• How to play songs with just two chords and still sound good

    in Beginners

    2chordsbig.jpgFor the last week or so, we’ve gotten deeper and deeper into minor scales.

    From the natural minor scale to the harmonic and melodic minor scales, we’ve covered a lot.

    We even delved into the corresponding chords that come from these scales (I’ll continue with the triads and sevenths of the melodic minor shortly).

    Today, though, I want to slow down and go the other direction.

    I wanna talk to my straight beginners in this post! I want to give you guys some hope that if you know just two chords, you can actually sit around the piano or keyboard and have fun with your kids.

    And if you don’t know already, those two chords are the 1-chord and the 5-chord.

    Let me briefly explain…

    Every major key can be looked at using numbers.

    For example, the C major scale:

    C D E F G A B C
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    (For my newbies… these are played separately, one after the other.)

    But the scale has a ton of other usages.

    And I’ll help you to understand one of them today.

    See those numbers?

    If you take the 1st, 4th, and 5th tones out of this scale, you’d get:

    C F G
    1 4 5

    And what we do is play major chords on each of these tones:

    C major = C + E + G
    F major = F + A + C
    G major = G + B + D

    (For my new readers, when you see me using the plus + sign to connect notes, that means to play them all together. Just my own way of breaking up each note of a chord. So the “C + E + G” would mean to sound all three of those notes at the same time, creating a C major chord. If you don’t know your major chords, click here).

    Moving on…

    These are what we call “primary chords.”

    These chords will appear the most in your songs. In fact, most songs could be written with JUST these chords.

    Composers use other tones of the scale to make the music more interesting. For example, I could have a progression that just goes from C major to G major and that would be fine. But if I wanted to add more variety, I’d employ maybe the 2nd tone of the scale to push me to the G major chord (…but that’s another lesson).

    Now, primary chords are in every key. Just take the 1st, 4th, and 5th tones of any major scale and there you have it, the primary chords of that key.

    So you’ve got three chords and they’re found in just about every song.

    Let’s explore them:

    The 1-chord

    The 1-chord is basically the same as the title of your major scale and key signature. If you’re in the key of C, obviously the first tone of the scale is C — therefore, the first chord is C major (since primary triads are major chords). This chord is most likely to begin your songs. It’s also most likely to end your songs. Even in the middle of songs when they tend to go back to the beginning (like the second half of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), 1-chords are used. So when you feel like the song is at a permanent “home base” or even a temporary one (as in the middle of the song), most likely, you’re looking for the 1-chord… in this case, C major.

    The 4-chord

    The 4-chord usually comes right after the 1-chord. The 1-chord finds itself always progressing to the 4-chord. It doesn’t happen all the time (of course) but it’s pretty frequent. And like I said above, if the composer doesn’t choose to go directly from the 1-chord (C major) to the 4-chord (F major), she’s probably using other tones of the scale that will eventually lead to the 4-chord.

    An example of this is in the beginning of “Amazing Grace.”

    “A-ma-zing grace how”
    C major ~~~~~~~
    (C + E + G)

    “Sweet the”
    F major ~~
    (F + A + C)

    “Sound.”
    C major ~
    (C + E + G)

    “That saved a wretch like”
    C major ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    (C + E + G)

    “Me”
    _______________

    (What chord might you guess here?)

    You see how that works? We basically played the whole beginning part of Amazing grace with just the 1 and 4-chords. And where I left you off, the 5-chord would have come next…

    The 5-chord

    The 5-chord tends to come in the middle of the song or verse. It’s that thing that connects you back to the 1-chord. But if you think about it, the 1-chord usually comes in the beginning of a song or at the end of the song (or in the middle of the song when it appears to have start all over). So, if that’s the case, the 5-chord is that feeling that tells you the song is about to end or about to go back to the beginning.

    Don’t you feel that in the middle of Amazing Grace?

    “A-ma-zing grace how”
    C major ~~~~~~~
    (C + E + G)

    “Sweet the”
    F major ~~
    (F + A + C)

    “Sound.”
    C major ~
    (C + E + G)

    “That saved a wretch like”
    C major ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    (C + E + G)

    “Me”
    G major ~~~
    (G + B + D)

    When you sing “me,” that is the the middle area I’m talking about. That is the part that lets you know something is about to repeat.

    That is where the 5-chord is best used. Of course at the end of songs too.

    But you know what?

    Most songs you can play with just the 1 and 5 chords. Here’s an example:

    “Mary Had A Little Lamb”

    “Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb”
    C major ~~~~~~~~
    (C+E+G)

    “Lit-tle lamb”
    G major ~~~~~~~~
    (G+B+D)

    “Lit-tle lamb”
    C major
    (C+E+G)

    “Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb, her”
    C major ~~~~~~~~
    (C+E+G)

    “Fleece was white as”
    G major ~~~~~~~~
    (G+B+D)

    “Snow”
    C major
    (C+E+G)

    “The Wheels On The Bus”

    “The”
    G major (either you can play a G major here or you can play no chord here and come in on “wheels”).

    “Wheels on the bus go round and round”
    C major ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “Round and round”
    G major ~~~~

    “Round and round. The”
    C major ~~~~
    (note: you can play a Gmaj chord on “the” if you want or you can leave it alone)

    “Wheels on the bus go round and round”
    C major ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “All through the”
    G major ~~~

    “Town”
    C major

    So try this:

    Try to pick out your favorite nursery rhymes by just using the 1st, 4th, and 5th chords of a major key. It’s about trial and error in the beginning. If the 4-chord doesn’t sound right, just move to the 5th chord (and vise versa). Do this until you’ve mastered a good 4-5 songs. They all work the same way, trust me!

    See how many you can do!

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    Until next time!

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 BRIAN AKA TRUMUSIC1SOUL

    great info…not just for newbies
    we all need to slow it down and take it back to basics sometimes.
    eve if it’s just to refresh!!!

    Reply

    2 bigbeardale

    I agree with Brian. It helps to drive those numbers into our heads too. Later on, we can use those numbers and take your song examples and transpose them to other keys to help us learn. Thanks for your great blog Jermaine….

    Reply

    3 Bonny Mapel

    Learning the numbers is so important I’ve played for many years and I’m learning numbers now. I’m new at this blogging. Love your music information.
    Mazie

    Reply

    4 CoCoPiano

    Hello Everyone – I am a real beginner who loves music. I was taught by my Auntie years ago to play by ear. I only wished I had taken lessons to learn theory. Fast forward some 50+ yrs., I moved from my home state N.J. (from a church who had a great minister of music w/5 choirs) to a small town in Georgia, with no musician at my new church home, with one choir and our choir consists of 7 members. I feel as though I was placed there to provide the music for God’s church house. So I took piano lessons for 1 yr., learning theory but I was taught to play chords with my left hand only. I decided to step out of the class and go with “Jermaine’s Hear&Play” on line lessons, dvds, and the 300 pg. course. I am thankful that you are moving this slow, for I must now learn to play chords with my right hand. Your lessons are just great. I am determined and with God on my side – I feel I will accomplish my goal to play gospel music slowly but surely. I love this Blog – Stay Blessed

    Reply

    5 henry

    hey that’s great stuff that ya’ll are teaching. I drifted away for about six months, i think i’m back now. I didn’t stop studying music. I can play some music but i’m still struggling. What i need is some exercises to practice i’m having a hard time trying to play chords in my left hand can you send some practice exercises to my email. Thanks God Bless (h5675d@aol.com)

    Reply

    6 sheaujiayap

    hi
    how i realised that it was so wonderful!
    it help me to know moere deeply to music
    thanks for your help!!:)

    Reply

    7 thandag

    Thanks jg for the slowdown tip. When playing in key of C, the dominant (G) is sometimes I called the “ladder or door” to get in to the house (the root)-the ground floor and the sub-dominant I called it to the 2nd floor of the house. To go to the 2nd floor, we must use a ladder (seventh chords) ex. from C – C7 to reach F as our 2nd floor.

    Reply

    8 moses

    i need more examples thank God bless u

    Reply

    9 sammie

    Hello Griggs
    Let me me say its Gods grace to be alive and to have such kinds of people like you in our lives.
    Frankly speaking, i doing on well with keyboard practicing but still hanging on Primary chords,asking myself how will i ever start playing secondary chords well, so that they may sound like a song?
    Pliz if there is something you can to emphasize hard to my mind to get the secondary chords, then i would be much happy than i am.

    Its my sincere Joy to wish Happy Easter you and your family,continue supporting the God’s community as much as you can and you will make your clown shine even more.God bless you

    Sammie,,,

    Reply

    10 sammie

    Hello Jermaine Griggs
    Let me me say its Gods grace to be alive and to have such kinds of people like you in our lives.
    Frankly speaking, i am doing on well with keyboard practicing but still hanging on Primary chords,asking myself how will i ever start playing secondary chords well, so that they may sound like a song?
    Pliz if there is something you can do to emphasize hard to my mind to get the secondary chords, then i would be much happy than i am.

    Its my sincere Joy to wish Happy Easter you and your family,continue supporting the God’s community as much as you can and you will make your clown shine even more.God bless you

    Sammie,,,

    Reply

    11 Miriam Tierno

    Hi Rev. Jermine,
    The more I learn, the more I realize there is more to learn. I just learned there was a more simple way to play ballads. I did not know you can take the melody of the key of the song and play it backwards. Thank you. Sometimes we can complicate things if we are missing information. You made it sound so simple.

    Miriam Tierno

    Reply

    12 Keenan Gutterrez

    I was studying some of your blog posts on this internet site and I think this website is very instructive! Keep posting .

    Reply

    13 Herman

    Hello Jermaine, first I can’t express how surprised I was to receive a Happy Birthday wish from you it made my day. Secondly, the music robot is the best musical device I”ve invested in, it is my dream come true. Bless you, your family and your business. Thanks again. Peace?

    Reply

    14 theresa

    oh my having to listen to mike’s story etc and u talking on and on and on is sooooo nerve wrecking. why can’t someone just teach us something and stop with all the talking about stuff that isn’t important. I’d like to scream

    Reply

    15 Amicent

    God b praised tru u…I’m just blessed with da basis yu just showed above…I’m gud at playin keyboard but never had any knowledge on such nasics…I’m syill practicing keyboard to cover up there n there n I believe yo teachings will contribuye a lot in me.…God has blessed u tnx☺

    Reply

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