Posts Tagged ‘Chords’

Simple Chord Theory Book!

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017


Need to brush up on chord theory?

I have a chord speller book by John Thompson that I use to teach my church pianist students who need to brush up on theory.

This book  provides foundational information needed for the church pianist to effectively improvise.

 Short synopsis of book:

John Thompson’s Chord-Speller

The purpose of this book is to present the Triads (including the Dominant and Diminished Seventh Chords) in a way that will enable the student to read them, write them and recognize them by sight or sound.

Having a working knowledge of  scale and chord structure will help the church pianist with improvising hymns.

If you’re interested in seeing sample pages or purchasing the book…just click on the image of the book above.

I’m always looking for simple-approach type books and this one fits the bill!  (I don’t get paid to sell this book)  🙂

This book has been around for awhile so you may find it on Ebay or Amazon.



How to Add Chord Substitutions: Final Lesson

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Time to apply what was taught in lessons one through four on “How to Add Chord Substitutions”.

The following visual aid of the C Major scale and its chords will be helpful for this lesson!


Notice once again:  The Major chords above are indicated by an upper case Roman numeral.  The lower case Roman numeral indicates a minor chord.

Now for the fun part!…You’re about to learn how to find chord substitutions!

The bottom line:  The three major chords listed above in the key of C: I, IV and V can be substituted with a minor chord. How do do this?

Look for a minor chord that has at least two notes in common with a major chord.  For example:  A iii chord (EGB)  has two notes in common with the I chord (CEG).  That means….a iii chord can replace a I chord in the right setting.

Ok….can you find the other minor chord that has two notes in common with the C (I) chord?  Yes!  the vi (ACE)

Your Quiz:

1. Find the two minor chords that have two notes in common with the IV chord.

2. How about the two minor chords that are compatible with the V chord?


So…when to use the chord substitutions?  When a major chord lasts for two or more beats…there is time to use a minor chord substitution!  The melody note also dictates which substituted chord will sound right. (Hint: The left hand plays the chord substitution and the right hand may have to alter the alto note to match the substituted chord. (When playing from the hymnal)

*Special note:  (Observation from one of my readers)…Just go up or down two chords from a Major chord to find its minor chord substitutions.  (Thanks Victoria!)

I will provide visual examples in the next article!


How to Add Chord Substitutions: Lesson Three

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Reviewing Lesson Two

Here are the essential tools I’ve covered so far as prerequisites to adding chord substitutions:

Understanding the major scale (C scale was our example for ease of application) There are 8 notes in a scale.

The scale-based triads (3 note chord)

Term: Interval (distance between two notes)

Answers to  lesson two’s intervals:

*D to F  (3rd)

*C to G  (5th)

*B to G (6th)

*G to C  (4th)

Lesson Three: Half and Whole Steps

What if I play a D to the next F#…is that still a 3rd interval?  Yes it is!  So…what’s the difference between a D to F and a D to F#?  Well, a D to F is a minor 3rd and a D to F# sharp is a Major 3rd.  How do I know that? I learned about half and whole steps; used to create minor and major 3rds.

(The following lesson must be understood before you can identify minor and major 3rds.)

A half step is from one note to the very next (closest) note. For example: a C to C# is one half step.  Or….E to F is a half step…no key between the moves.


A whole step is from one note to the next neighbor note…such as C to D or F# to G#.  (A whole step has one key between its two notes)

C to D has a black key between them. F# to G# has a white key between them and B flat to C has a white key between them.


Very important lesson to remember!

Several Reasons why:

Because scales are made up of half and whole step patterns

What if someone says….”transpose up a half step”…must understand!

Major and minor chords are determined by number of 1/2 steps! (next lesson)

Understanding of sharp and flat notes (they move by 1/2 steps)

Black notes with movement lines

Now for the application of half and whole steps…

A minor 3rd = 3 half steps

A Major 3rd = 4 half steps


Identify the 3rds below the example as either minor or Major

Example: F to A = Major 3rd

(the numbers indicate the half step moves)


Hint: 1st half step counts after first note

D flat to F

C to E flat

G# to B

B to D#

Special Note!

Special Note!

Learning these theory lessons WILL help you know how to add chord substitutions.  Just hang in there and take good notes 😉

How to Add Chord Substitutions: Lesson Two

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Chord substitutions add SO much color to gospel songs! Gospel songs contain infrequent chord changes.  Songs like:  Revive Us Again (mentioned in lesson one), Wonderful Words of Life, Work for the Night is Coming, to name a few.

In lesson one, you learned the numbering system for the scale and its scale-based triads (3-note chords).

Now…forget scales for a moment: you’re ready to learn another easy concept also dealing with numbers…the term: INTERVAL

The word: INTERVAL means the distance between two notes. To count the distance between two notes…you start counting from the first note to the second note you land on.  For example, F to the very next G.   F counts one, G counts two. So…from F to G is a 2nd interval.  How about from F to the very next A….F counts one, G two…and A three…a 3rd interval.

So, pack this lesson away in your mind for future application!  Why? It will be necessary when we place chords in consecutive 3rds to determine what root chord we’re dealing with so we’ll know what chord substitution will work. Make sense?  If not, that’s why it’s important to save these preparatory lessons in order to know how to add chord substitutions to gospel songs.

In the meantime, try to answer the following by guessing the correct interval for:

D to F

C to G

B to G

G to C

*Answers will be provided in the next lesson 🙂

Also, here’s a free online interval worksheet to do for extra reinforcement:  INTERVAL WORKSHEET (Opus Music Worksheets)

*Tip: On this free worksheet…Unison (U) is mentioned in the directions.  Unison just refers to two identical notes (just as we refer to a choir singing unison…all on the same note)

Please feel free to ask questions! Extra interval visual below!



I found this neat picture at: Visual Dictionary

How to Add Chord Substitutions to Hymns: Lesson One

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

I absolutely love adding chord substitutions to hymns! Chord substitutions add extra color and variety to gospel songs which normally contain infrequent chord changes.

Would you like to learn how to revitalize hymns like “Revive Us Again”?  This particular hymn uses the same chord for at least four measures in a row!

Listen to the following audio of “Revive Us Again” with chord substitutions.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

So…what does the pianist need to know in order to add chord substitutions?

Let’s take one step at a time!

What Every Pianist Should Know BEFORE Adding Chord Substitutions:

1.  A major scale is made up of 8 notes.  For example, the C Major scale is made up of the following eight notes:  CDEFGABC

2.  So,  each note of the scale is numbered one through eight.  For example, C is one, D is two, etc.  Now…create a three note chord (triad) on each note of the scale.  Play CEG together.  We call this the one chord because it’s built on the first note of the C scale. Now play DFA together.  Yes, you’re playing the two chord in the key of C.  Finish playing the rest of the C scale based triads until you reach the following C.

Here is a picture of what you should have played so far:  C scale and then the C scale chords (triads).  *Notice, the chords are numbered with the Roman numeral system.  The upper case roman numeral indicates major chord, the lower case roman numeral indicates minor chord.  For you theory buffs, I left out the diminished symbol for the vii chord….will explain that later.


You have learned the first foundational tool needed for adding chord substitutions.  Application: Play the above scale and chords in the keys of G and F Major for ample reinforcement.  * I chose easier scales for a reason….let’s keep life simple for now 😉

Hope this lesson has been clear thus far.  Please feel free to ask any questions!

Just be patient with yourself and learn this basic step towards colorful playing!  I’ll explain more in the next post.

Lesson Two: The II 7 Chord Substitution with Have Thine Own Way

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Chord Scenario for this II 7  Chord Substitution:

When a I chord lasts for at least two beats and leads into a V or V 7  chord that lasts 3 or more  beats…the II 7 can replace a I chord.

On to our example in Have Thine Own Way in E flat major.  Since E flat is the first note in the key of E flat…it is number one. So F is the second note in the key of E flat major.  The ii chord would be: F-A flat-C.

Now let’s alter this minor ii chord by making it major.  Raise the middle note to A natural.  Are you beginning to catch on?  You now have the II  chord:  F-A natural-C   See illustration below:

Key-of-E-flat-Major-ii-7-and-II7-chord-visual*I added an E flat (not shown)… on the top of the II chord…making it a II 7 (the E flat is 7 notes from the bottom note (F).  Added 7ths make a chord sound SO much richer!

*You’ll notice the note members of the II 7 chord in the following excerpt are scrambled between both hands. The note “C” is missing (which is ok)… but the rest are present.

The-II-7-Chord-Substitution~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Now…a couple more examples of the II 7 chord substitution in the key of A flat & G Major.

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

Lesson Two (more II7 chord substitution examples)

   Special Note!

Are you wondering how to use the ii 7 chord in each example?  Whenever a V or V7 chord is lasting three or more beats…use the ii 7 chord first and then resolve to the written V or V 7 chord. I’ll share examples of this chord substitution in another article.  So much to share!

Church Pianist Tip:  Remember…chord substitutions can not be used during congregational singing unless they are singing unison. Why? Because the substitution chords will conflict with the voice parts.

Click here for: Lesson One: The  II 7 Chord Substitution

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.

The Church Pianist: Technique Tip

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Ok…bounce a basketball and notice how your arm gives in to the bouncing motion (called…”follow through”).

Now…go to the piano and play several 4 note chords with your right hand.

Your hand and arm should give in to the weight of the initial force without a premature release.

So many pianists play full chords with a slap effect. They hit the chord and release, not giving the chord its full count.

What needs to happen is…attack and release.

The ‘attack’ is the initial force of playing the full chord.

‘Release’ means allowing the arm to rebound from the initial attack but not releasing the chord too early.

I call this the ‘Elmer’s glue’ touch. (Think of it as a delayed response).

Don’t be in a hurry to release the chords. Give them their full value.

This technique tip will prevent unnecessary strain on the hands and arms when playing songs with alot of full chording.

The music will also sound more musical and not so abrupt in tone.

~~~~Just relax and give in to the music! ~~~~~

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