How Many Chords Are There, Anyway?
Since chords (the main component of harmony) are one of the three most vital elements of music – the others being melody and rhythm – it would be useful to know how many chords there are. And it doesn’t matter whether you play piano or guitar or some other instrument – chords are chords.
It’s certainly not necessary to learn all the chords in the whole wide world, but it is necessary to learn some of them – at least enough to allow you to harmonize the songs you would like to play.
But meanwhile, there are 3 chords — just 3 — that you absolutely, positively have to know. If you don’t know these three, there’s hardly a song in the whole world that you could play. But by knowing just 3 chords, you can play hundreds, if not thousands of songs! And those chords are simply the primary chords in any given key:
The I chord (the chord built on the 1st degree of the scale)
The IV chord (the chord built on the 4th degree of the scale)
The V chord (the chord built on the 5th degree of the scale)
For example, if you were playing in the Key of C, the I chord would be C (c, e, g), the IV chord would be F (f, a, c), and the V chord would be G (g, b, d).
But as you probably know, there are thousands of other chords, so it would be helpful to at least know of their existence and maybe someday learn them.
So here goes:
Since there are 12 major keys one can play in (not counting enharmonic keys – keys that sound the same but are written differently), there are:
12 major triads (a triad is a 3 note chord)
12 minor triads
12 diminished triads
12 augmented triads
12 diminished 7th chords (4 note chords)
12 major 6th chords
12 minor 6th chords
12 dominant 7th chords
12 major 7th chords
12 minor 7th chords
12 half-diminished chords
12 9th chords
12 flat 9th chords
12 9th/major 7th chords
12 9th/minor 7th chords
12 11th chords
12 13th chords
12 flat 5th chords
12 flat 5th maj 7th chords
If that’s not enough chords for you, remember that each chord can be inverted – turned upside down. So multiply all the triad chords by 3, and all the 4 note chords by 4, and all the 5 note chords by 5….
Then there are:
poly-chords – chords that combine two or more other chords, and
voicings – the way chords are positioned on the piano keyboard
And that’s just in one octave. A standard piano has 7 octaves, so multiply all that by 7 and you get the answer to how many chords there really are:
More than you can count.
But again, you don’t need to know them all. Just master enough so that you can play the songs you want to play, then gradually over time learn more and more chords. Your musical world will continue to grow and maturity as a musician will become obvious to others.