Part Four


Concept #8 - Keeping Things Interesting

Imagine living in a world where there was only one shade of red, one shade of green, etc. You would get used to it, but it's far more interesting to have variations in color.

The same is true for chords in a song. It's much better to have several ways to play the same chord. We have a number of options to introduce variety. This is an exciting area to study, but it can get complex quickly.

I'll introduce you to the various ideas. Read them over, but don't get lost here.

Warning - If this is the first time you've seen the following concepts, they may seem confusing at first. Just skim read it then and go on to Part Five. Remember, you can write strong songs with simple chords too.

(I will illustrate some of the concepts with keyboard chord diagrams, but there are too many possibilities now for me to draw them all. At some point you may wish to find a book of chord diagrams for keyboard or guitar. Some keyboard chord diagrams have been included in the section called Charts and Maps.)

Are you ready?

Adding Interest

1. Chord Inversions
2. Slash Chords
3. Chord Variations
4. Seventh Chords
5. Altered Chords
6. Chord Substitutions
7. Secondary Chords


1. Chord Inversions

Suppose you are playing a simple D chord. You look down at your hand and notice you are playing three notes: a D, an F#, and an A. You ask -"What would happen if I let go the D note and replaced it with another D further up the keyboard?" You would still have a D chord, but it would be a different arrangement of the three notes.

The idea here is: As long as you are playing a D, an F#, and an A, regardless of where they are located on the instrument, you are playing a D chord.

Here is a picture showing the D chord with two inversions.

Do you see how the same three notes are involved? They just show up in different places.

2. Slash Chords

Until now, every time we showed a D chord, the bass note was always a D. What would happen if we played the F# or the A instead? We would still be playing a D chord, but changing the bass note makes a big difference. It makes such a big difference that we have a way of indicating when we want the bass note to be one of those other possibilities. We call them slash chords.

When we want a D chord with D in the bass, we write D. When we want the F# in the bass, we write D/F#. When we want the A in the bass, we write D/A.

Did you notice that the middle chord, D/F#, has only two notes in the right hand? This is intentional. When the "third" of the chord is in the bass, it often sounds best to leave the "third" out in the right hand. (F# is the "third" of the chord because the D scale goes D, E, F#...)


3. Chord Variations

There are some very common variations musicians use all the time to keep chords sounding fresh. Here are a few.

The added second - D2

The suspended chord - Dsus

The major 6 chord - D6

The major 7 chord - DM7

The major 9 chord - DM9


4. Seventh Chords

Minor chords will often add a 7th to them.

This is E minor 7 - Em7

Here is F# minor 7 - F#m7

This is B minor 7 - Bm7

V chords often have a 7. In the key of D, the V chord is A, so you would see A7 appearing in the music. Here it is.

The A7 chord


5. Altered Chords

So far, all the changes we've made have added notes that are in the scale. There are other notes though that are not in the scale. Switching a note in the chord to a non-scale note gives us an altered chord.

Two very useful altered chords are the iv chord (notice we switched from IV to iv... from major to minor), and the iim7b5 (pronounced "two minor seven flat five"). In the key of D the IV chord is G, so the iv chord is G minor.

G minor - Gm

The iim7b5 is Em7b5. It looks like this.


6. Chord Substitutions

There are a whole group of chords with wild names like nines, elevens, thirteens, nine sharp fives, nine flat fives, and the list goes on. These chords have very interesting sounds. A good player will use these chords when that particular sound is needed. Often the player "substitutes" one of these complex chords for a simpler one in the music. Suppose the music calls for an A7. An A7b9 might sound even better. That's why we call them chord substitutions. You can use them in place of simpler chords you already know. Here are some substitutes for A7.

The A7b9 looks like this.

Another substitute for A7 is G/A.


7. Secondary Chords

This topic is addressed in Part Five. Before going there, it might be good to step back and see where we've been.




Let's Review

In this part, we saw the number of chords available to us suddenly explode. We learned that even simple chords can be played in several ways called inversions. Slash chords were introduced to keep track of bass notes when the bass is playing something other than the root. We used scale notes to get chords like 2, 6, M7, sus. We used non-scale notes to get iv and iim7b5. Chord substitutions like nines, elevens, and thirteens came along to replace sevens when needed.

We still haven't discussed how these new chords fit into our Map, and we haven't covered secondary chords yet. These topics are just ahead in Part Five.

Index - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Charts and Maps
Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - 1st Steps in Keyboard - Part 10
Part 11 - Part 12 - 1st Steps in Note Reading

Copyright 2004 Steve Mugglin
Permission is given to make not-for-profit copies
of this material.