• Neo Soul Chords: Exploring Extended Minor Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Urban Styles

    neo soul chords

    When it comes to learning Neo Soul chords, understanding extended minor chord voicings just about tops the list.

    Just listen to any popular Neo Soul artist (D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, Jill Scott, et al) and you’d be hard-pressed not to hear extended minor chord progressions all throughout their music.

    Don’t get me wrong, while major chords certainly have their place in Neo Soul music, it is minor chords that give the genre – that emerged from Soul and Contemporary R&B – its characteristic laid-back, jazzy feel enjoyed by its fans.

    Today, I want to introduce you to a 3-chord progression you’re sure to recognize.

    We’ll start by using basic minor 7th chords but I want to show you the incredible effect of chord extensions and reaching beyond the first octave.

    Neo Soul Chords: 1-5-4 Chord Progression in Minor

    We’ll be in E minor.

    Here are the notes of the E natural minor scale:

    playing by ear - c major

    (Note: This is the E Natural Minor Scale and it shares the same exact notes with the G major scale. See relative major/minor.)

    The numbers, “1-5-4” simply come from the scale.

    E is 1, F# is 2, G is 3, A is 4, B is 5, C is 6, D is 7

    So pulling out the 1st, 5th, and 4th tones gives us these bass notes:

    neo soul chords 1 chord

    neo soul chords 5 chord

    neo soul chords 4 chord

    We will put minor 7 chords on each of these tones.

    E minor 7:
    neo soul chords e minor 7

    B minor 7:
    neo soul chords b minor 7

    A minor 7:
    neo soul chords a minor 7

    *The diagrams show the chords going up but I prefer to go from the 1 down to the 5 down to the 4.

    Already, you should be hearing a number of songs in your head that use these Neo Soul chords. Just practice cycling through these chords, adding in your own rhythm, and you should be able to come up with something nice.

    Neo Soul Chords: Extensions

    But to spice it up, let’s go beyond the octave.

    Consider the notes of the E natural minor scale again:
    neo soul chords e minor scale

    An “octave” is what you get when you start on E and play this scale up to the next E.

    So E to E is the distance or interval of an “octave” (just like 12 inches might be known as a foot).

    But what happens if you keep going? What happens if you start on E, pass the next E (an octave) and arrive at F#?

    Remember when we numbered the scale? Let’s keep our numbers going:

    E is 1, F# is 2, G is 3, A is 4, B is 5, C is 6, D is 7, E is 8 (octave)

    F# is 9, G is 10, A is 11…

    *With extended minor chords, we could keep numbering this scale, but you’ll find that we hardly go passed the 11th degree. This is not the case for extended major and dominant chords, which commonly use the 13th degree (aka – “Dominant 13th chords“).

    What would our 3-chord progression sound like with an added 9? (That’s the F# from the next octave).

    Let’s see:

    E minor 9:
    neo soul chords e minor 9

    B minor 9:
    neo soul chords b minor 9

    A minor 9:
    neo soul chords a minor 9

    Neo Soul Chords & Inversions

    A chord inversion is how you arrange a chord.

    Simply put, the number of notes in the chord dictates how many ways you can rearrange the chord (assuming all notes are being represented… but as you get into chord voicings, you’ll realize there are a ton more ways to “voice” your chord by adding, subtracting, skipping/dropping notes, and more).

    Let’s try the same chord progression but rearrange the notes so that they are closer:

    E minor 9:
    playing by ear - c major

    B minor 9:
    playing by ear - c major

    A minor 9:
    playing by ear - c major

    Note that we didn’t add any notes. We just changed the order in which we arranged them. Yet, with just this small change, it can totally alter the way the chord sounds.

    Which Neo Soul chords and inversions do you like the best?

    Homework: Can you add the 11th to these Neo Soul chords?

    Until next time.

    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.


    1 Sandra

    Wow! Love this visual tutorial! I could hear the notes in my head while looking at those chord charts and it’s super helpful, thanks for this! My favourite has got to be the last set of chords thanks to its more natural voicing. What software do you use to create these keyboard-chord images?

    2 Jermaine Griggs

    Hi Sandra, we created a simple tool you’re welcome to use: http://www.chordshare.com

    3 Byron


    Why B minor 9 has C#?

    E natural minor scale doesn’t have C#

    I will appreciate your explanation.


    4 Jermaine Griggs


    Your name is Byron no matter where you go. No matter what country you visit. You’ve chosen to spell your name “B-y-r-o-n.” A “B minor 9” chord is spelled the same way, no matter what key you’re actually in.

    B natural minor scale is:

    B C# D E F# G A B

    C# is the 2nd tone but if extended to the next octave, it is the 9th tone.

    This B minor 9 chord has nothing to do with the actual key we’re in. It’s spelled this way regardless.

    (Now, one caveat. The key you’re in will dictate WHICH chords you use. For example, in one key, it may be B minor 9, in another key it may be Cb minor 9. They sound the same but are spelled differently and the key we’re in dictated that).


    the 9 of a B minor is a c#

    6 Patref

    From the 7th dgree to 9th dgree has to be whole+whole or two steps

    7 Adrian

    Thanks for the tutorial there, very nice how you have broken it down for all to understand.

    8 Isaac


    Em scale consists of: E, F#, G, A, B, C, D

    B is the perfect 5th of the Em Triad (chord)

    Minor chord degrees go as followed: 1. Minor
    2. Diminished
    4. Minor
    5. Minor

    Bm is the 5th degree of the Em scale. From there, you have:

    B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A, B

    Hope this helps ????

    9 Mitch

    Great article! Worth mentioning though that inversions, while dealing with chord voicings, mainly serve to identify which chord tone is in the bass.

    10 David

    I really love hear and play lessons… its some place that really influence me to go further more advanced… I really love this neo soul part and I wish for more advanved styles

    11 Emmysamuels

    “I think we also need names of songs in which these neo soul chords are used…it will help us recognize and identify them as well as know how and where they are used…”

    12 F8

    What would be a good change for this progression?

    13 sasha

    Why is the c in A minor 9 not sharpened here? Or is that a mistake?

    14 Tommy

    The C is what makes the chord minor. C# makes the chord major.

    15 Hanny

    Hi Sasha,

    If the c in a minor were sharpened, it would turn into a major chord.

    The notes in a minor:

    a b c d e f g a

    16 Michael

    Because sharpening the C in the A minor chord would in turn change the chord to a major chord which in this context is wrong.

    17 lucky chigozie

    I love the simplicity with which you explain these sometimes technical piano terms. You materials have been especially useful to me.

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    Previous post:

    Next post: