Creating Major and Minor Chords - A Simple Strategy

The Theory Behind Creating Major and Minor Chords

Beginner piano students often have to rely fully on a teacher or other resources (like videos or articles like this). And this works great … until they realize it’s not so easy knowing what the next steps are. Creating chords can feel a little like this. The gap between playing the chords and knowing how to create them can be a bit intimidating. But, I’m sharing a simple strategy for creating Major and minor chords starting on ANY key.

If you are new to chords, I recommend checking out this article first.


Half and Whole Steps

Before we can jump into creating Major and minor chords, we need to quickly make sure we are speaking the same language. And this means a little music terminology. Much like Starbucks has its own terms, music does as well.

Major and minor chords are made up of a certain number of half or whole steps. So what are these?

  • Half step: the very next key (white or black)
  • Whole step: two half steps

To make things more interesting, these terms can be different depending on where you live. So if you hear a semitone, this is a half step. If you hear whole tone, that a whole step.

Oftentimes new students don’t realize just how important these half steps are. They give us a way to talk about the relationship between keys. And, in the case of this example also show us that black keys are for more than just a way to find C.

We are going to focus on using HALF STEPS (or semitones depending on where you live) to create these chords.


Major Chords: Big Small Method

The first step in creating Major and minor chords …. it to learn how to create Major chords is to use the Big Small Method!

You start on the tonic (AKA home note) which is the same as the name of the chord. For example, the tonic of a C Major chord is C.

To get to the middle note, you skip up four half notes/semitones (creating the ‘big’). Play that note. In this case, E.

To find the top chord note, skip up three half notes/semitones (creating the ‘small’). Play that note. In this case, G.

Keep in mind that chords can have similar chord shapes. This makes it easier to remember chords and develop muscle memory to play them!

To see this in action, click here or watch the video below.


Minor Chords: Small Big Method

The second step in creating Major and minor chords …. it to learn how to create minor chords with the Small Big Method!

You start on the tonic (AKA home note) which is the same as the name of the chord. For example, the tonic of a C minor chord is C.

To get to the middle note, you skip up THREE half notes/semitones to play the ‘small’.

To find the top chord note, skip up FOUR half notes/semitones to play the ‘big’.

Notice that this is exactly the opposite of the Major chords. And, just like Major chords, minor chords also have similar chord shapes to jump start that learning.

To see this in action, click here or watch the video above.


Creating Major and Minor Chords: Aurally

The best way to master chords is to focus on how your hand feels AND how these sound. Major chords should all sound pretty similar. All minor chords should also sound similar.

A way to practice listening and playing both types of chords is to play the Major chord, then the minor chord. Continue doing this until you have played all white key Major and minor chords.

Once you are able to do this you can move into creating Major and minor chords to create your own songs!

Creating Major And Minor Chords

While it’s important to play instead of focusing just on theory, understanding some musical theory as a beginner helps you level up your playing quicker.

Did you find the Big Small + Small Big strategy helped you in creating Major and minor chords on the piano?

Let me know below!


If you like this approach to learning piano, click to set up an interview to join our online piano studio!

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