 3-note chords. Seventh chords should always
be 4-note chords to give them depth.

To change a major chord into a minor just lower the second note - within the formula - one half step. ( semitone).
C major = C + E + F. The second note is E so lower it a half step to Eb. C minor = C+Eb+F.
G major: G + B + D. The second note is B so one half step back takes it to Bb. G minor = G+Bb+D.
Minor 7th.
Formula: 3+4+3. ( Minor formula + 3).
D minor 7th.
D is the home note: Plus 3 is F + 4 is A +3 is C. ( D + F + A +C). (The inversion of CDFA may be easier for you to play).
Most songs can be played using only the major, minor and seventh chords.
Diminuished Chords. (o,dim).

Formula: 3+3. G dim. ( usually written o, or dim )
G is the Home note + 3 = Bb + Db. (G + Bb + Db).
Augmented chords. (aug) (usually written +, or aug ).
Formula: 4 + 4. B aug.
B is the Home note + 4 = Eb + 4 = G. (B + Eb + G).

There are, of course, inversions to all the chords which you can easily work out for yourself. Any combinations of each chord will work on a keyboard. You simply choose the one which works best for you, or is easier for you to play. Sometimes you will not be able to play a particular inversion as it might
go beyond the 'Split' point on your keyboard. For example, I cannot play Bb7 on my keyboard in the first mode as it goes past my split point which
is the F below Middle C. So I play the inversion: F, Ab, Bb, D.
We are discussing here only the most widely used chords. The more experienced you become with your playing the less you'll need the formulas.
But heh, if they help you remember your chords use them all the time.
To check your chords and inversions download a free Chord finder software package. Try Will Dallimore's free keyboard chord chart.
As an exercise why not try to work out the formulas for 6th. and 9th. chords. You will not be called upon in your early playing days, as a beginner,
to play 6th. and 9th. chords on a keyboard, guitar players are more likely to use these.

Have you noticed that the Major, Minor, 7th, Augmented and Diminuished chords all have a formula containing combinations of only two numbers?
3 and 4.

Study all the above information and remember it. It's not really difficult. Once you have these formulas committed to memory you will never have problems in remembering all the most widely used chords. As you can now see it is possible to play keyboard using mathematics.

Remember this!
There are thee major chords in each scale based on the 1st. 4th. and 5th. notes in that scale. If you played only the three major chords in each
song you play you'll play to an acceptable level, but your playing would sound a lot better if you also played minor and seventh chords.

When counting the notes in a scale, for the 1st. 4th. and 5th. notes, the home note is counted as 1. So in the scale of C, the first chord (Note 1) would be C major, the second chord (Note 4) would be F major and the third chord (Note 5) would be G major.

As a beginner I used to work out the Key (scale) I would be playing in (2212221) write it at the top ofthe page, then I would write the Formula along side it. So the top of my page would look like this:
Scale = G. (G A B C D E F# G). Formula 4 + 3. Main chords = G, B, C. If I missed a chord I would simply play one of the three main chords for that scale and usually got away with it, but not always.
There's only one thing left for you to do now - Practice!

Copyright Maurice Ellis 2007. More free music theory articles at: Email

Related Tags: chords, keyboard, piano

I retired four years ago and decided to take up playing keyboard as a hobby. Now I have become intirgued with the mathematics of music and am currently writing a book on the subject. My keyboard playing has improved immensely since I discovered how to play chords by remembering simple formulas.

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