• You Can Hardly Play Three Hymns Without The Chromatic Supertonic Chord

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Playing songs,Theory

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    Believe it or not, you can hardly play three hymns without the chromatic supertonic chord.

    In this post, I’ll not only prove this point, but also elaborately explain what a chromatic supertonic chord is. Therefore, if you don’t know what the chromatic supertonic chord is, don’t give up yet because we are getting this study started with an explanation of what the phrase chromatic supertonic chord means.

    Definition Of The Chromatic Supertonic Chord (CSC)

    To understand what a chromatic supertonic chord is, we need to breakdown the phrase chromatic supertonic chord into three words, and give a detailed explanation of what the individual words that make up the phrase mean.

    Let’s start with the term chromatic…

    “Chromatic”

    Although the term chromatic literally means ‘colorful’, it is used to refer to any idea [be it a note, scale, interval, chord, or chord progression] that is foreign to a given key.

    When music is played in a particular key, let’s say the key of C major:

    …the notes of the C major scale are said to be diatonic, while every other note…

    C#/Db:

    D#/Eb:

    F#/Gb:

    G#/Ab:

    A#/Bb:

    …[foreign to the key of C major] are said to be chromatic.

    In a nutshell, the term chromatic in this context refers to a chord that is foreign to a given key.

    “…Supertonic”

    Musical scholars have a way of describing scale degrees using technical names. Here are the technical names of the eight degree in the major key…

    First – Tonic

    Second – Supertonic

    Third – Mediant

    Fourth – Sub-dominant

    Fifth – Dominant

    Sixth – Sub-mediant

    Seventh – Sub-tonic

    Eight – Octave

    From the list of technical names we just made, it is clear that supertonic is the technical name of the second tone (aka – “second degree”) of the scale. The term supertonic in this lesson is used to describe chords that are formed on the second degree of the scale.

    “Chord”

    According to Jermaine Griggs, “a chord is a collection of three or more related notes (whether agreeable or not) that maybe played or heard together or separately.”

    There are so many ways that chords can be classified…

    • According to width [triads, sixths, sevenths, ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths]
    • According to quality [major, minor, diminished, augmented, dominant]

    Due to time constraint, we’ll not go deep into the definition of the term chord, so we don’t drift from the subject. Let’s go ahead and put the three terms we’ve defined together.

    “What Does The Phrase Chromatic Supertonic Chord Mean?”

    From what we’ve discussed in this segment, the term chromatic means “foreign”, supertonic means “of the second degree” while chord means “a collection of related notes.”

    Altogether, the chromatic supertonic chord is simply a collection of related notes, built on the second degree of the scale that is foreign to the key. As we go further in this study, you’ll not only understand, but also appreciate this definition of the chromatic supertonic chord.

    Before we go any further, there’s something music scholars call chord five of five, that I’ll want you to learn more about.

    Chord Five Of Five – The Chromatic Supertonic Chord

    If I take you back to the technical names of scale degrees that we covered earlier, you’ll remember that the technical name of the fifth degree is the dominant. The fifth degree (aka – “dominant”) has an affinity for the first degree (aka – “the tonic”.)

    The most important tone in a key is the tonic because it is the center of tonal gravity and next in importance to the tonic is the dominant. It is the dominant that makes the number five important in music, especially while studying chord progressions – a cyclical progression in fifths is commonly used.

    The chord built on the dominant is also known as chord five and has the strongest pull to the tonic chord.

    One of the strongest things that can take you to the tonic is chord five and such a chord progression from chord five (the dominant chord) to chord one (the tonic chord) has a sense of finality and is described by music scholars as the perfect cadence.

    “Having established that the strongest pull to chord one is chord five, how do we create that same pull to chord five?”

    Now that you already know that the strongest pull to the one is the five. Let’s figure out the strongest pull to chord five…

    If the strongest pull to one is a fifth above one, then the strongest pull to five would also be a fifth above five.

    Our choice of the strongest pull to chord five is the note that is a fifth above the fifth degree. It can also be called the dominant of the dominant or the five of chord five.

    Unveiling Of Chord Five of Five

    The five of five lies a fifth above the fifth degree of a scale. In the key of C:

    …where G:

    …is the fifth degree, the five of five lies a fifth above G and that’s D:

    …which is the second tone of the C major scale:

    So in the key of C, where the five is G:

    …the five of five is D:

    Attention: The second degree of the scale (aka – “the supertonic”) is the five of five. At this point, the term supertonic should ring a bell. In a nutshell, chord five of five is related to the supertonic chord of the second degree. The picture will get clearer as you read on.

    “Let’s move on…”

    Although chord five of five is related to the supertonic, it is not the supertonic chord. Chord five of five belongs to a class of chords known as dominant chords. Here’s an illustration in the key of C…

    Chord five is the G major triad:

    …and chord five of five is D dominant seventh chord:

    In a cyclical chord progression in fifths, the D dominant seventh chord:

    …[which is the five of G] would take us to the G major triad:

    …[which is the five of C] and then the G major triad would also take us to the C major triad:

    Attention: Take note that the term five of five literally means ‘dominant of the dominant’ and this is because the terms five and dominant are synonymous.

    Chord five of five in the key of C is the D dominant seventh chord:

    …and it’s root is on the second degree of the scale, which is technically known as the supertonic. It consists of

    D:

    …F#:

    …A:

    …and C:

    …and closer look at this chord shows that it has a foreign note to the key of C major:

    …and that’s the F# tone:

    If I take you back to the definition of the chromatic supertonic chord, you’ll see that chord five of five fits into its definition. Chord five of five is built on the second degree of a scale, consequently, it is a supertonic chord, and it contains F#:

    …a note that is foreign to the key of C:

    …consequently, it is a chromatic chord.

    In a nutshell, chord five of five is the chromatic supertonic chord.

    Application Of The Chromatic Supertonic Chord

    Now, I’ll be showing you the application of the chromatic supertonic chord to hymns. But before I do that, here’s what you need to know about hymns…

    The verse of a hymn usually has two sections; the first section leads to chord five, while the second section leads to chord one.

    For instance, in the hymn “Blessed Assurance”, from  the line that says “blessed assurance” to the line that says “foretaste of glory divine” is geared towards chord five. Conversely, from the line that says “heir of salvation”, to the line that says “washed in his blood”, is geared towards chord one.

    This is not peculiar to the hymn “Blessed Assurance”, the first two lines of most hymns are usually geared towards chord five and that has a whole lot to do with the chromatic supertonic chord (which is used most of the time to move to chord five.)

    “I’ll use four hymns to explain this concept in the key of C major and we’ll be done for today…”

    Hymn 1 – Blessed Assurance

    Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
    Oh, what a foretaste of glory:

    …di-vine:

    Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
    Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

    Hymn 2 – Amazing Grace

    Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch:

    …like me:

    I once was lost, but now am found;
    Was blind, but now I see.

    Hymn 3 – ‘Tis So Sweet

    ’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
    Just to take Him at:

    …His Word:

    Just to rest upon His promise,
    And to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

    Hymn 4 – I Need Thee Every Hour

    I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
    No tender voice like Thine can peace:

    …afford:

    Final Words

    Due to the fact that the chromatic supertonic chord is one passing chord that is used regularly in hymns, every serious pianist must have an idea of what it is, and where it is applied in hymns.

    The next time you hear a hymn, expect chord five at the end of the first section, and be sure to interject the supertonic chromatic chord there.

    Thanks for the time you’ve invested in reading this blog and see you in another lesson.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 emmanuel

    Thank you very much been my teacher and motivator. Your teaching has been inspiring. Greater glory to ministry. Amen

    Reply

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