Magic Chord Shapes – Major & Minor Piano Chords

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 1
Level 2
12:20

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Reading
Music Style
  • Fundamentals

Would you like a more interesting way to play major and minor chords on piano? In today’s Quick Tip, you’ll learn a simple trick to getting rich piano colors using magic chord shapes. In fact, you can use these magic chord shapes in place of basic chords to instantly get a more professional piano sound. You’ll learn:

  • 2 Magic Chord Shape Formulas
  • 3 Chord Progressions
  • 1 Magic Chord Exercise

Building magic chords is easy, using Jonny’s formulas. Therefore, this lesson is perfect for beginners and intermediate players who want to get an advanced sound.

Demonstrating Magic Chords on Piano

To begin, let’s look at a sample chord progression in C major. First, we’ll show the progression using major and minor triads.  Then, we’ll swap out the basic piano chords for our magic chord shapes. For example, here is the progression using triads only.

Standard Chord Progression in C Major Using Major & Minor Triads
Standard chord progression using basic major and minor triads

Now, here is the same progression using magic chord shapes.

Standard Chord Progression in C Major Using Magic Chord Shapes piano chords
Same progression transformed with magic chord shapes

As you can see, magic chord shapes instantly improve the sound of your piano chords. In the next section, we’ll share two simple formulas for playing major and minor chords using magic chord shapes.

Transforming Basic Piano Chords with Magic Chord Shapes

In this section, you’ll learn how to play any major or minor triad with a magic chord shape. We’ll start with the formula for major chords.

Formula for Magic Chord Shapes on Major Chords

Jonny has come up with a simple way to help you remember how to find your magic chord shapes. For major chords, the formula is 1-4-1. Specifically, these numbers represent how to find the chord tones that you will play in the right hand.

First, you’ll want to play the root in the right hand as a point of reference, however, we won’t actually play the root in the right hand for the magic chord shape. Secondly, go down 1 scale tone from the root. This is the top note of your magic chord shape. Next, go down 4 more scale tones. This is the next note of your magic chord shape. Finally, go down 1 more scale tone to get the final note of your magic chord shape. After that, simply add in the root and 5th of the chord in your left hand. Now you have a beautiful major chord sound. Technically, the name for this chord is a major 9 chord. However, what makes it sound so good in this specific shape is the combination of being spread out while still having a cluster in the middle.

Here are each of the major chords in C major using the 1-4-1 formula.

Magic Chord Shapes on Major Chords
Magic chord shapes on major chords using the 1-4-1 formula

You can learn more about major 9 chords in our course on Piano Chord Extensions. Next, let’s learn how to play minor chords with magic chord shapes.

Formula for Magic Chord Shapes on Minor Chords

To create magic chord shapes on minor chords, we’ll use a slightly different formula. Specifically, the formula for minor chords is 1-3-1. We will use this formula just like we did in the previous section.

To begin, play the root of the chord in your right hand. Now, go down 1 scale tone. This is the top note of your magic chord shape. Next, go down 3 scale tones from there. This is the next note of your magic chord shape. Finally, go down 1 more scale tone to get the final note of your magic chord shape. After that, simply play the root and 5th of the chord in your left hand. The result is an incredibly lush minor chord sound. Minor chords with magic chord shapes work well across many musical genres.

Here are each of the minor chords in the key of C major using the 1-3-1 formula.

Magic Chord Shapes on Minor Chords
Magic chord shapes on minor chords using the 1-3-1 formula

In the next section, you’ll get to practice substituting magic chord shapes in in place of regular piano chords on two additional chord progressions.

Progression Practice with Magic Piano Chord Shapes

Now, let’s practice using these magic chord shapes with some additional chord progressions. Progression 1 below follows the following chord sequence in C Major: 2-chord, 3-chord, 4-chord, 6-chord. First, we’ll play the progression in its most basic form.

Progression 1—Standard Triads

Progression 1 Standard Triads
Progression 1 with standard triads

That sounds pretty plain. Next, let’s hear how the sound improves when we apply the magic chord shapes to this progression.

Progression 1—Magic Chord Shapes

Progression 1 with Magic Chord Shapes piano chords
Progression 1 with magic chord shapes

Wow, what a difference! It really is that easy to improve the sound of your piano chords with magic chord shapes! Let’s look at another progression.

Progression 2—Standard Triads

The next example uses the following sequence of chords in C Major: 1-chord, 6-chord, 4-chord, 5-chord.

Progression 2 Standard Triads
Progression 2 with standard triads

Now, let’s play the same chord progression using magic chord shapes.

Progression 2—Magic Chord Shapes

Progression 2 with Magic Chord Shapes piano chords
Progression 2 with magic chord shapes

The magic chord shapes work really well to bring a touch of elegance and beauty to this simple chord progression. You can use our Smart Sheet Music to transpose these magic chord shapes and progressions into any key with a single click. You can also download the entire lesson sheet from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership.

Magic Piano Chord Exercise

In the final section of today’s lesson, we will play an exercise that allows you to practice all of your magic chord shapes in the key of C Major. You can use this exercise to master your magic chord shapes. This exercise begins on the 1-chord and ascends to the 2-chord, 3-chord, 4-chord and so on all the way back to the 1-chord an octave higher. However, notice that there is no 7-chord in this exercise. That’s because the diatonic 7-chord in a major key is always a diminished triad. Magic chord shapes are only for major and minor chords. As a result, this exercise returns to the 5-chord after the 6-chord where you would be expecting the 7-chord. This accomplishes a similar function since the 5-chord contains the 7th scale degree (aka the leading tone).

Magic Chord Exercise piano chords
Magic chord exercise in C major

Next, try playing this exercise with the backing track that is included with this lesson. The backing track appears at the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership.

This exercise also sounds great beginning an octave lower.

Magic Chord Exercise 8vb
Magic Chord Exercise 8vb

Congratulations, after playing these magic chord shape exercises, you have taken a big step forward toward more advanced piano chords.

If you enjoyed this lesson, you will love the following lessons and courses:

To hear magic chord shapes in a tune, check out Jonny’s performance of Free Falling.

Thanks for learning with us. We’ll see you next time!

 

Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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