Maybe you already play guitar and want to branch out and try playing piano. Or maybe you already play both! Either way, you’ll probably run into a situation where you want to convert guitar chords to piano chords. But how do you do that? Let’s take a look.
Table of Contents
- How Do Chords Work?
- Example: The G Major Chord
- Example: The A7 Chord
- Is It Just as Easy to Convert Piano Chords to Guitar Chords?
- What About Converting Guitar Tabs?
- Going Forward
How Do Chords Work?
You probably already know that a chord is a collection of multiple notes played at once. And since music is a universal language, you can play the same notes and chords on both piano and guitar. Essentially, if you play the same chord on guitar and piano, the chord will sound the same. But the way you play piano chords and guitar chords is different.
Many basic, fundamental chords are triads, meaning they are made up of three notes. The relationship between the different notes determines what kind of chord is being played.
Let’s start with a major chord. A major chord is made up of a root note, a major third, and a perfect fifth. The terms “third” and “fifth” indicate what degree each note is on a scale.
This is easier to understand if we look at an example. So we’ll look at one of the first guitar chords every new guitar player learns (along with the C major chord): G major. We can build this chord using the G major scale:
G A B C D F#
To build a G major, we start with the root note, or the first degree of the scale. That’s G. Now we need the third degree (B) and the fifth degree (D). So a G major chord is a triad made up of the notes G, B, and D. This is true whether you’re playing a guitar chord or a piano chord.
You don’t need to worry about memorizing the music theory behind playing chords in the beginning. But if you want to progress to playing in different modes or just get a deeper understanding of music, knowing theory can be a big help!
Example: The G Major Chord
On the Guitar
Now we know the notes in G major. There are several ways to play this chord, but here’s the most common open version:
- Fret the low E string at the third fret. This note is G.
- Fret the A string at the second fret. This note is B.
- Leave the D string open.
- Leave the G string open.
- Leave the B string open.
- Fret the high E string at the third fret. This note is G.
As you can see, since there are six guitar strings, there are two G notes and two B notes in this guitar chord, played in different octaves.
***Keep in mind that the fingerings for guitar chords we mention here only apply if you’re playing in standard tuning (EADGBE) and not using a capo. Alternate tunings are a lot of fun to explore, but they change the way you need to play chords!
On the Piano
Now, we can turn this guitar chord into a piano chord. Even if you don’t really play piano, it’s not hard to figure out how to play piano chords once you know the notes in each chord.
Piano notes repeat up and down the keyboard; that’s why the piano is such a valuable tool when you’re learning music theory. If you aren’t sure which note is which, find the spot on the piano called “middle C.” This is the spot in the middle where there are two white keys in a row (no black key in between). The white key to the right is a C.
Starting there, the white keys are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. (The C major scale.) The next white key is another C. So all you need to do is hold down a G, and B, and D.
This is the basic way to play G major. But if you want the piano chord to have a richer, fuller sound, you can mimic the way guitar chords include the same notes at different octaves. To do this, you can hold down two G major chords: one with your left hand and one with your right. The additional notes will create a remarkable, harmonically rich tone. But there’s nothing wrong with playing a basic G major, either!
Example: The A7 Chord
Now that we’ve seen a relatively straightforward chord to get a basic idea of how to convert guitar chords to piano chords, we’ll look at a slightly more complex chord: A dominant 7th, usually just called A7.
A dominant 7th chord is made up of four notes. It includes a major triad (root, major third, perfect fifth) and a minor seventh. To build this chord, we’ll take a look at the A major scale:
A B C# D E F# G#
Our root note is, of course, A. Our major third is C#, and our perfect fifth is E. The seventh degree of the scale is G#. But to make a dominant 7th chord, we need a minor seventh. That means that we lower this note by a half step, and that gives us G. So an A7 chord contains the notes A, C#, E, and G.
On the Guitar
The A7 guitar chord position is relatively easy, especially when you play it as an open chord:
- Mute or skip the low E string.
- Leave the A string open.
- Fret the D string at the second fret. This note is E.
- Leave the G string open.
- Fret the B string at the second fret. This note is C#.
- Leave the high E string open.
On the Piano
If you remember how the notes on the piano work on the white keys, you won’t have any trouble finding A, E, and G. But to play a C#, we’ll need to look at black keys as well in order to figure out this piano chord.
On the piano, the black keys are “accidentals,” or sharps and flats. A black key to the right of a note is that note sharp (raised a half step). Find the C key (two keys to the right of A) and then hold down the black key immediately to the right. That’s C sharp!
***As a side note, the black key to the left of any white key is the flat version of that note. So the black key between C and D is C# or D flat. Since C# and D flat are the same note (they sound exactly the same), they are referred to as enharmonic notes.
Of course, just like you did with the G major chord, you can also double A7 for some added harmonic richness.
Is It Just as Easy to Convert Piano Chords to Guitar Chords?
Thanks to the logical layout of the piano, creating piano chords makes sense when you know what notes you need to include. So for guitar players, figuring out how to convert guitar chords into piano chords isn’t horribly difficult. But translating piano chords to guitar isn’t quite as intuitive.
Of course, you can find the notes in each chord and then locate them on the fretboard. But often, especially when it comes to playing open chords, it’s simpler to determine which piano chord you’re playing and then consult a guitar chord chart to find the best way to play the same chord on guitar.
If you play both instruments or are learning how to, having a piano chord chart and a guitar chord chart on the wall can be incredibly helpful. It’s wise to take a few chords and learn how to convert guitar chords to piano. But as you continue to practice, chord charts can help you get a better understanding of how to play chords on both instruments.
What About Converting Guitar Tabs?
Since a guitar (usually) only has six strings, guitar tabs are a great way to indicate what notes you need to play. But for a piano player, sheet music is the most common way to write out what notes on the piano you need to play.
Just as you can convert guitar chords to piano chords, you can convert tabs to piano music. This can be a bit more time-consuming; you’ll need to look at the tabs and determine which notes you’re playing and then write them in sheet music form.
However, while they are different from guitar tabs, there are piano tabs. Piano tabs break up the keyboard into octaves, with each line representing a separate octave. If you frequently switch between guitar mode and piano mode, learning to read the tabs for both can become a bit confusing!
Especially if you play rock and pop music, knowing how to play chords on both guitar and piano is an incredibly valuable skill to have. And as you can see, converting guitar chords to piano chords isn’t as hard as it sounds. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to play your favorite songs on both instruments.
If you’re new to either instrument, don’t be intimidated by the music theory behind chords and how to play them! Even a basic knowledge of theory is enough to help you get a better grasp on how chords work. And knowing that will make you better at both guitar and piano!
Still have some questions about playing chords on guitar vs. piano? Here are some answers:
Yes; chords are a universal language, so you can play the same chords on both guitar and piano and they will sound the same. Some piano players opt to add more notes (usually by doubling the chord) in order to make piano chords sound more like chords as played on guitar.
No; since you can play the same chords on both, you don’t need to transpose guitar chords to piano chords. However, if you are only familiar with one instrument, you may need to figure out how to play each chord on the other instrument.
Since each chord is made of a few notes, in order to match a guitar chord to a piano chord, you just need to find out what notes are in each chord. Then, you just need to play those same notes at the same time on the piano. Of course, if you prefer, an online chord chart can also show you how to play guitar and piano chords.
The basic layout of the guitar is in the key of E, while the piano is made around the key of C. However, you can play either instrument in any key.
You can play anything you can play on guitar on piano. However, some techniques are unique to each instrument. For instance, you can’t reproduce the sound of guitar string bends on a piano. But since you have 10 fingers to use to play piano notes, you can play more notes at once while playing piano than you can if you’re playing guitar.