Unit C12 – Chords and Harmony

By the end of Stage C students should be able to play three note chords. They should:

  • know what a tonic triad is
  • know what a broken chord is
  • how to play a tonic triad and broken chord of C major (root position and inversions).

This topic is one that might well be taught at a different time to other topics, depending on what pieces the student encounters and their general ability/interest level.


  • Starting with C major, to keep things simple, use temporary markers and ask students to lay out the C major chord on the piano. There are lots of techniques you can use to help students with this
    • tell students what the notes are. If a student is having a lot of success with a piece that has a C major chord in, this can be a helpful extension exercise to start them thinking about chords. Get them to spot other C major chords in the piece.
    • describe the skips and steps. If you have been using skip/step terminology, this can be a helpful way to introduce the C major chord (2 skips).
    • how many semitones? If a student knows what a semitone is, then encourage them to count the semitones between the notes. You can then transfer this to other major chords.
  • Build on this by encouraging students to identify other major chords as they come across them in pieces.
  • To play a chord get the student to play the root and hold it while they play the third, then hold them together while they add the fifth. Encourage a student to listen to the sound they make, and think about whether the notes are sounding all at the same time. Discuss what they might need to change to get the notes to sound together.
  • Use temporary markers (such as Iwako erasers or similar, buttons, or sticky indexing tabs) to explore the different inversions of the major chord.
    • Use this as a basis for playing broken chords.


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Stage C Tonic Triads
Introducing tonic triads using C major in root position, and first and second inversions.

Stage C Tonic Triads C Major.JPG