Piano songs - How to play chords well?

Chords are what define the persona of piano songs most profoundly, in this article tips on how to play them well are given, as well as explanation on the importance of absorbing the musical context of a piece.


An often told story to describe Mozart’s genius is that he was already composing music by the tender age of five. Of course when I listen to his compositions his brilliance shines through needless of any stories. The same can be said when listening to Symphony No.9 in D Minor Op.125 by Beethoven.

“Talent is like the marksmen who hits a target that others cannot reach, genius like one who hits a target beyond where others can even see“ – Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher.

The blending of tempo, rhythm and tone to create harmony as therapeutic to the soul as Rondo Alla Turca better known as Turkish March in the anglophone world or Symphony No.9 is a feat beyond the reach of common men. When I am struggling to play a piano song correctly, the luxury of appreciating the musical context in which it was composed escapes me from time to timeBut a thing of such beauty cannot go unnoticed completely.

Which triggered me to ponder, how do tempo, rhythm and tone influence your piano playing and vice versa? 

piano song is a complex body of substance, rather sophisticated in nature inherited from its creator the composer. To appreciate a song’s musical context calls for recognising its most fundamental traits that make up its persona a lot like physicists who study sub-particles to understand the bigger universe.

While there are many things involved in defining a song’s persona, the one that define its harmony most significantly in my opinion are chords.

Persona of piano songs

Any two or more notes played simultaneously together can be identified as chords. In reality, from practice and experience we know three and four note chords are most common. Furthermore, they are not random.

Try playing a random set of three notes together, they sound awful don’t they ? That is not music. Chords are packaged into standard combinations of notes.  Their reason for being is to create a harmonious mix of notes and fulfil specific harmonic functions.

As a beginner I dreaded playing chords. If the keys were separated a distant apart, stretching the fingers wide was so strenuous. Whenever the weak fourth and fifth fingers were required to play them, mustering enough power to hit the keys with sufficient strength to produce an ample sound was a challenge. 

Here is a tip, play the top note first but maintain the position of the fingers for the other chord notes without playing themContinue this way until you get used to the overall movement of the piece and its rhythmic motion. Then repeat the process with the next note. Once you feel your fingers are ready to play all the chord notes together and have the rhythm well absorbed you can start to do so.

Output production in piano songs

The great thing about piano playing isit is all about outputcan you reproduce the rhythm you have absorbed? It tests your true mettle. People hear you play well or poor, you cannot hide, it is transparent and meritocratic.

Reproducing rhythm well, needs having a good ear. Or should I say a good inner ear. You can develop it by listening to other pianists performListening alone is not the only sensor useful though, the sense of sight serves the purpose equally well. Reading the music score away from the instrument and trying to hear the sound in you mind conjures up the music in your imagination. It cultivates a smorgasbord of rhythm in the head that can be channeled out when you sit to play on the piano.

Gain an insight into the musical context of a piano song to play it well. Absorb the tempo, rhythm and tone by developing the inner ear, followed by output; that is reproducing the sounds as written on the printed music score. In which chords are certainly to be present, they define its persona most profoundly.

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