• What My 4-Year Old Could Teach You About Chord Placement

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano

    I knew I had to share this story because there are some lessons about chord placement here.

    So Jadyn, our oldest daughter, comes in our room this morning and while I never noticed, Sarah says “Jadyn, you have on your little sister’s pajamas!” Jadyn hadn’t realized it either and we all busted out in laughter.

    Now, Layla, our youngest daughter is cute and chunky! Probably in the ninety percentile weight and height for 1 year olds so I’m not surprised Jadyn could fit into her pajama pants.

    How does this relate to chord placement?

    A few ways…

    Chord placement tips


    1) You’d be surprised what chords you can “fit in” between common patterns.

    Just like Jadyn was able to turn Layla’s pajamas into capri pants, you too can turn smaller progressions into bigger ones if you understand this concept of chord placement.

    For example, a song progressing from the 1 to the 4 can easily be expanded by using a “5-1” progression in between. So instead of going directly from the 1 to the 4, you go: 1 > 5 > 1 > 4.

    For more experienced players, you may also think of this as a “2-5-1” of the 4. That’s when you temporarily treat the 4-chord as “home base.” So if we were in the key of C major, the 4 is F. In the key of F, a 2-5-1 uses the bass notes G > C > F. All we’re doing is borrowing that and using it in C major: C > G > C > F (aka – “1-5-1-4” or 1 > “2-5-1 of 4” … different ways to say the same thing).

    I always say, “playing by ear is all about having options” and that “the ear is the final judge.” For all I knew, those were Jadyn’s pajama “shorts.” Your audience never knows what you intend… as long as it sounds good and acceptable to them.

    2) What’s intended for one purpose can be used for another

    I find this is the biggest breakthrough in musicians’ playing — when they start putting chords they’d normally only play in certain situations in totally new places. Or they start employing chords they’d normally only play in one key in other “foreign” keys. This is the art of chord placement.

    Like putting a major9 chord on the 6th tone (which is normally “minor”) or putting a dominant7 #9#5 (popular altered chord) on the 7th tone, or even b5 tone (to lead to the 7th tone)… or even on the b2 to lead to the b5, which leads to the 7. As you can see, this can get really crazy! This is chord placement gone wild.

    More Chord Placement Tips

    3) Sometimes, you CAN do too much! Only get in where you fit in! (Another “hearandplayism” quote)

    As they say, “less is sometimes more.” And sometimes, it’s obvious you’re trying to do too much. To Sarah, she was obviously in Layla’s clothes.

    Jeremy Jeffers, from our all-new Musician Breakthrough series, says it best: “Music is a conversation… you talk, and you listen… you breathe.”

    Some of us ought to give up them old blue jeans from the 90’s. They don’t fit anymore! They cut off circulation to the point where we can’t breathe. Are you suffocating your music?

    Chord placement isn’t about “how many chords you can place” but rather what QUALITY placements you can make. Our Musician Breakthrough series, featuring 7 of the craziest west coast musicians, shows chord placement at its best. Check out the video clips to see chord placement at a mastery level.

    4) Some progressions and patterns allow for flexible chord placement, others don’t.

    Undoubtedly, there’s some articles of Layla that Jadyn could definitely not fit in. But these particular pajama pants were a little loose-fitting so they worked.

    In music, you get progressions that ought not be touched… but you also get flexible progressions that can almost always be altered, embellished, expanded, etc.

    Jason White, from our Ministry Musician course, relies on the melody to find as many chords as he can that has that same melody note on top. It need not matter what the bass notes are either because your ear will be the final judge. You may know 25 chords that have “Eb” on top. In the research and experimentation part of your practice, simply go through all those chords looking for possible matches… “trial-and-error” style. It’s perfectly okay to be wrong 24 times but when you come across that ONE unorthodox chord that works, it will turn the heads of the BEST musicians. This is a very popular chord placement discovery technique.

    (That previous paragraph was a gem. It’s how the best of them find chords. You’d think there was a theoretical, organized process. Really, it’s trial and error, TIME, and the process of elimination.)

    One Final Chord Placement Tip

    5) Borrowing is good!

    Staying on this blog, being a member of GMTC (where you get weekly chords, patterns, chord placement ideas, etc), and shedding with other players will build up your chordal vocabulary.

    Remember, what one musician uses one particular way, you can take, “FLIP IT,” and use it a totally different way. Jadyn turned pants into shorts. I bet there will come a day when Layla will turn Jadyn’s shorts into pants or roll up the legs and wear them like they’re hers.

    With your knowledge of chords, theory, substitutions, and placement, you can do the same. Sheet music is written in stone… playing by ear is not. You have the choice to do whatever you want… as long as it sounds good, you’re staying true to the melody, and not over-deviating to the detriment of the song.

    So there you have it… chord placement lessons from a 4-year old, and her daddy :-).

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 30 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 wendy

    Great stuff thanx…. :) my knowledge grows daily because of u guys :)


    2 Joseph paulraj Babu

    Hi Jermaine
    Message well taken. Got in to scenario when i purchased gk 202 500 600 all together.Let me start with panties.. .


    3 Gregory

    God bless you, Jermaine Griggs! You consistently make learning such a pleasure. Your affinity for utilizing relatable examples to communicate your points always makes the learning fun. Thanks for the assist from both of your little princesses. Blessings, Gregory


    4 Jean

    Thanks Jermaine. this is very valuable information. I have learnt so much from Hear & Play. Blessings~


    5 gabriel

    yep,shorts can always b turned in2 pants.bless u.


    6 Jerry Polk


    As you might remember, I started to take your course, but just as I got started I had a stroke, which effected my right side. I could not do anything for a while but i am beginning to move everything pretty good now. Could you tell me what I should start first, “again ” to again try to learn to play. By the way I am sure glad you had the , “If you don’t want it just call us, we will understand “. It sure saved me some money while I was in the hospital and rehab. Think you very much
    Jerry Polk


    7 MACON7

    Good material… This lesson once again.. opened me up to ideas already in my tool box. Priceless… Thanks for being a blessing! Praying for your continued success >>>Phil 1:6


    8 Velma

    Thanks for another treasure tip: A simple in-between chord in a A COMMON PROGRESSION of 1-4-5. Goodness gracious.


    9 akerele shola

    This is quite impressive thanks man as you help others God will increase you


    10 Joshua Gouwe

    beautiful Jermaine, as alsways…more please…you are a gem…


    11 Joshua Gouwe

    thats funny beacause i into guitar, but theory is theory….


    12 Kelvis Gordon

    Hi Jermaine,i’ve been following you four years now.Every major thing i have learnt is from your hear and play dvds.You have proven to be someone who really wants to see others play and not just pretending.I still consider myself to be an apprentice even though i’m doing really great and understand a lot more about music and the piano.This helps me to identify others and to keep humble and also help those who want to be a part of the music ministry in my church and willing to serve god.I respect you for your efforts and may god continue to bless and carry you forward.”Long live hear and play ministries”…peace


    13 Michelle

    Thanks Jermaine, I love it you provide good quality to the music ministry that I am so
    amazed at how your tips and teachings are so structured. Thank you for giving me a
    chance when I thought there were no options to finding someone to help until I found
    your website, I’m glad I did. The story of your daughter is so on time thank you for sharing that. Please continue to keep me posted with more tips and chord structures. You’re a great blessing God bless.


    14 Eliana

    You are such a pretty girl Jadyn! Thanks for the lesson!


    15 New York Hair Transplant

    Wonderful site you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get feedback from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thank you!


    16 Dwayne scott

    Thank you for your help brother i am playing much better


    17 TOSIN

    thanks a bunch Jermaine!


    18 saman

    since i have bought my piano i have used thousand of tricks but none of them was like that. blessinnnnnnnnnnnngs!!!!!!!!!!!!


    19 Wahlen

    Thank you very much Jermaine!!! God Bless You :)


    20 Arthur

    Good information for the family of keyboard and piano players.


    21 Sonia

    Thanks Jermaine, pretty cool!! Jadyn is very cute!!


    22 Dearlin Brown

    Very powerful information, thank you again for sending me this e-mail. This is such a blessing.


    23 marcus bass

    Whew!!! Man, That is too high paced for a mere beginner like myself. I am still enrolled in school with lots of homework and I would have devote all of my time to learning scales and chords. Please remember that this is foreign to me. I hear the analogy about your daughters and it is sensible. Maybe I am making it seem impossible, but I know for you it’s just routine !!


    24 Kelvin

    I am greatful to you for all the teachings and notes .I am a beginner and I find it most useful in my music experience. Thanks for all,God bless you!!!


    25 Tolu

    Thanks Jermaine. God bless you big.


    26 nkgai

    Wow! Thanks a lot Jardyn! You gave a valuable lesson.


    27 Laurie Wong

    Thanks Jermaine… I love the analogy and gleaned some good tips. You’re the best.


    28 excellence

    wow, that was brilliant. Thanks


    29 King

    thanks guys my knowledge grows daily


    30 Shakira Cozart

    That was a funny story attached to a good music listen.


    Leave a Comment

    Previous post:

    Next post: