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How to Use Open Chords on the Piano

Lisa Witt  /  Chording / May 14

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How do we take basic chords and, without changing the notes, make them sound more beautiful on the piano? Open chord voicings!

Open chord voicing is when you take a chord and re-arrange the notes between the left and right hands so that they’re more spread apart. The notes all remain the same, but their positions on the keyboard are different.

How to Make Open Chords on the Piano

To understand how open chords work on the piano, let’s use C Major as an example. Here is a super simple C Major triad played on the left and right hands:

C triads on left and right hand on keyboard diagram with keys highlighted in red and labelled, and on grand staff: C-E-G and C-E-G.

In this example, we play C-E-G on our left hand and C-E-G on our right. It sounds fine and dandy, but we can take these exact same notes, re-arrange them, and create a totally different sounding chord.

Now let’s try this.

C major open chord on piano keyboard diagram with notes highlighted in red and labelled and on grand staff: E-C-G-E.

This is the C chord in open chord voicing. As you can see, the notes are re-arranged between the hands, and the distance between them is larger (“open”).

And I think this arrangement sounds incredible! It also has a different sound and feeling than the basic C chord.

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How to Use Open Chords in Piano

So, what are open chords good for? Let’s try substituting some basic chords with open ones to create a new sound. Here are three ideas you can start with.

Idea #1: Play the root and the fifth with your left hand (C and G) and play the third with your right (E).

C open chord on piano keyboard diagram with keys highlighted in red and labelled: C-G-E

Idea #2: Next, try playing the root and fifth with your left hand (C and G) and play a third and high root (E and top C) with your right hand.

C open chord on piano keyboard diagram with keys highlighted in red and labelled: C-G-E-C

Idea #3: Finally, let’s use our third as our bottom note. So, play E and C (your third and your root) with your left hand, and play G and top C (your fifth and your root) with your right.

C open chord on piano keyboard diagram with keys highlighted in red and labelled: E-C-G-C

Remember: these are all C chords! So, if you’re playing with a chord chart in front of you and there are C chords, try substituting one of these open voicings in.

Time To Experiment

Now that you have a few open chords under your belt, it’s time to experiment with different chord progressions and different keys.

If you play piano or keyboard for a band, such as on a church worship team, open chord voicings help create a “fuller” sound. The notes get spread out, and other instruments can help fill in the gaps.

So, try it out. And happy practicing!


Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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