How to play triads on piano (Piano Technique)

Today’s video is about triads, and how to play triads on piano. This is an important piano technique, much like scales – they build coordination and understanding of theory. Triads are great because they’re just chords played in a pattern, and the more chords in your arsenal as a musician, the better!

Grade 1 Piano Technique

The triads we’re focusing on today are suitable for grade 1 level students, be it through the RCM or the ABRSM. What we’re going to do is play a 3-note chord (hence triad, where tri=3), invert it a couple times (rearrange the letters), and then move it up and down the keyboard both in solid and in broken form.

Major and minor chords

Let’s quickly review major and minor chords, and how to invert them. Major chords are our “happy” chords that are formed using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of a scale. So if you want to play a C major chord, you have to play the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of a C major scale – C E G. To transform that into a C minor chord, our “sad” chord, just lower the 3rd a semitone – C Eb G.

Let’s do another one – A major. An A major chord is A C# E (the 1st, 3rd, and 5th of the A major scale) and has that characteristic happy sound. To make it minor, we lower the third a semitone to A C E.

Inverting chords

Now let’s look at inverting the chords, using C major chord (C E G) as our base. Since C major has 3 letters (or notes), there are 3 different configurations of this chord:

C E G (C is the bottom note)

E G C (E is the bottom note)

G C E (G is the bottom note)

How to play triads: Solid

So when you’re playing solid, or blocked triads, you start with the chord in root position (home base), invert it to the two other arrangements, and finish with the root chord again on top. Then, you descend back down to the original root position chord.

This is a great technique to practice with literally any chord, major or minor. Be sure to get your left hand going too!

When you’re playing solid triads, watch that you’re not playing too staccato, or jumpy – try to hold the chord as long as you can before switching to the next one.

Another challenge of solid chords is pressing down all three notes at the same time, especially when there’s a black key involved in the chord (thus putting your fingers at different heights). A fast attack of the notes (as opposed to pressing slowly) is your friend in this case, as is practice and experimentation – just be vigilant. If your chords sound choppy and not simultaneous, work on altering your hand position or touch to correct the issue.

How to play triads: Broken

Broken triads work in triplets. You press the three notes of the chord (starting in root position, just as in our solid triads) one at a time, and then move up to the next inversion and do the same thing. Once we hit the original root position chord on top, you turn around and do it all backward.

Watch out for the rhythm of these – make sure you aren’t pausing between the chords – it should be a continuous flow of notes with no break from start to finish. Keep it all smooth and connected – this is good practice for developing a legato touch.

How to play triads: Fingering

One more note on fingering. In general, when you play a chord in root position you want to use 1-3-5 for fingers (5-3-1 in the left hand). For the first inversion of that chord, your fingers should switch to 1-2-5 (RH) – this accommodates the extra space from the G to C, and makes for a smoother transition. Then for the next inversion, it’s back to 1-3-5.

It’s the same thing (mostly) in the left hand. Root position and 1st inversion will be 5-3-1, but the 2nd inversion should be 5-2-1, again, to accommodate that extra space between G and C, and for transitioning between chords more smoothly.

Conclusion

And that’s basically all there is to it. This is a deceptively simple exercise, but it’s great for internalizing different chords and their inversions, an immensely useful musical skill. You’ll also frequently encounter triads and solid chords in written music, so this is a way to familiarize yourself to them.

xo,
Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.