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Guitar Chords on Piano – How Chords and Melodies Translate

May 1.2021
Playing guitar chords on piano is totally possible. Just because a song is written for one instrument doesn’t mean that...

Playing guitar chords on piano is totally possible. Just because a song is written for one instrument doesn’t mean that it can’t be played on another with ease. If you play guitar, it’s natural to want to move on to another instrument and keep things exciting.

Have you ever been to one of those gigs where you see a musician switch from guitar to piano, and vice versa, with ease? Sometimes musicians even switch in the middle of a song. That’s always pretty cool, right?

In rock and pop music, moving from playing the guitar to playing the piano is seen as something of an evolution. The Beatles did it. John Lennon went from singing songs with his acoustic guitar to writing famous songs like Imagine sat in front of a piano.

There are some similarities in the world of guitar and the world of piano. This means that converting guitar chords on piano is definitely possible. Unfortunately, the way the two are played is quite different. The way the strings interact on the guitar can make a couple of aspects of the piano quite difficult to get your head around, certainly when you are just starting out.

In this guide, we’re helping you to work out the differences. You can work out how to play guitar chords on piano. If you’ve written a song for the guitar and want to be able to play it on the piano, or you want to turn a guitar song into a piano ballad, it doesn’t have to be too difficult.

Even some of the most iconic guitar riffs can translate on guitar…

Are Guitar and Piano Chords The Same?

The answer is both “yes” and “no”.

Playing guitar chords on piano is very similar in theory. Try to think of each of the strings of your guitar as one of your fingers on the piano.

Fender.com offers a description of how chords are made up: “The major chord contains the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a major scale. For example, below is a C major scale. The notes of a C major chord are the 1st (the root note), 3rd, and 5th notes, which are C (the root note), E and G. Notice that the octave (the 8th note) is also part of the chord.”

On piano, when you play a C chord, you are playing the C note, E note, and G notes on the guitar. The same is true of the guitar.

C chord

C piano chord with notes C E G – Scales-Chords.com

When you play the same chord on the guitar, the notes you are playing are, from low to high, E, C, E, G, C, E.

You can choose whether you strum all six strings or just the highest five. The key is that those three notes, C, E, G, make up the chord. The sound may be a bit thicker due to the fact that you are introducing more notes, but you can do the same on the piano, using two hands or introducing another E or C note within your E chord for a wider sound.

If you’re a beginner, you might be wondering if guitar chords on piano are the same. Do they have the same names? The answer is “yes”.

If you buy one of those guitar songbooks, the chords that are listed will be the same, whether you are playing them on guitar, piano, violin, or accordion! How you play them is different, but chords and notes within scales are a universal language.

Turning Guitar Chords into Piano

It is much easier to take a guitar chord and turn it into a piano chord.

Whether you know all of the guitar chords or you have to do a bit of research, by learning the guitar chords you can learn what notes make the chord. All you need to do is play the corresponding notes on the piano.

Let’s take a D chord as our example.

Knowing the notes on the fretboard is the best way to work out a chord. Check out this helpful graphic from Anyone Can Play Guitar

Learning The Notes On The Fretboard - Anyone Can Play Guitar

anyonecanplayguitar.co.uk

If you know the notes of a D chord, you can work out that you are playing an F#, D, A, and D when you strum in this chord position. Want to turn this into a piano chord? All you need to do is to work out where these four notes are and play them in succession. In fact, if you want to play the chord as a triad, all you have to do is play the D, F# and A, and you’re there!

This works with any chord on the guitar. You’re effectively just working out the building blocks that make that chord and recreating them.

In reverse, this isn’t anywhere near as easy. Perhaps you made the right call learning how to play the guitar first!

Please note that when we’re discussing these sort of transitions, we’re discussing standard tuning. If you’ve delved into alternate guitar tunings, you need to go back to the standard tuning of E-A-D-G-B-E.

Chord Charts – Your Not-So-Secret Weapon

If you go into the bedroom or studio of any aspiring musician then you will probably see some charts up on the wall! Chord charts can be incredibly useful and helpful when you are working out how to play any instrument.

There are a few options for getting your hands on a chord chart. We definitely think it is worthwhile buying a chart rather than going for one of the “print it yourself” option. There are some charts online that you can freely print out, but on your home printer they might not look great. We recommend a much bigger print if you want to make sure that you can see from your position, sitting and playing your instrument.

Chord charts don’t necessarily show you every single chord. There are different chord variations that may not be displayed, but for the majority of songs you won’t need the variations. An Asus2 chord is only going to crop up once in a while, and you can always Google it!

Piano Chord Chart

piano chord chart

A piano chord chart looks something like the above! You can find this chart here.

You can find major, minor, and a few different variations of the chords on the chart above.

A piano chord chart poster tends to be much bigger, and this means you can put in on your wall and see the chords whenever you need them. If you are watching a tutorial and it tells you to play an A Major chord, you can!

This chart is awesome, and it also comes with a piano scales chart, which is inevitably very helpful. It’s A1 in size, so no sight issues!

Guitar Chord Charts

Similarly, guitar chord charts can be purchased to do the same job. Not only are these good for working out how to play things on guitar, but you can use this as a basis for the technique mentioned above, and work out the piano chord by establishing all of the notes and recreating it on the piano.

Do I Need to Read Music to Play Piano?

sheet music

If you go to see a piano concert, there’s every chance you see the musician flick open their sheet music and be ready to play. Reading music, or “sight-reading”, is an incredible skill.

The good news is, that not all piano players need to be able to read music. If you are brand new to the piano then you can get away with not knowing how to read music.

This is a subject we’ve discussed a lot here on the Pianu blog. Some people start the Pianu academy and they want to be able to read music perfectly. Others don’t really care. Fortunately, in the modern age, you can do things however you want to.

A lot of people have never really considered why sheet music exists. Before the days of recording, we couldn’t listen to music for reference or watch a tutorial. If we had been able to, the system for reading and writing music probably wouldn’t exist, or it would be very different. Sheet music is a way to communicate every aspect of a piece of music, from the tempo to the length of the notes in a solo. You don’t need a recording for this.

Make no mistake, being able to sight-read is incredible. This means that you can pick up a piece of music and play it, regardless of whether you have heard it before. Impressive…

There are a couple of takeaways to consider here.

It’s totally up to you whether or not you want to learn how to read music. Plenty of successful musicians never learn how to read music. You can even still understand music theory without the ability to read music at all.

Similarly, if you’ve got ambitions of becoming a classical pianist, or being able to do anything like Tom Brier did in the video above, it’s a good idea to learn how to read music.

Ultimate Guitar for Piano

Working out guitar chords on piano just got a whole lot easier.

If you are a guitar player already then you probably don’t need me to tell you anything about ultimate guitar. It’s an amazing resource. The community creates guitar tabs for pretty much any song you can imagine. Even bands that aren’t particularly mainstream may well have songs on Ultimate Guitar, and you can use the tabs or chords listed to work out how to play in a matter of minutes.

Although Ultimate Guitar can be hit and miss (the site relies on users uploading their own content), there is a pretty robust reviews system. The tab itself is reviewed so that the cream rises to the top.

This is all well and good, but where does it come in for piano playing?

Well, recently, Ultimate Guitar added support for other instruments!

Let’s use Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish as an example. If you go on Ultimate Guitar and check out the chords, it will automatically bring up the guitar chords. Ultimate Guitar often shows other information like the tempo and strumming pattern too.

Firstly, you’ll see the guitar chords listed along with their diagrams. It should look something like this:

guitar chords on piano

If you want to, you can simply switch to Ukulele or Piano mode by clicking the buttons above. This will show you the same chords and how to play them on the piano.

piano chords from guitar It’s not 100% foolproof. You will still have to do a little bit of working out yourself. For instance, you might have to think about the strumming pattern and whether this can translate at all to the piano rhythm you’ll be playing.

The fact is that you can make some little tweaks and not risk changing the “fabric” of the song. It’s all about making it your own.

Some areas are harder than others. For example, working out a melody on the piano rather than the guitar. Though Ultimate Guitar is very smart, it doesn’t necessarily show you how to play a riff or melody on the piano, just the chords. This means you might have to do a bit of working out by yourself.

Can Guitar Chords on Piano Sound Good?

A good song is a good song! There are many options for interpretation, and a song can sound pretty different when you switch from playing it on one instrument to another, but this is part of the charm of why we all love music.

It’s actually pretty fashionable to cover popular songs from rock and pop genres on piano.

Check out this brilliant cover of Despacito, which allows for some really cool improv and fun playing the vocal line. This is one of the benefits of piano over guitar. If you can’t sing (or you just don’t want to) you can always play the vocal melody with your right hand while you play chords on your left.

If you like rock and alternative music, you will know Paranoid Android as something of a 90s anthem. This is a lush song, full of instrumentation and tempo changes. To hear it stripped down and played as a piano song is really quite something. It’s done with an incredible style and verve. Josh Cohen has changed a few aspects, which is to be expected with such a dense and rich song, but it’s proof that a piano version of virtually any song can sound great.

To prove even further that guitar chords on piano can sound absolutely fantastic, regardless of how heavy or different the original song, here’s some Metallica. Yes, you read that right…

If you’d never heard the original, you could be forgiven for thinking that this song is a classical composition from hundreds of years ago. This is the kind of creativity that makes people fall in love with piano all over again.

Is Guitar Harder Than Piano?

piano vs guitar

This is a question that people ask all the time, or even debate in bars! Instrumentalists tend to have a habit of saying their instrument is the hardest to learn.

The next time two of your friends are arguing about which of these instruments is harder to learn, you can tell them that there is no answer to that debate.

The guitar might be tougher to get started with. Initially, you have got to build up hand strength and get used to the awkward shapes your hand has to make to generate the chords you want. With a piano, you just hit the note and can get a decent approximation of what the sound should be. You can be playing basic melodies in no time.

When you get to a high level of musicianship, there’s no answer to this question. Both guitar and piano are skills that you may spend 50 years learning and never fully master.

Guitar vs piano is more about which of the instruments you feel passionate about and want to learn how to play. If you’re already a whiz at guitar and want to learn those guitar chords on piano, it’s easier than starting from scratch.

Guitar Chords on Piano Roll

piano roll

A piano roll is something that people who produce music on their laptop will know all about. The piano roll is a digital representation of the notes of a piano. You can use it in conjunction with a MIDI keyboard or digital piano to record the notes, or you can draw them in yourself.

If you are already good at producing music on your computer, and want to work out what your guitar chords need to look like if you’re going to put them into your DAW or production software, you can just work out the notes again.

Using the same method of working out each individual note of the chord, you can then use this as a guideline for drawing those notes into the piano roll, or using a keyboard to record the chords.

A lot of the time, people who will be using the piano roll to create chords will be using simple triads rather than complicated chord progressions, which makes it easier for the digital producers out there.

Some software has become very impressive. For example, with Logic Pro X, you can record your guitar playing, and then ask the software to turn this into MIDI data, which effectively places the notes on the piano roll for you.

Check out the video below for information on how to convert audio to MIDI. It’s not always perfect, but the video below shows you how to convert audio to MIDI pretty reliably.

Converting Guitar Songs to Piano – Start Simple

If you are reading this guide because you want to be able to turn the guitar songs you love into piano songs, then it is important to know that it is a good idea to start slow.

By this, we mean sticking with really simple songs. If you can choose a song that only has 4 chords in it, for example, you know that you aren’t going to have a ridiculously tough job converting those chords and turning it into a piano song.

If you choose a song that only has very simple melodies, this is even better. You might have to work these out by ear, or using a basic knowledge of scales, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to do this if the song itself is pretty straightforward.

YouTube Tutorials for Piano Songs

YouTube is your friend.

If you love a piano song and want to work out how to play it on the guitar, or you love a guitar song and want to work out how to play it on the piano, head to YouTube. The chances are someone has already done it, especially if the song is popular. This isn’t a bad thing, it means that you can use their stylistic approach or even…a tutorial!

This tutorial shows you how to play the popular U2 song, originally composed for guitar. It doesn’t have a lot of chords, it’s more based on melody and bass, but you get the idea.

Summary – Guitar Chords on Piano

A chord is a chord and a song is a song. The instrument is just a method of delivery, and luckily, learning guitar chords on piano is relatively simple. It gives you the opportunity to build up your knowledge playing one instrument, and it is still very useful when it is time to play another. Guitarists often move on to other instruments, and this is just one example of a way that guitar players can evolve.

If you want to make it even simpler, you can even use our interactive academy to learn how to play songs. The innovative system uses MIDI, and you can connect your piano or keyboard and the tutorials will give you feedback on how well you have played the song. It’s like having your own private tutor within your browser.

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