Questions about piano chords

My limited piano skills are entirely self-taught, and I think my instructor (:)) may have missed a key point.

I just bought a book on piano chords. In the introduction, the author states that the chords are played with the right hand.

Is this correct?

If so, how does one play the melody if the right hand is playing nothing but chords?

(My current style is to play the chords - or some fancied-up variation of the chord - with my left hand while my right hand plays the melody)



A chord is a set of notes that sound simultaneously. It doesn’t matter which hand plays them.

My music knowledge is quite limited as well, but I think your flaw is in the logic/semantics here. There’s a difference between “playing chords” as the book states and “playing nothing but chords” as you stated.

Also, is there a reason the melody can’t contain chords?

I have no idea what the author is trying to accomplish with this statement, and if it’s not a typo, I suspect neither does he.

While not the only way to do things, I’d say this is certainly the most common way.

On the bass keys, or with a cross-arm style. :stuck_out_tongue:

Yep. Depending on what style you’re playing, they might be all in the left hand, split between the left and the right, or all in the right hand. All the tones may be played together, or they may be broken up, or some chord tones left out all together. The most very basic chording (as in beginner’s piano books), usually has you playing three notes together in your left hand, and the melody in the right hand (which is what you’re doing.) Lot of jazz styles a similar approach, comping with chords in the left hand, while soloing in the right hand.

I’m not exactly sure why the author would state categorically that the chords are played in the right hand. I would most typically do right hand chords when I’m playing accompaniment (not handling the melody line in my right hand) or doing some kind of walking bass or bossa-nova type thing in the left hand, while playing the melody in my right and chording (usually) on off beats. Otherwise, my chords are usually split between left and right hand, or exclusively in the left hand.

Are you sure he’s not just saying “For the purposes of this book (or lesson), we’ll be playing these chords with the right hand, so you can learn them more easily (assuming you’re right-handed)”?. Because, as others have said, a chord is a chord no matter which hand plays them.

To me, as a singer, the melody can’t have chords–that’s a contradiction in terms. The melody is ONE NOTE (at a time), and one can have as many other notes as you need surrounding it–a chord would have the melody and some harmony notes.

As a handbell player, we sometimes have discussions about where the melody is–mostly with the goal of having the people playing accompianment (chords) play more quietly, and the melody folk playing louder so that one can hear the melody.

Once in a while, however, the director informs us that the melody is in fact played by the organ, or a c-instrument (one Sunday, we played the same song at all three church services–once with flute, once with clarinet, and once with violin–fun for us, and hopefully for our instrumentalists).

Thanks for the responses.

I guess I ought to clarify a bit.

When I was a lad, I taught myself using a beginners book that worked as pulykamell described: chords with the left, melody - one note at a time - with the right.

So, that’s how I learned the chords. I have advanced quite a bit, though. I play almost exclusively popular music, and I’ve taught myself to do some interesting things with my chord knowledge, such as rhythm changes, chord ‘runs’, etc. But my left hand is always playing some variation of whatever chord is called for.

With my right hand, I guess I do play some chords (but I don’t really consider it as such when I’m playing). For example, if the tune calls for a B flat chord with a B flat note for the melody, I’ll play the chord with my left hand and maybe an F note and a B flat note with my right.

I guess I’m basically improvising, or faking. I’ve been doing it for so long that I can get through most pieces of popular music without much difficulty after a run-through or two. I can sound semi-impressive to those who do not know any better.

I should sign myself up for some lessons; I’m likely doing some things incorrectly.

I have the unusual ability to accompany church services without book or sheet music, though I don’t play many voluntaries as yet (give me time, now we have a proper organ for me to play). My own odd style entails filling in up to a three-note chord as often as possible with the right hand while playing melody with same, leaving my left hand free to play the bass. It partly stems from my music teacher’s style of playing piano for school assemblies, where he’d play the bass in octaves for greater emphasis and so needed to do a little extra work with the right to keep the harmonies filled in. Of course, a lot of piano music expects the player to be emphasising the melody notes in the right hand while still playing arpeggios or chords.

D and B-flat will usually sound better in the right hand for that. The general “guideline” is not to double fifths or octaves in the right hand if you can avoid it. Sure, there’s a gazillion exceptions to it, but, to my ears, something like Bb-F (L.H.) and D-Bb (R.H.) sounds much fuller and stronger than Bb-F (L.H.) and F-Bb (R.H.) Of course, you could have the third in the left hand, too, but I like this particular kind of “open” voicing, where you play root, fifth, and maybe seventh in the left hand, and the rest of the chord tones, with the melody, in the right hand.

I appreciate this insight, but allow me to re-phrase: What I mean is that, when the sheet says F for the melody note along with a B flat chord, I might play:

LH: F, B flat, D
RH: F, B flat

In other words, I’ll add to the single note to get a fuller sound. My added notes, however, are limited to one of the notes in the chord.

I am not advanced enough to quickly and intuitively know which additional note would sound the best, I just grab the most convenient key.

Does this make sense?

Everyone knows real players ONLY play chords in the RH – melody in the left, always:
Jimmy Smith playing the ballad “Laura” cross-arm with close-ups of his hands.

Of course I’m kidding – I don’t have anything to add to what’s already been said, but somebody had to make the Jimmy Smith reference explicit.

I thought that’s what I was addressing, except with B-flat as the melody note (which is what you said in the other post).

This is actually something I’m curious about, myself. I’m a pianist in a more classical tradition, but if I want to play a song off of a lead sheet, I don’t know what else to do besides plugging a big closed voiced triad in the left hand. It doesn’t sound right - it seems like it would just be easier to learn the guitar for that. :frowning:

Yeah, the possibilities are endless with what you can do.

I believe the first Fake Book accompaniment I learned was just simple broken chords to accompany ballads. At it’s most basic, it’s just root-third-fifth-octave in 4/4 time or root-third-fifth-octave-fifth-third for something in a 6/8 or 12/8 meter (think “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”) Break the chords up and play the melody over it. After you get comfortable with that, start breaking your chords up over two octaves. So, for a 4/4 ballad, maybe go 1-3-5-1’-3’-1’-5-3 or 1-5-1’-3’-5’-3’-1’-5. (The tick represents the octave up.) Then, break up the rhythm. Don’t play constant eighth notes. Try 1-5-3’-1’-5’-HOLD-3’-5’. Then try not restricting yourself to single notes. So, 1-5-1’-(3’5’)-HOLD-1’-5. And so on, and so forth.

This is perhaps the simplest ballad accompaniment. So try this on songs like “Tenderly” or “A Time for Us” to get you in the mindset. And feel free to improvise. Play around with the rhythm and the chord tones. Listen to the melody and the feel of the music, and let it guide you.

That’s lesson one.

OK - just wanted to be sure we were on the same page.

I re-read the book I referred to in the OP. It says:

The chords are played with the right hand, except in the case of the more complex chords that require two hands to play.

This is, I think, pretty much where I am at.

But I don’t feel like I’m playing ‘properly’. I’m certainly not playing every note on the page.

Maybe I should ask it this way: if the bass clef indicates which notes you play with the left hand, and the treble clef shows which to play with your right (in general, that is), what is the purpose of having the chord designation printed above the staff?


The chord designation is printed above the staff for the benefit of the guitar player.

Or for the benefit of someone who isn’t playing what’s written in the bass clef, but is making up their own accompianment as they go along.

It’s a shortcut.

(Frankly, I’m at the edge of my knowledge, and am opting for terseness over stupidity).

More thoughts:

Sometimes at my church, we sing an “opening set” consisting of Praise Choruses. My role is strictly back up singer (read Choir member). Sometimes we get sheet music, mostly we just get words.

The sheet music often takes the form of what I believe is called a lead sheet. The melody (and sometimes harmony) is written out, with chord designations above it.

In the event that there is a written piano accompianment, that will be played by one person on the piano, a second keyboard player plays chords on the synthesizer. We generally have a couple of guitar players, who play chords or whatever. And often drums and a bass player (who mostly plays the root of the chord).

If you are playing piano by yourself, you have the choice between playing the accompianment as written, or making something up based on the chords. Or both, or neither.

The chord is usually for guitar players, or for “faking” (improvising your own arrangements.) Also, if you’re improvising a solo (your own melody line), you’re usually working off the chord changes. Unless I’m playing classical music, I generally don’t bother with playing most popular arrangements as written (I assume this is popular sheet music you’re talking about.) I play the melody line (which is sometimes indicated in an additional treble clef staff above the piano’s treble and bass clefs) and then use the chords as a guideline for how to fill in the rest of the notes. I might peek at the written bass to see if it’s an important bass line I want to incorporate into the song to preserve the feel, or to look for important passing tones but, otherwise, I play my own thing. And the melody line I usually embellish and play with a little bit, too.

Now, the really good “fakers” will often also reharmonize on the fly. But that’s another lesson.