How To Play & Write Songs With Chords (Triads) On The Piano

This lesson will show you how to play 3 rock songs - with chord progressions - and show you my method of how to write a song with triads on the piano.

To move away from classical music on the piano – and reading notes all the time – I started to learn about chords. As I mentioned before all songs use chords except atonal music – but that’s a different animal.

A great way to understand chords and triads a little better is to play rock songs. This is how I did it at the beginning. I used to mess around with all the rock songs I liked at the time trying to figure them out on the piano.

If you need a refresher on what a triad is and how triads work you can watch Lesson 1 - How to Play Songs with Chords on the Piano.

This lesson will show you how to play and write a song with triads on the piano.

PART 1
How To Play 3 Common Chord Patterns on the Piano

To start with I’m going to show you how to play some common chord patterns. This will get you used to hearing chords and playing them.

1. The II – V Progression (pattern)

Below are 4 examples of how to play the II - V chord progression in the key of C major. Dm - G

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2. The I – V – VI – IV Progression

Welcome to one of the most used chord progressions *ever*. This progression is literally everywhere.

When you play it can you hear what the progression sounds like? Don’t worry if you can’t hear anything - next lesson’s video has 25 songs that use this progression so you’ll get used to it.

A cool thing to do for a variation is to make the 2nd chord G to a slash chord: G/B

G/B – you play the G triad in the right hand and make the left hand bass note a B.

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3. The II – IV – VI – V Progression

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PART 2
How To Write A Song Using Triads On The Piano

So now you know what a triad is and you’ve looked a little into what an inversion is. You also know how to play a few common chord progressions. How cool is that!

After playing some songs for a while using chords you may get the urge to start to create your own songs.

That’s what this next part is about. If you don’t have an urge to write a song don’t worry… 25 are coming your way in the next lesson 🙂

If you do have an urge to write a song… this is how I do it! I’m going to show you the way I write a song so that you can do it too. This is just one way to do it and other people I know have other ways. I’ve seen my method work really well with my students so I thought I’d show you here. Let’s get going…

Below are the triads chords in the key of C, numbered 1 - 7.

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Please note: for this lesson we are not going to use the 7th chord as it is a diminished chord. I will explain this later. For this lesson we are going to use the numbers between 1-6.

As mentioned in the previous lesson ‘How to Play Songs with Chords on the Piano’ all songs use chords. Some use one chord, others use multiple chords. Most rock songs use two to four chords.

So to get your song working you need some chords behind it, under it.

A good way to get this writing process started is just to use a chord progression from these lessons. If you’re feeling more adventurous a good way to get your own chord pattern of your song is to randomly pick numbers between 1 and 6. If you’re not feeling too confident with this – which is completely normal by the way – start with picking two chords randomly between the numbers 1 and 6. Don’t think too much! Play each chord for 4 beats each and in root position. Don’t be too worried about the inversions yet, just play chords in root position and don’t think too much… just enjoy the sounds. Do you like what you hear? If so, then keep playing it. Rely on your gut to tell you if it’s any good.

If you’re feeling more adventurous again, go to 3 or 4 chords to create your pattern. The lesson video shows you a few different chord progressions I just randomly made up to show you the process I use. I just play around with the chords – moving around the numbers – until something pops up.

It’s really hard not to criticise yourself. We all wonder ‘is my song any good?’ We all have voices in our heads saying, ‘that’s not good enough’ or ‘that’s too easy!’ To get around this, when I write something and I like it, I write it down or record it on my phone and forget about it. After a week or so I come back to it, play it, and if it still excites me like it did when I wrote it, then I keep it. If it doesn’t give me that feeling again I leave it, but I do keep it in my pile of ‘bits and pieces’, it may be useful somewhere else. This method helps me figure out if my song is any good. It may help you too.

So to put all this part of the lesson into one sentence: when writing a chord progression for your song, you can randomly pick from the chords in the key to find something that suits - that is your progression.


Writing a Melody

Tips on how to write a melody to fit with your chords.

So you have a chord progression you like. How do you write a melody? This is the million dollar question.

Before I go on and give you some tips on how to write your own melody I’d like to point out that there is know wrong or right way to do this. Some people write a melody first, then figure out the chords. Others write the chord progressions first and then figure out the melody. Some are lucky and are able to do both at once. Some people just have the lyrics or a poem they would like to convert to a song. For me it’s either the melody or the chord progression. Remember I am showing you here what works for me to help you.

Approaching writing a melody when you have your chord progression worked out

When I have my progression worked out when writing a song I often just play the progression and ‘hum’ along with it. I never worry about lyrics or phrasing or how I sound vocally. I just pick a vowel sound or something and try to find something. I rely on my gut to tell me when it’s right.

Approaching writing a chord progression when you have the melody worked out

When I have the melody roughly worked out in a song I do the same as above. I just mess around with the chords to I find something I like.

Approaching writing a song if I have the lyrics written with no melody or progression

This way for me is never the case. I find it hard to write lyrics. It’s always the hardest part for me. The music come easy to me, lyrics 🙁 So, I only have a little advice here. I suggest that you get your phrases and words in your lyrics to fit a time signature you like, for example 4/4, and mess around with either the chord progressions first or major scale of a key you choose to find what you want. Listen to the rhythm your words make when you read them aloud and try to match something to them. When you are ready put in your chord progression and see if it works.

What if I can’t hear a melody or create one?

What I would do here is pick some chords you like and play them with the left hand, in root position at this stage, and play the C major scale up and down with 1/4 notes or 1/8 notes and eventually something will come. Some people will find this easy. Others will struggle. Either way just keep playing it and in time something will come depending on how much you play it and how much you want to write a song.

Remember, if you’re stuck trying to find a progression of your own just use one of the progressions I gave you, for example the 1 - 5 - 6 - 4 or the 6 - 4 - 1 - 5, to start with and play/sing up and down the C major scale. You can also try to work out songs you like.

When it comes to lyrics, well that’s up to you. Like I mentioned before this isn’t really my forte, but you could write about life your experiences, love or just whatever thoughts are going through your head.

My last tip is don’t try to write your song in one day. Some days will be more creative than others. I know we all hear stories of artists who write a track in just a few minutes and then it makes Number 1 on the charts. This does happen but what they don’t mention is all the other days when nothing creative comes and the countless hours practicing/writing to get to that point. When a period of non-creativity happens to me I just work on a phrase or the chorus/verse of a song and don’t worry too much about what I don’t have in the song. I write it down or record it onto my phone and come back to it later. I often walk away from the piano and come back to it other time. Today, most of my writing is done walking my dog or in the car away from the piano. I remember the days when I would come up with an idea with no way of recording it and I would forget it by the time I would reach home. Thanks to modern day technology like phones and MP3 players this changes the game. Keep one handy 🙂 if you are trying to write songs!!

I hope all this helps. Please do remember that all the information in this lesson is how I approach playing chords and composition. I know other people will do it another way and may not agree with my method and that’s cool. I’m just trying to spread the joy of music to people. I know how hard it is to be a musician and I always planned that if I got any good at music I would try and make things easier for other people on their learning journey. I’ve witnessed this method work for my students… hence this site 🙂

Please leave any comments or questions at the website or email me at: greg@classicaltojazzpiano.com with your queries. It’s always great to get some feedback 🙂

Take it easy,

Greg.


Remember ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk?

They do the II – IV – VI – V pattern in A major: So that’s - Bm, D, F# m and E.