• Now you can play big chords without having to memorize anything

    in Chords & Progressions

    stackinglarge.jpgOn yesterday’s radio show, I got a question from a fellow in Vallejo, California about polychords.

    So today, I just want to take a second to explain what polychords are for those of you who missed the show.

    First, it’s helpful to note what the word “poly” means.

    It’s a greek prefix, meaning “many” so that should give us a hint as to what polychords are.


    And that’s exactly what a polychord is…

    It’s usually a bigger chord that consists of two or more smaller chords, one on top of the other.

    You can also refer to this as “stacking” or “superimposing” one chord on top of the other.

    So it really is that easy.

    Let’s explore some examples:

    What happens if you play a C major triad on your left and a G major triad on your right?

    (C + E + G) + (G + B + D)

    That’s basically stacking the 5-chord on top of the 1-chord.

    Note: Since both chords have a G in it, you can choose to either use the left hand or the right hand.

    Left hand: C + E Right hand: G + B + D

    Left hand: C + E + G Right hand: B + D

    (This chord is still not that huge so you can play it all with one hand: C + E + G + B + D).

    This is a C major ninth chord.

    C + E + G + B + D
    1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9

    What if you changed all these chords to minor?

    C minor on left and G minor on right?

    C + Eb + G + Bb + D
    1 + b3 + 5 + b7 + 9

    This is a C minor 9 chord.

    What if you played a C major triad on the left hand and a Bb major 7 on the right hand?

    So that’s basically the 1-chord + b7 chord (“flat seventh chord“)

    C + E + G + Bb + D + F + A
    1 + 3 + 5 + b7 + 9 + 11 + 13

    Wow! This is a huge chord. A “C13”

    So basically, polychords are composed of smaller chords stacked on top of each other. Regardless of whether you’re playing a ninth, eleventh, or thirteenth chord, they can always be broken down to smaller chords because all of those extended chords are essentially polychords.

    Why is this important to know? Well, for one, if you’re playing with a bass player, it’s helpful to know what you can play on your left hand and what might work well on your right hand. Then you can start inverting chords on either hand to make different combinations. From there, you can start altering chords and now you’ve just entered the world of “two-hand” altered chord voicings. It’s crazy indeed!

    Rather than me continue to spoil things, how about we use the comments section below to come up with more polychords.

    Here are some formulas. You can pick any key you want…

    1-major + 5-major = 1-major 9 chord

    1-minor + 5-minor = 1-minor 9 chord

    1-major + 5-minor = 1-dominant 9 chord

    1-minor + 5-major = 1-minor-major 9 chord

    1-major + b7-major = 1-dominant 11 chord

    …And the list goes on —

    I’ll start the exercise off in the comments. Post any key you want!

    I hope you enjoyed this lesson.

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    Until next time —

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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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