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Chord Substitution’s

By Jeff Vivrette

It may seem very odd, at first, to think that you could use a “D minor” chord in place of an “F major” chord. However, once you understand how these two chords interact with each other and what common characteristics they share, the picture will become much clearer.

Once you begin to experiment and apply the principles you will be learning here today, the idea of substituting one chord for another will not only make sense to you, but will most likely become one of your most prized tools in your songwriting/composing tool box.

Music theory, in its most simplistic form, is the language of music. It is also exactly what it says it is; “theory”. Music theory is not a set of very strict rules that must be applied in a specific manner, never to be violated. Much to the contrary, music theory should be considered very dynamic and as flexible as our imagination, opinions and tastes will allow it to be.

Embracing this philosophy of music theory will help you to absorb and understand the idea of chord substitution. I encourage you to remain flexible in your thinking and don’t try too hard to make all the pieces fit together with other theory you may have learned so far.

Here we go!

Since the Key of “C Major” has no sharps or flats and, as a result, is easier to analyze things against, we are going to use the chords from the C Major scale in our discussion.

As you probably know by now (and even if you don’t!) a basic chord is made up of 3 pitches taken from a scale.

When we look at the notes of each chord, we see that some of the triads share more than one common note. For example, looking at the C Major chord and the Am chord we see they share 2 out of 3 of the same notes:

Am = ACE

You will notice both chords share the notes C & E.

It’s for this reason we could replace the C Major chord with an A Minor chord in a song.

So what would a composition look like using this chord substitution method to change the feel of a song?

Let’s start by taking a look at a basic chord progression in the key of “C Major”:

Chord Progression:  C – Em – G – Dm – C

Listen below to what this progression sounds like:

Chord Substitutions – Track 1

Now let’s use our chord substitution formula, substitute some of the chords and see what it might look like using some chord substitutes.

Looking at the “C” chord (CEG) we see it can be substituted by the “Am” chord (ACE) because they share the notes “C & E”.

The “G” chord (GBD) can be substituted by the “Em” chord (EGB) because they share the notes “G & B”. The resulting chord progression is below.

New Chord Progression: Am – Em – Em – Dm – Am

Listen below to what this new progression sounds like using chord substitution’s:

Chord Substitutions – Track 2

As you can hear, the overall them of the progression remained intact but we gave it a different feel by substituting some of the chords.

All it takes to do this is a little knowlege of chord construction. Armed with that you can begin to let your creativity be your guide.

This subject get’s much, much deeper. If you are one of my students, we will be covering this in great detail in upcoming lessons.

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