Let’s look at a very critical issue when you are learning piano chords:
1) Black and white key groups and does this help us in life when we’re learning chords?
There are countless piano method books that attempt to simplify learning piano chords by using all sorts of memorizing techniques. The fact remains that regardless of the shortcut you use or can we call it “gimmick” or artificial memory aid, memory in learning chords follows the rule for all learned events where memory is involved- that is, once a task is learned it’s really difficult to unlearn it later on.
I think a good way to think about learning chords is a backwards analysis. So, if I can easily play chords and chord inversions, what enables me to always remember the chord or voicing and what really helps you to not only play that chord but understand it so you can utilize it in the context of the song?
The plain-as-can-be answer is that the chords are a derivative of, chords are formed by, the corresponding SCALE for that key. If we play a C minor seventh chord, symbol is Cm7, when I play that chord and if I look down at my hand, I can see the C minor scale right there or more simply, all of the notes of a C major scale CDEFGAB . The minor part comes from lowering the 3rd of the scale, the e, the 7th part means the dominant 7th note or the 7th tone B, lowered one half step.
What I do not do is look to see the relationship of the white keys to the black keys. That method can possibly save you time in the beginning learning, but doesn’t do a whole lot and in fact, interferes with things when you end up playing that chord in context of the song. Who cares that there’s a black key here and 2 white keys there or whatever? When you are playing a piano song, things are going by so fast, you don’t have time to start deciphering white vs. black notes and artificial groups like that. What I can see though and even fast is the VISUAL PICTURE of the scale on the keyboard. For the scale, yes, we look at the black and white key relationships.
What we don’t do though, as some teachers suggest, is learn let’s say all chords by organization into white versus black keys: Example, learn chords that have only white keys: Example of: THE WRONG WAY TO LEARN CHORDS: Learn a G major chord (G, B, D) and then learn a C chord (C, E, G) and maybe an E minor chord (E, G, B). Here then, the teacher is trying to organize chords not by the Key but organizing by key type, in this case, all white keys. The problem with this method is that a G chord comes from a G major scale, the C major chord from a C major scale and the E minor chord from an E minor scale. Learn the chords by the Key, not organizing by the number of white keys versus black keys.
Again, that wrong method makes it simple in the beginning but the way you should learn is you have to memorize the chords based on the key it’s derived from, not grouping it by the number or white or black keys. Always thinking in terms of the scale picture also helps me with adding color tones and helps me to improvise when playing that song.
So the moral of the story?
When you’re learning chords, you learn and study them for only One Key at a time. Pianists always love the key of C so you could begin by practicing a handful of chords that day all in the key of C. Try to get a picture of the C scale as it looks on the piano keyboard. (I always recommend “Creative Keyboard’s Deluxe Encyclopedia of Chords”) Even better, try to point out on that scale, each numbered position such as “where is the 9th tone?” where is the 6th tone for that scale? “where is the sharp 5th tone for that scale?” and physically point with your finger on the keyboard where each tone is.
CORRECT EXAMPLE OF LEARNING CHORDS : So we’d then practice for example: KEY OF C (post your picture of the C scale on your piano stand)
C major triad
C minor triad
C augmented triad
C diminished triad