Posts Tagged ‘chord substitution’

Chord Substitutions

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

wavy staff with colored notes

Church pianists enjoying bringing hymns to life by adding different chords!  A recent question from one of my readers has created the perfect opportunity for me to share tips on chord substitutions….a topic I’ve been wanting to deal with for quite some time.  Chord substitutions can add such color to a song!  It’s a very B-R-O-A-D topic; meaning….there’s an endless supply of chord possibilities in any given key!

Reader’s Question:

“I have been using various resources trying to learn more about theory, but I haven’t found any that go beyond a basic level.

For example, I know what augmented and diminished chords are, but I don’t know how to use them or how they fit into functional harmony. In analyzing your arrangements, I have noticed you use a lot of different kinds of chords, such as chords with altered bass notes or a I-ii half diminished-I-etc. progression for introductions.

How did you learn how to use all these? Do you have any recommendations for resources that would teach me more? Any advice would be appreciated!”



Hi Ashley,

How did I learn to use different chords from the written music?  You won’t like my answer 😉    I play them by ear…basically whatever sounds right. I do know chord theory but don’t think about theory application when playing….I just….play 😉  (Music writer’s confession: I don’t claim to be an expert theorist.)

For everyone’s benefit…the “different” chords we’re discussing are called chord substitutions. A chord substitution occurs when replacing a chord with a different chord.

Easiest Chord Substitution for Starters…

To replace a major chord within a key…use the chord a 3rd above or below the root note of a major chord.  (The major chords within any key is the I, IV and V).

The I chord in the key of C Major is the C chord (CEG).  Now, what note is a 3rd above CE…so the e minor chord (EGB) within the C scale can be used as a substitution as long as it “sounds” good within the occurring chord path (progression) of the song.  Count a 3rd below C and you find A.  The A minor chord (ACE)  is the second choice for a C major chord substitution.

Two observations about these two chord substitution choices:

1. They’re both minor

2.  They each have two notes in common with the chord being replaced

There are other types of chord substitutions but wanted to start with the easiest kind.

Extra Information:

1.The chord substitution just described above  (3rd above or 3rd below) is called the Diatonic Substitution. A diatonic chord substitution occurs when using different notes within a scale. It’s the most natural form of chord substitution because no note alterations take place; just using what ingredients are already available within that key 😉

2. The key signature and melody of any song dictates what chord(s) can be used.

 ~~Next article will show examples of the Diatonic chord substitution~~

Special Note!

Special Note!

Great theory reference book:  “The Complete Idiot’s Guide toMusic Theory”



Related article on Chord Substitutions




Chord Substitution Application for the I (Major) Chord

Friday, December 27th, 2013


Answers from previous quiz questions for Chord Substitutions:

Minor chords for IV are  ii and vi

Minor chords for V are  iii and vii

Key of C Major:  F chord is the IV chord….so…d minor is the ii chord and a minor is the vi chord.  The V chord is G….so….e minor is the iii chord and b minor is the vii chord.

Review from last lesson:  A Major chord lasting two or more beats can be substituted with a minor chord. Go up or down two chords from the Major chord to find its minor chord substitutions.

For example:  The  C Major chord can be substituted with an e minor or a minor chord.  (The melody note dictates which substitution will sound right).

This is only the beginning…there are SO many chord substitutions!  I’m just covering the basic choices.

New Lesson

Warning label to the church pianist:  Chord substitutions cannot be used for congregational singing IF the congregation is singing parts from hymnal.

Chord substitutions can be used for solo instrumentals or when accompanying vocalists or instrumentalists singing or playing the melody.

Reason for selective use:  chord substitutions do not support the written voice parts in a hymnal.

Our church has a small congregation that mainly sings melody with occasional tenor….giving me more freedom in congregational accompaniment.  Adding chord substitutions just brings what would be a plain hymn…to life!

If you’re a church pianist wanting a warmer sound to your playing…chord substitutions are the answer!  I use a lot of chord substitutions during invitation..creating a more reflective mood.  Our pastor likes background music during the entire invitation…allowing me more freedom to alter the melody and chords.

The following chord substitutions would be better understood if the church pianist had a basic understanding of being able to analyze chords within a hymn…hence….another lesson in the works 🙂

Until then…enjoy learning a couple chord substitutions for the following hymns.  

Layout explanation:  Three different hymn examples; each hymn is represented by an original line from the hymnal followed by an improvised version of that line. The I (CEG) chords are labeled as well as the substituted chord numbers. Each example is in C Major.  *Measures marked with a red square require future post to explain.




*Click on the following pages to download:

Page one: Chord Substitution Application

Page two: Chord Substitution Application



Upcoming Post!

Thursday, December 26th, 2013


Been enjoying family & guests over the holidays.  Now it’s time to gear up for the new year!

I’m currently working on several chord substitution examples to share with you.

These examples are in relation to the final lesson on chord substitutions.

You may have to review the previous chord substitution lesson in preparation for these examples.  Plan to post the examples tomorrow!

How to Add Chord Substitutions: Lesson Four

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Answers to Lesson Three’s Assignment on Major and minor 3rds:

D flat to F  (Major 3rd)

C to E flat   (minor 3rd)

G# to B       (minor 3rd)

B to D#       (Major 3rd)

Now that you’ve learned Major and minor 3rds…you’re ready to apply this knowledge to the scale-based triads of any Major scale.

For ease of application, I’ll use the scale-based triads of the C Major scale listed below.


Notice that the triads either have an upper case or lower case roman numeral. Upper case indicates Major chord and lower case means minor chord. All Major scales have the same chord numbers.

For example, in G Major (which has one sharp)…the I chord would still be a Major chord and the ii chord would be minor, etc.

Now for applying your knowledge of major and minor 3rds…

1.  A Major chord consists of a Major 3rd plus a minor 3rd. For example: the 1st chord in the C scale (I) is a C chord (CEG).  From C to E is 4 half steps and from E to G is 3 half steps.

Remember: a minor 3rd consists of 3 half steps and a Major 3rd consists of 4 half steps.

So…from C to E is a Major 3rd and E to G is a minor 3rd.  A Major 3rd plus a minor 3rd = a Major chord!

2.  The minor chord ingredients are  just the opposite of a Major chord….a minor 3rd plus a Major 3rd = a minor chord!

  (See Lesson Three for more details)

With the knowledge learned in lessons one through four….you will be able to learn some VERY EASY chord substitutions! Can’t wait for the next lesson! The fun will begin 🙂  Review lessons one through four so you’ll be ready!  See links below for each lesson:

Lesson One

Lesson Two

Lesson Three


Chord Substitution: Adding minor 7th to a I Chord Before a IV Chord

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Chord substitutions add color to hymnplaying! Here’s an easy chord substitution for church pianists to use.

Scenario: When a I chord is leading into a IV chord…add a minor 7th to the I chord. The minor 7th note is located a 7th above the root (bottom) note of the chord.  See the following explanation of the chords before viewing the free pdf sheet of this chord substitution.

Editor’s notes for free pdf sheet on this chord substitution:

Key of F:  I chord = F,A,C       IV chord =  Bflat,D,F    I chord with added minor 7th = F,A,C,E flat

Key of G: I chord =  G,B,D       IV chord =  C,E,G        I chord with added minor 7th = G,B,D,F natural

*Special note: The substituted chord ( I 7) does not have to contain all 4 notes as you’ll discover in the examples.

Click here to download free sheet for Chord-Substitution-adding-minor-7th-to-I-chord

Challenge yourself to look for the I (minor 7th)  chord already in use throughout the church hymnal.  Try applying the above chord substitution in other hymns during I – IV chord progressions. Tip: Use hymns with easy keys at first until you gain confidence with the concept.



Lesson One: The II 7 Chord Substitution

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

A reader writes…

I’ve printed your “Have Thine Own Way, Lord”.  How did you know to put a F7 on the 2nd “own” in the first  full measure….
Is there a process of knowing what chords are to be uses as substitution and when to use them?

Fortunately…yes!  🙂  There’s an endless supply of chord substitutions that can be used…depending on the initial chord scenario.

To begin with, I’ll apply this II 7 chord substitution to  the key of C Major for easier application. (Otherwise, it’s like teaching a beginner to play Moonlight Sonata at his first lesson)

So…what’s a II chord?!  In simple terms…it’s an altered chord.  Normally, the second chord in any major key is a minor chord…thus marked in lowercase roman numerals…ii.  For example, in the key of C Major…the ii chord is D-F-A.  (D is the second note in the key of C Major which gives the chord its number).   But…we can alter the chord (making it a major chord) by raising the middle note of the chord (the note F to an F sharp). * See example below

Now…to create the II 7 chord…just add the 7th note above the bottom note of the chord.      *See Example below

C Major ( how to create the II 7 chord)

Chord Scenario for the II 7 Chord Substitution:

1. When a I chord lasts for at least two or more beats leading into a V or V 7 chord lasting two or more beats. (to allow time for chords to develop) I’ve used the II 7 chord with less beats but in general…it’s best to allow enough beats for chords to sound like they belong and not just randomly thrown in.

In the examples below, I’ve included the vocal and piano score to reflect the changes made in the piano accompaniment.  *Reminder: chord substitutions clash with congregational singing due to the note changes.

I use chord substitutions when playing solo offertories, background music for invitation, prelude/postlude, communion and accompanying a vocal or instrumental soloist.

Examples in C Major (II 7 substitution)

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

 In Lesson Two, I’ll share more examples of this II7 chord substitution… including “Have Thine Own Way”.

*Please feel free to ask questions.



Upcoming Article: Substituting the I Chord with the II7 Chord

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Have _Thine _Own_ WayA reader recently asked me how I knew to use a certain chord substitution in one of my free arrangements “Have Thine Own Way”.

My first answer would be…I just thought it sounded nice.  But…unfortunately that’s NOT the best answer.  I hope to explain it in such a way that the average church pianist can take and apply this chord  substitution on their own.

Looking forward to posting this article soon!

The Church Pianist: Part Two (Augmented chord Substitution)

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

The augmented chord does have a special symbol.

A plus (+) sign proceeds the chord name.

For example:  The C augmented chord would be labeled

this way:  C+

The augmented chord adds a nice upward movement effect

when used in the following scenario:

When a I chord lasts for at least one measure leading into a IV chord.

Substitute the I chord with an augmented chord usually at least

halfway through the measure.

Here are a few improvised examples.



Try this augmented chord subsitution on the following hymns:

Trusting Jesus ( “Simply trusting ev’ry day) on the word “day”

The Haven of Rest (“My soul in sad exile was….)  on the word “ex-ile”

Wonderful Peace (“Far away in the depths…”)  on the word “depths”

*(Also in the chorus of Wonderful Peace)…

Can you guess where? (at least two places).

What is an augmented chord?


The Church Pianist: What’s an Augmented Chord?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

The word “augment” means to make larger.  That is exactly what happens

when a chord is augmented…it is made a half step greater.

The augmented chord adds a touch of “suspense or anticipation” to

a song.

An augmented chord is just like a major chord (in root position)

with a raised fifth.

For example:

The  C major chord in root position = C E G

The C augmented chord  = C E G#

Any major chord can be augmented within a song as long

as it sounds right.

Alot of hymns use the augmented chord. Here are two

brief examples.

Click here: Part_One_The_Augmented_Chord

Did you find the augmented chords in the above example?

If not, here are the answers: (There was only one in each example).

Moment by Moment: on the word “by”

Thank You Lord: on the word “for”

In part two, I will share how to use the augmented chord

as a  chord substitution in hymns.

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