Almost every day, I get an email from someone who's played piano for years and wants to know how to "play from chords." And in fact, this is probably the best thing a pianist can want to do. It's actually an easy skill to acquire, and it's a big shame that the classical music world doesn't teach this anymore. Bach, Mozart and all the others made chords the main focus of their teaching. After all, everything else comes from this, including learning written music if done with proper understanding.
So today, I thought I'd give my "in a nutshell" advice on how to learn to play from chords so that you can just sit down at your piano or keyboard, look at a chord sheet, and effortlessly play your favorite songs. Here's what to do, in 2 steps:
1. Start by simply playing the chords to as many songs as you can. Just play the chords in rhythm, in your right hand, with your left hand playing the chord roots. Do this with about 20 songs and your musical life will change forever. (Guitarists already know this, and that's why it's so easy for them!) After you do this, you can start learning inversions, smooth voiceleading, and also incorporating the melody if you like. But start by playing lots of songs with the basic chords first. Think of it as "being in the band." It's a wonderful "bonus" that the fastest way to become great at chords is so much fun!
2. Have someone you can ask questions to. And since this is something I enjoy, you're welcome to email me any musical questions you may have as you learn to play chords. If you want to go deeper into chords and improvisation, I've just added a new lesson on playing chords with smooth voiceleading to my video course. (It's Lesson 15 in my Chords, Chords, Chords! course.) If you're interested, you can get started here:
Learn Rock, Pop, and Blues Piano
That's really the way to learn chords: 1. Have fun playing the basic chords to 20 songs to build a solid foundation for further learning, and 2. Have someone you can ask questions to.
That's what I did and it's what probably every successful pianist did who knows how to improvise and play from chords. As always, have fun with your music and let me know if I can help you in any way.