How to Find Primary Chords on the Piano

Primary Chords

Let’s look at how to find primary chords on the piano.

What Are Primary Chords?

Primary chords are built off the first, fourth and fifth notes of a major scale. They are built using the notes of the scale.

This means if we want to find the primary chords for the key of C major, we would build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord off the first, fourth and fifth notes of a C major scale, counting up through the notes of the C major scale to build the chords.

This might sound a little confusing, but don’t worry, it’s pretty straight-forward!

Primary chords are important because they can be used to accompany most simple melodies. So becoming familiar with primary chords will allow you to accompany melodies you are playing or creating at the piano.

learn piano chords charts printable pdf

Learn Piano Chords Printable

Get started learning piano chords with this 32-page PDF. These charts will lay a great foundation for you at the piano, and will be referenced again and again!

Primary Chords for the Key of C Major

Let’s look at how to build the primary chords for the key of C major.

First Primary Chord

The first primary chord is built off the first note of the scale. So for the key of C major, the root note (the note the chord is named after) for our first primary chord will be C.

Starting with C, we’ll build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord, counting up through the notes of the C major scale. When we do this, we get: C – E – G

C – E – G creates a C major chord, the first primary chord in the key of C major!

c chord piano

Second Primary Chord

The second primary chord is built off the fourth note of the major scale. So for the key of C major, our root note will be F.

We’ll start with F as our root note and play another “1 – 3 – 5” chord, using the notes of the C major scale. When we do this, we get: F – A – C

F – A – C creates an F major chord, the second primary chord in the key of C major.

f chord piano

Third Primary Chord

The last primary chord is built off the fifth note of the major scale. So for the key of C major, our root note is G.

So we’ll start with G as our root note and play a “1 – 3 – 5” chord, counting up through the notes of the C major scale. When we do, we get: G – B – D

G – B – D creates a G major chord, the third primary chord in the key of C major.

g chord piano

Patterns

Do you notice something about the notes we’ve used to build these three chords: C, E, G, F, A, C, G, B, D? When we rearrange them we find we have C, D, E, F, G, A, B – all the notes of the C major scale!

This is why primary chords can accompany most simple melodies, since combined they contain all the notes of the matching major scale.

Primary chords are sometimes called the I, IV and V chords of a particular key (upper-case Roman Numerals indicate major chords), since they’re built using the first, fourth and fifth notes of the scale.

Primary Chords for the Key of G Major

Now let’s find the primary chords for the key of G major.

The first, fourth and fifth notes of the G major scale are G, C, and D, so these will be our root notes for our primary chords in G major.

Starting with our first note G, we’ll build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord, using the notes of our G major scale. When we do this, we get G, B, D, which is a G major chord.

g chord piano


Next we’ll take our C note and build a “1 – 3 – 5” chord, using the notes of the G major scale. When we do this, we get C, E and G – a C major chord.

c chord piano

Finally, we’ll take our D note and build another “1 – 3 – 5” chord, using the notes of the G major scale. When we do this, we get D, F♯, and A, which is a D major chord.

d chord piano

So the primary chords for the key of G major are G, C and D major chords!

The primary chords for major keys will always be major chords. So if you want to find the primary chords for a different major key, a short-cut is to just build a major chord off the first, fourth and fifth notes of that scale.

Conclusion

Primary chords are really useful at the piano, because after you’ve played them awhile, they become second-nature. And once they become second-nature, the piano starts to get really fun!

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8 Comments

  1. Sue Sullivan

    Having played some guitar, I’m loving learning the chords of the different key signatures. I’m able to play fro guitar lead sheets and at the same time using different base accompaniment and inversions. This is all new to me but I love what I’m learning.

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      Oh wonderful, I’m so happy to hear that!

  2. Chris Hinks

    Thanks Julie
    I’ve been learning music for over 60 years, and there’s still something new.

    Reply
  3. Michael Donovan

    I’m immensely greatful to Julie I love her approach in teaching and with the simplicity also involved this wounder lady really cares passionetly about teaching her student’s that’s so crucial in piano teaching and development Julie without you I would in deed be a lost sheep,,if I do get lost please seek to fined me,, lol💞

    Reply
    • Julie Swihart

      Thank you so much, I’m so glad it’s helpful!

  4. Connie

    I always thought that a person either had the gift to play this way or she didn’t. But I guess it really CAN be taught! Cool!

    Reply
    • Julie

      Yes, I used to think the same thing!

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