Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Intermediate
17:26

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Groove
  • Lead Sheets
  • Songs
Music Style
  • Funk
  • Pop
  • Smooth Jazz
Free Lessons

Get free weekly lessons, practice tips, and downloadable resources to your inbox!

Do you want to learn how to get that sweet, modern r&b sound without having to learn tons of complex chords and music theory? In today’s lesson, you’ll learn how to play r&b piano with only 3 easy chords: C major 7, F major 7, and Bb major 7.

We’ll start from the beginning and after 3 simple steps, you’ll be able to play an awesome r&b melody and chords.  You’ll also be able to make it your own and start introducing improvisational techniques with rhythm and groove. After all, improvisation and self-expression are what give r&b, soul, smooth jazz, and other similar styles its life and character!

You’ll learn:

  • How to construct the 3 major 7th chords on the piano
  • The R&B chord progression
  • A simple but beautiful melody r&b melody to play over the chords
  • How to make the melody your own
  • Different grooves for the left hand
  • Backing track and lessons sheet music included

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Learn the 3 R&B Piano Chords

We’ll only need to know the 3 following chords for this lesson: C major 7th, F major 7th, and Bb Major 7th. Check out the sheet music below of the chords:

R&B chords for piano, C major 7, F major 7, and Bb major 7
R&B chords for piano, C major 7, F major 7, and Bb major 7

Here’s the specific chord progression we’ll be using with these chords. We’ll come back to it later:

R&B chord progression for piano using only 3 major 7th chords
R&B chord progression for piano using only 3 major 7th chords

Sounds cool right? Definitely has that r&b flavor. But how have we constructed these major 7th chords?

You might be familiar with regular 3 note major or minor chords, formed by stacking 3rd intervals (called triads). If not, then be sure to check our Beginner Piano Foundations (Part 1, Part 2).

When we get to 7th chords, we simply need to stack another 3rd above the triad. This means all 7th chords contain 4 notes. Be careful though because we do have many types of 7th chords. In order to play a major 7thwe need to make sure that we are playing a major 7th above a major triad.

Let’s talk about 4 different ways to construct a major 7th chord. We’ll be using C major 7th to demonstrate the first 3 ways:

C major 7th chord construction using the interval method
C major 7th chord construction using the interval method

As you can see we start with the ordinary C major triad, then to find the major 7th. The first way is by using the interval method. We start from the root, then stack a major 3rd, minor 3rd, and a major 3rd above it.

C major 7th chord construction finding 7th by counting up to the 7th degree of the roots major scale
C major 7th chord construction finding 7th by counting up to the 7th degree of the roots major scale

The second way to go up the C major scale until you reach the 7th note. That is your major 7th.

C major 7th chord construction finding 7th using 1 half step down from root shortcut
C major 7th chord construction finding 7th using 1 half step down from root shortcut

A short cut for this, also the third way, is to go a half step down from your root. You now can put this note on top as your major 7th.

Lastly, check out our 3 major 7th chords on the keyboard. See if you notice any patterns in their shapes. The C major 7th and F major 7th are plateau shapes since they contain only white keys.

C major 7th is a plateau shape on the piano
C major 7th is a plateau shape on the piano
F major 7th is a plateau shape on the piano
F major 7th is a plateau shape on the piano

Compare it to the Bb major 7th, which is called a downslope shape since it seems like all the upper notes eventually move “down” into the black key Bb:

Bb major 7th is a downslope shape on the piano
Bb major 7th is a downslope shape on the piano

If you want to learn all your major 7th chords and other 7th chords, as well as different beautiful voicings and applications of 7th chords, then check out Intermediate Piano Foundations.

Step 2: Adding Melody

So now that we have the chords, how can we make it sound like real music? Well, we need a melody! Here’s a nice melody that’ll go real nice with the chords for the right hand. It’s called “Always on my mind”:

R&B right hand melody to play over chord progression for piano
R&B right hand melody to play over chord progression for piano

Sounds more like music right? Try playing it a few times and get it down in your head, heart, and hands. Once you do you’ll find it much easier to move on to the next step which is making the melody your own. You can change the rhythm of the melody a bit to make it more groovy and rhythmic sounding.

Here are a few examples of how you could change the melody slightly in order to make it pop more:

R&B melody variation idea 1 for piano
R&B melody variation idea 1 for piano

R&B melody variation idea 2 for piano
R&B melody variation idea 2 for piano

These are just examples, it’s up you to play around with it and make it how you like. Even use your singing voice as a medium to see if you can find different ways to do the melody. As long as it sounds cool and your feeling it, it’ll work! The spirit of r&b and similar styles of music lies in the improvisational aspect and playing to your own unique musical voice.

You can also try downloading the r&b backing track at the bottom of this page. Playing along with other instruments is bound to give you some inspiration.

Now that we’ve got the r&b piano melody and chords, how can we spice it up and take it to the next level?

Step 3: Adding Groove in the Left Hand

In the last section, when adding the melody, the left hand was only playing whole note chords. This may work under certain circumstances, but in general, for the feel we’re going for, we may want to spice it up a bit.

Similar to the melodic variations in the last section, there are many options. But here are a few simple and effective r&b grooves for piano to try in the left hand, I’ll also use melodic variation 1 from the previous section:

Half Notes

R&B melody and chords for piano with half note groove
R&B melody and chords for piano with half note groove

Quarter Notes

R&B melody and chords for piano with quarter note groove
R&B melody and chords for piano with quarter note groove

Syncopated Rhythm

R&B melody and chords for piano with syncopated groove
R&B melody and chords for piano with syncopated groove

The last example is more difficult than the previous ones but definitely more groovy. Because we are coming in on the “& of 2”, it creates syncopation.

Syncopation is when a rhythm accents certain beats or parts of the measure you normally wouldn’t expect to be accented. Syncopation is a technique used in about every musical style to make the rhythms more interesting and not overly predictable.

Try playing each one with the backing track linked below. This will really help you lock in the feel and groove of each one. Like everything else in music, different patterns create different emotions. Once you get familiar with each pattern, you can bring each one out according to the emotion you’d like to express!

If you want to learn more about different groove options for piano, then check out 5 Jazz comping approaches (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Summing It All Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson on r&b piano chords, melody, and groove! It’s such a fun style to play. Again, I’d recommend downloading and playing the sheet music, as well as the backing track linked below. This will make practicing much more fun and enjoyable.

If you want to learn more about all your major 7th chords, as well as learning how to play other similar styles on the piano, then we’ve got you covered here at Piano with Jonny. Check out some of the following:

Thanks for checking out this Quick Tip, and happy piano practice!

Blog written by Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Jonny May

More Free Lessons

Learn to play Mariah Carey's modern-era holiday classic, “All I Want for Christmas Is You," as a beautiful contemporary jazz piano ballad.

'Tis the season to let your heart find home with a warm and tender jazz piano ballad arrangement of "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to express my gratitude towards music. Hopefully, this will inspire you to reflect upon how music has impacted your life in a positive way.

Looking for downloads?

Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!

Start Your Free Trial

Join Us

The Piano With Jonny Membership


Guided Learning Tracks

View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels

Progress Tracking

Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress

Downloadable Resources

Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks

Community Forums

Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums

Become a better piano player today. Start your free 14-day trial today!

Get Started