How to Teach Piano Chording to Kids

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:

How to teach piano chording image

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.

20 Responses to How to Teach Piano Chording to Kids

  1. Sarah says

    Where do you find PInk songs that are easy enough for them to play? Great reminder about chord! sorry the question is about the other curious fact!

    • says

      Hi Sarah – I find all of my chording songs on ultimate-guitar.com… guitar players get all the free stuff ;) This provides me with the lyrics and the chord symbols (and it’s also transposable before you print so this helps with choosing a good key). For my kids who are learning to chord and sing this is all they need. If I’m wanting to turn it into a lead sheet then I just write out the RH melody line in my music notation program and use the same chord symbols. Most pop songs are easy enough for kids as they’re usually based on just 4 repeating chords.

  2. Marilyn Brennan says

    I wish you would tell me other “well known songs” students may know that have fairly simple chording. I do not know them. Sometimes students will want to play a song they know but when we go to get sheet music it is too complicated. I will use your suggestions. Thank you.

  3. says

    Hi Marilyn…..I too would like some song ideas, but Christmas music is my favorite time to “add chords”. The music is so easy. I also use Christmas music to introduce “playing by ear”. That is where I ask all level of students to figure out as much of a Christmas tune “by ear” as they can……..and it’s not always Jingle Bells! This year I had a first year (age 6) student come in with It Came Upon a Midnight Clear! WOW! Then we finish melody together and then add chords (we learn by ear only, I don’t use the staff)…..then they perform “their” Carol at the Recital. Love the idea of only using 5ths……I use root only or the whole chord. Thanks!

  4. says

    I do “chording” with all of my students as early as age 6 and no one ever complains! They love it, especially in an ear training setting. I do have one question, Andrea or Trevor: do you encourage the younger students to do chords in cadences for each song, or simply root position chords? Every now and then I have a student who can’t think of the F chord in 2nd inversion when chording and only wants to play root position F. Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Maryn – when first introducing chording I don’t touch on inversions at all. We use only root position. I try to keep it as simple and approachable as possible for young piano students. All of the “fancies” can be added on once they’re comfortable with the first stage of learning to chord.

  5. Alice says

    Could you suggest other current popular songs with simple chording? I am overwhelmed with all that is out there in terms of popular music and don’t know where to start. (I also can’t figure out what artists appeal to what age.)

    • says

      Hi Alice,

      Happy to share! Right now the popular ones for kids doing chording and that have easy chords to teach are:

      Ho Hey! by the Lumineers
      Try by P!ink
      I Knew You Were Trouble by Taylor Swift (transposed down to C+)
      Baby Baby by Justin Bieber
      Stay by Rhianna (transposed down to C+)
      Firework by Katy Perry
      Thousand Years by Christina Perri (has D+ chords so a bit harder)
      Hey Soul Sister by Train
      Wavin Flag by Knaan

      That should get you started :) When you are on ultimate-guitar.com you can search by song title. Choose the version that has the most ratings and that says “chords” beside (stay away from TAB!) :)

      • Miranda says

        I know this is a question from a year ago, but just in case anyone else is wondering about this, I just ask my students what they like. I have them give me a list, I look up the chords to see if it will work for their level (usually on Ultimate Guitar!), and listen to it on Youtube if I’ve never heard the song. My kids love it! I’m glad you mentioned doing it with younger kids because I’m going to have to try that! A great website with songs for young kids is: http://www.songdrops.com/. I typically play these for my own babes, and they are all super easy chords! (I’m talking some songs only have 2 chords- C and G!)

  6. says

    Hi Everyone!

    I love to teach chording to all my students, especially because you can teach the same song to student of all different levels and make it is a simple or as elaborate as you like! I have http://www.billboard.com/charts/pop-songs bookmarked in my web browser and I check it to find out what are the most current pop songs. I try and listen to pop or rock/alternative radio in the car….but I still love my classical station best :) The billboard list saves me when I ask my students what their favorite tune is at the moment and they draw a blank.

    • says

      Great tip Christine – yes, Billboard Top 40 is great resource. I also keep my eye on the top downloads on iTunes too to be really current on what my kids are listening to.

  7. Betty Dean says

    I love teaching the chord method…sort of doing it my way. I go through piano books and find songs that will accommodate chords. Sometime they jump out at me. Using the Adult method books helps too. I learned to play by a chord method about 60 years ago. My piano teacher wrote her on method and had it published. Wish I had access to it. She probably passed away many years ago. Her name was Mrs. Howard Miller and she lived and taught in New Philadelphia, OH.

Trackbacks

Leave A Comment