Playing the Piano or Keyboard: The Anatomy of a Triad

By Holly Day, Jerry Kovarksy, Blake Neely, David Pearl, Michael Pilhofer

To be a good piano or keyboard player, you need to understand the anatomy of a triad. Chords begin very simply. Like melodies, chords are based on scales. To make a chord, you select any note and play other scale notes at the same time.

Generally, the lowest note of a chord is called the root note. The root note also gives the chord its name. For example, a chord with A as its root note is an A chord. The notes you use on top of the root note give the chord its type, starting with major and minor chords.

Most chords begin as triads, or three (tri) notes added (ad) together. Okay, that’s not the actual breakdown of the word, but it may help you remember what triad means. A triad consists of a root note and two other notes: for example, the root plus a third interval and a fifth interval.

Check out this typical triad played on the white keys C-E-G. C is the root note, E is a third interval from C, and G is a fifth interval from C.


You build new chords by altering this C triad in any of the following ways:

  • Raising or lowering notes of the triad by a half step or whole-step

  • Adding notes to the triad

  • Both raising or lowering notes and adding notes

For example, here are four different ways to change the C triad and make four new chords. Play each of these chords to hear how they sound. The note intervals are marked in each chord.