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27 Easy Chord Progressions for Your Piano Students

By Tim Topham | Creativity

Nov 26

My Favourite Piano Lesson Starter – Easy Chord Progressions

What activity do you tend to do at the start of your piano lessons?

Do you ask them an open question like, “What would you like to stat with today?” or one of my favourites, “What did you have most fun with in your practice this week?”

Or do you follow a regular routine starting with scales or sight reading first, followed by their pieces?

Or, do you ask the question that every student fears: “How much practice did you do this week!?”

While all the above are perfectly legitimate lesson starters and there’s nothing wrong with any of them, in today’s article, I want to give you an alternate lesson starter that I think you and your students are going to LOVE.

Cool Chord Charts

One of my favourite starting activities for lessons with my students is to play through an unseen chord progression from my download: “Easy chord progressions to inspire creativity” – read to the bottom to grab your free download today!

This download is full of chord progressions that are NOT based on songs. They are just chord progressions that sound really good and that I guarantee students will enjoy playing.

The reason I love starting lessons with creative activities like this is:

  1. It takes the pressure off the inevitable “Did you practice” question
  2. It gets the student’s brains out of school/work/stress/sports/rushing and helps them focus back on the music
  3. It doesn’t require challenging reading
  4. It’s fun
  5. It doesn’t require any preparation on the part of student or teacher
  6. It doesn’t need any resources except the chord handout so perfect if they “forget their books” or are having a bad day
Want more creative ways to start your piano lessons? This is for you: 20 Creative Ways to Start Your Next Piano Lesson

How to Teach Easy Chord Progressions

If you’re new to teaching chords, then please check out some of my other resources including:
  • My B.S. Method for teaching any chord on the piano
  • The introduction lessons in my 4 Chord Composing course which also covers teaching a chord-based approach

To play the chords in this download, students will need to be able to form chord shapes on the white notes of the piano in root position to start.

For example, here is one of the chord progressions from this sheet:

Note: I don’t demonstrate these chord progressions for students. I most often ask them to choose one and get them to work it out first.

I want to see if they’ll be able to:

  1. Form the chords
  2. Play with a sense of steady pulse
  3. Use the pedal

If any of those elements are missing, we can start working on it.

Always encourage students to play the chords with a sense of rhythm with the LH playing the bass note of the chord and the RH playing the chord in root position to start.

I show exactly how to do this in this video which is part of my 4CC composing course:

Always use the pedal and for extra points, turn on a drum beat that they can play along to using an app or your digital piano – they’ll LOVE it.

You could even muck around with GarageBand.

Note that the chord progressions are arranged in approximate order from simplest to hardest. Most are 4 chords long but they expand to longer progressions later in the download.

Here’s an example of a more complicated 4-chord progression:

And here’s what a longer progression looks like. This is an example in a jazzy style that introduces 7ths:

Progressive Teaching

Another great thing about this download is that it’s designed for you to teach new chord symbols and types of chords as they appear.

So when slash chords start appearing at progression number 7, you can explain what that means.

When you first encounter 7ths, that’s a great opportunity to start exploring what 7ths are, how they sound and how they’re written in chord symbols.

I tend to start with students playing progressions in root position and, when ready, exploring how inversions can make the progressions sound better AND be easier to play.

You can also come back to a progression the student had previously explored and start adding inversions in the next lesson – it’s totally up to you.

For homework/practice, I get the student to write down a copy of the chord progression they were exploring into their assignment book/music diary, and I ask them to play through it some more at home (building on any great mistakes they make).

If they are confident, they can also record themselves playing thru the progression on their phone or digital piano and then play it back and improvise over the top using a pentatonic scale.

Next lesson, make sure you have a listen back to what they’ve achieved before either building on it, or trying another progression.

Extension Activities

Here are some ideas of how you can expand this approach:
  1. Try a different left-hand pattern (I have a free download for this too!)
  2. Try playing the progression in different registers of the piano
  3. Add 2nds, suspensions, slash chords, etc. (Something I teach in depth in my 4 Chord Composing course)
  4. Change chord tonalities from major to minor or vice versa
  5. Add a second progression to the first one and play them in sequence – how do they sound together?
  6. Start adding inversions
  7. Try in triple or 6/8 feel
  8. Try on a keyboard with string sounds like a movie soundtrack
  9. Add backing beats using an app or keyboard
  10. Play along with your student while they add a melody by improvising with the pentatonic scale
Hopefully, these ideas will be enough to get you started with this fun activity. It can be used for groups, camps, workshops and 1-on-1 lessons and works with all ages and abilities (as long as they can form chord shapes).

Free Download

To get your copy, please enter your details below.

You get 27 chord progressions that you can use freely in your studio.

Conclusion

I love having this handout ready on my piano at all times – it’s just such a fun, creative and inspiring way to start some of your lessons and I guarantee your students will enjoy it.

Just make sure you play through the progressions before sharing them with your students so that you feel comfortable when it comes to teaching them.

Have fun and let me know how it goes!

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About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.