When choosing how to teach piano chording to kids there is one important thing to remember: keep it simple! Even your young beginners can start learning about chording on the piano as soon as they can recognize and play a 5ths.
When teaching chording to young piano students, you can skip the long-winded theory explanations and the chord charts, and you can just delve right into the music, knowing that the theory and the understanding of major and minor and augmented and suspended and sevenths etc. etc. will follow. Your first priority is to excite them with the potential of the piano.
Here’s a quick-start guide for how to teach piano chording to young students. With your “keep it simple” mandate in mind, follow these 4 steps and your piano kids will chord like pros:
Piano Chording Quick-Start Guide
1. Begin with 5ths – teach beginning chording using 5ths instead of 3-note chords. This means your piano students don’t need to worry about major vs. minor and the accidentals that go along with this. Without the 3rd in the chord they’re free to practice moving around on the keys without having to think too much. Nothing sours a first chording experience like consistently forgetting the F# in a D chord. I introduce chording as a “both hands” activity. We get into playing a melody line with the RH later on, but first I like to have both hands involved in the chording process.
2. Choose your Keys Wisely – avoid introducing chording that requires tricky hand positions (like a chord with Bb as the root). Look for music that contains chords where a white key is the root for all of them (avoid Bm if you can as that’s tricky too!). My young piano students right now are learning to chord along with P!nk’s “Try” which requires just Am, F, C and G for the entire song. It’s completely approachable with nothing to trip them up.
3. Leave the staff out of it - when teaching your piano students how to chord you’ll be asking them to move out of any sense of position on the piano. Because method books often rely on position-based playing, this can be unnerving to some kids so you’ll want to keep the process as simplified as possible. You don’t need to write the chording on a staff. Use chord symbols on their page instead as chording is often done from chord symbols or by ear in the “real world” anyway.
4. Scaffold your teaching – Much of how to teach piano chording to students should be done in stages. Students should first learn to move through a 4 chord progression using solid 5ths in both hands played at the same time. I use two quarter notes per chord to start them off with some sense of rhythmic pulse to their playing. Once they can easily do this, then change it up by making the 5ths broken (so LH plays 5-1 and RH plays 1-5 on each chord). You can get away with playing most of today’s pop music in this manner and not sound half-bad!
Once you’ve created this framework you can then add “extras” to their chording abilities. These include adding the RH 3rd (for my young students I keep a 5th in the LH for quite a while as it sounds better with pop music anyway until they can comfortably reach an octave), changing the rhythm, playing the LH broken and the RH solid etc. etc. The sky is the limit – and that’s the great thing about chording!
Finally, the most important thing to remember is to give your piano students the motivation behind learning to chord. Playing chord symbols off the page is okay, but putting these into the context of a well-known song is really motivating. You can either teach them to chord along as they sing the melody, or you can teach them to play the right hand melody line while chording the left hand.
Introducing young piano students to chording eases the discomfort they may feel when playing “out of position”; it gives them freedom on the keyboard in more ways than one. Learning how to chord gives piano kids an applicable skill with life-long potential, it opens the door to improvisation and composing, and it creates confidence in accompanying and “jamming”. Plus… it’s just really fun!
Want more great piano teaching tips. Check out our popular teachers’ guide, Piano Hands Shouldn’t Flip Burgers.