• 11 Ways to Enhance Your Chords and Playing (Part 2… continued)

    in Piano

    >NOTE: To learn ALL the chord techniques and strategies to take
    your playing to the next level, go here:



    Jermaine here with another lesson, continuing where we left
    off last time!

    Last week, I sent out a lesson discussing “Chord

    It was in response to a question asked by member, Jamal
    Howard. I’ll repeat his question below:


    *** Comment From Jamal Howard ***

    Jermaine, I have been with you since 2004 and I give you
    the credit for getting me started. Now, I play for 2
    churches and started a singing group a couple years ago
    that is really blessing our area.

    My question is on easy ways to enhance my chords. Everyone
    tells me I sound good but I’m always hungry for more tips.
    Anything you can pass my way will be appreciated.

    Keep up the great work my brother. You are an inspiration
    to many. Thank you.


    To see my entire response from last e-mail, visit:


    Here’s what I introduced last time:

    “There are many ways to approach enhancing and altering
    your chords.

    Here’s a short list:

    1) Chord Inversions
    2) Chord Additions
    3) Chord Omissions
    4) Chord Suspensions
    5) Chord Arpeggios
    6) Chord Extensions
    7) Chord Reaches
    8) Chord Dissonance
    9) Chord Substitutions
    10) Chord Polychord voicings
    11) Grace notes

    … and we covered the first 4 in that e-mail:

    Inversions, additions, omissions, suspensions.

    If you haven’t read that lesson yet, stop, and go to:


    Chord Enhancements Part 2

    Now, we’ll pick up where we left off.

    Let’s start with Arpeggios



    This is when you break up the notes of your chord,
    one by one, rather than sounding them together.

    So instead of playing a C minor 9 chord as:

    C on left /// Bb D Eb G (all at once)

    You’d hit:

    C on left /// Bb — D — Eb — G (separately).

    Many will add notes to the left hand to make the
    arpeggio last longer.

    So instead of just playing “C” on the left, they’ll
    play: C + G + high C.

    In this example, “G” is the fifth of C. If you’re
    looking for some quick power in your left hand, adding
    the fifth of the chord will always work

    C — G — C on left /// Bb — D — Eb — G (separately)

    Even when you’re not playing arpeggios, adding the
    fifth to your left hand (called a “power chord” isn’t
    a bad idea).

    I tend to find ways to incorporate both.

    For example, I might hit the chord all at once, then
    follow up with each note played separately, from
    low to high.

    Or I might start off with an arpeggio, playing each
    tone from low to high, separately. Then follow up
    with the whole chord sounded at once.

    Or I might play the full chord first (all at once),
    follow up with an arpeggio, then end with the full
    chord again.

    There are many ways to incorporate arpeggios and
    ultimately you’ll develop your own special way. It
    takes practice but once your muscles get used to
    playing them, it’ll be second nature.

    In jazz, you’ll find many arpeggios used in solos
    and licks.

    To a beginner, it seems like fancy scales and modes,
    but often times, jazz licks are just a bunch of
    regular chords broken up into arpeggios, strung
    together by half steps and chromatic movements.

    (Chromatic movements = half steps, notes right next

    Now for some “language”…

    You can either reference the breaking up of notes
    as “arpeggios” or you can make the word a verb
    by saying “arpeggiate.” Either works.

    I usually say “arpeggiate.”


    “I’m arpeggiating this chord.”
    “You’ll want to arpeggiate that chord.”


    “Notice the arpeggios I’m playing.” (noun)

    Either way works.

    I talk about arpeggios in GospelKeys 202. In fact,
    I show several dozen worship chords and how to use
    them in real songs. It’s worth a look at:


    And like I mentioned above, you’ll find arpeggios in
    a lot of jazz music and solos. Check out our jazz
    series for more ideas:


    Let’s move on to chord extensions.



    This concept is very similar to the “Chord Additions
    section covered earlier.

    The main distinction is when talking about
    additions, that usually included stuff like “add 2”
    or “add 6” — tones from the same octave.

    (Not that you can’t say “add 9.” Those work too as
    we discussed).

    Extensions reach into the NEXT octave. They extend
    your chord.

    If you’re always playing just major, minor, diminished,
    and augmented triads, you’re only staying in one
    territory. Your playing probably sounds basic.

    That’s not to say triads don’t have their place. Much
    of the time, less is more. Some of the most beautiful
    classics utilized basic triads.

    But for most musicians wanting to sound “contemporary,”
    the use of extensions is a MUST.

    These are chords like:

    Major 9 chord
    Minor 9 chord
    Dominant 9 chord
    Major 11 chord
    Minor 11 chord
    Dominant 11 chord
    Major 13 chord
    Minor 13 chord
    Dominant 13 chord

    Or even altered chords like:

    Dominant 7 #9 #5 chord
    Dominant 7 b9 #5 chord
    Dominant 7 b9 chord
    Major 7 #11 chord
    Major 13 #11 chord

    Now, this may look scary to some folks but there’s
    nothing to chord extensions.

    In fact, if you have my 300pg course, you’re exposed
    to all these extended chords already.

    (If you don’t, check out https://www.hearandplay.com/course )

    Here’s how it works:

    Everything starts with major, minor, diminished,
    and augmented.

    I like to call these the “FANTASTIC FOUR.”

    C major
    C + E + G

    C major
    chord enhancements C major

    C minor
    C + Eb + G

    C minor
    chord enhancements C minor

    C diminished
    C + Eb + Gb

    C diminished
    chord enhancements C diminished

    C augmented
    C + E + G#

    C augmented
    chord enhancements C augmented

    To turn these into seventh chords, you add the 7th degree
    (gotta know your scales as numbers so you immediately
    know what the 7th tone of any scale is).

    C major 7
    C + E + G + B

    C minor 7
    C + Eb + G + Bb

    C diminished 7
    C + Eb + Gb + Bbb

    C augmented 7
    C + E + G# + Bb

    C augmented major 7
    C + E + G# + B

    (Notice they aren’t all the *same* 7th tone. Sometimes
    the major 7, other times the flatted 7th, and in one
    instance, the diminished 7, which is flatted TWICE.
    To me, learning seventh chords is actually harder
    than the 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths that follow. But at
    least, once you know them, you know them!)

    Once you know these, they are like the LAST stop before
    the “bridge.” You pay toll and now you’re into the world
    of “extensions.”

    And the cool part is:


    (That’s why I consider them easier than seventh chords).

    For example, in C major, the 9th tone of the scale is:

    The 11th tone of the scale is:

    The 13th tone of the scale is:

    (If you have no idea why this is, see the “ADDITIONS”
    section of my last lesson:


    part-1 )

    When you add the “9” in C major, you’re always adding “D.”
    You don’t have to worry about what kind of 9, unless
    otherwise stated (like “b9” or “#9.”)

    In other words, if you see “9,” it’s always “D” (when
    you’re playing any type of C chord… minor, major, et al).

    Same with the 11th, it’s always F.

    The 13th is always A.

    And it doesn’t matter what the underlying chord is!

    I can take my C major 7 chord:

    C + E + G + B

    …and simply add the 9 to make it a C major 9 chord:

    C + E + G + B + D

    If I want to keep going, I can add the 11th, which is F:

    C + E + G + B + D + F

    Note: This one sounds dissonant. Most jazz people would
    change the F to F#, making it a #11 chord (C major 9 #11)

    If I want to keep going, I can add the 13th, which is A:

    C + E + G + B + D + F + A

    Or the jazzy way:

    C + E + G + B + D + F# + A
    (C major 13 #11 — obviously played with two hands)

    But the name of the game is spending some time in this
    territory… adding extensions to your chords and seeing
    what results.

    Playing by ear is a game of “OPTIONS.” You can do
    whatever sounds good.


    This ain’t classical music where the name of the game
    is technique.

    This is playing by ear. The name of the game is “feel.”

    Now, people go to college and study chords and extensions
    for months and years, so I dare not give an entire course
    here. But if you’re really serious about learning this
    stuff, pick up my 300pg home study course, “The Secrets To
    Playing Piano By Ear” at:




    This is for my advanced folks and it takes a LOT of

    Usually I find advanced musicians “reaching” in their
    left hands.

    Instead of playing a C major 7 chord like this:

    C on left /// C E G B

    They’ll play it like this:

    C + high E on left // B G

    The “reach” is in the left hand.

    This ain’t C to the E right next door either!

    This is C… skipping the “E” right next door and
    reaching all the way to the next octave to play
    THAT “E.”

    That’s what we call a “major 10th” interval.

    (C) D E F G A B C D (E) — ALL IN ONE HAND.

    The right hand then plays B and G.

    This entire chord spans 3 octaves.

    (C) D E F G A B C D (E) F G A (B) C D E F (G)

    I find this done, however, with more altered-sounding
    chords. Here are some examples:

    C dominant 7 #9#5
    C + high E on left /// Bb Eb Ab

    C minor 11 b5
    C + high Eb on left /// Gb Bb D F

    C major 13 #11
    C + high E on left /// A D F#

    So the big question is: “How do you get your hands
    to reach that far?”

    Answer: Doing it a lot! Practicing!

    Obviously, on your left hand, you’re using the farthest
    fingers ya got!

    Your pinky finger is hitting the C, while your thumb
    is hitting the high octave note (whether “E” or “Eb”).

    One thing you can do is hit those notes, lift your hand,
    hit those notes again, lift your hand, hit those notes,
    lift your hand.

    (Bobby Griffin, the instructor in our Gospel Guitar 101
    says when he learns a new chord, he first plays the chord,
    then lifts his hand in the air and says “Thank You Jesus,”
    returning to the chord again. And he repeats that. If you’re
    a gospel musician, I guess you get two-in-one with that
    technique! Try it!)

    One last thing: Usually the major or minor 10th is the
    largest reach you’ll play. One time, I saw someone do a
    major 11 reach but those are way harder. (That would be
    C to the higher F). The easiest is the major 9 reach
    (like C to the higher D). Practice all of them and find
    ways to add them to your chords.


    Well, I think I’ve gone a little long for this lesson.
    I’ll be back to finish up the list soon.

    Remember, if you want to submit questions for me to
    answer in this same format (like Jamal did), visit:


    And if you’re really serious about the stuff we talked
    about today, here are my recommendations:

    1) 300pg Home Study Course – “The Secrets To Playing
    Piano By Ear”

    This will teach you everything from scales, number
    system, chords, and inversions to patterns, progressions,
    altered chords, extensions, harmonization, and songs.

    It’s like a crash course on everything you’ll need to
    understand how music works.


    2) Hear & Play Chords 101/102

    These two courses will introduce you to the world of
    chords. You’ll learn how they’re formed, how to alter
    them, how to invert, how to play all the different
    types and classes of chords, and the mysteries of the
    seventh chord (major, minor, dominant, “minor-major,”
    etc) and more.


    3) Hear & Play Jazz 201 – Chords, Licks, & Soloing

    If you really liked what we did with arpeggios and
    extensions, you’ll love this 5-hour program. It
    covers the ins and outs of jazz chording and how to
    improvise over the many chords you learn. For serious
    jazz cats or anyone wanting to add a jazzy component
    to their playing:


    Practice the chord enhancements in this post and your
    playing will never be the same!

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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