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

On 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.

poly-chords
“many”-chords.

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:

(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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#### Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
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!

#### Latest posts by Jermaine Griggs (see all)

1 Jermaine

C major:

C major + G major = C major 9
C + E + G + B + D

C minor + G minor = C minor 9
C + Eb + G + Bb + D

C major + G minor = C9 (also known as C dominant 9… works great on the 2-chord right before progression to a 5-chord in a “2-5-1” progression)

Who else wants to add to this list in another key?

2 BRIAN AKA TRUMUSIC1SOUL

Bb MAJ9
Bb+D+F+A+C

Bb MINOR 9TH
Bb+Db+F+Ab+C

Bb DOM 9TH
Bb+D+F+Ab+C

Bb min MAJ 9TH
Bb+Db=F+A+C

Bb DOM 11TH
Bb+D+F+A+C+Eb

MUCH NEEDED INFORMATION

JERMAINE GRIGGS FOR PREZ……FUNK MUSIC FOR EVERY MAN, WOMAN, & CHILD!!!

3 Raymundo Vizcarra

Hello

I appreciate the examples you have here. But one question on the last one:

Bb DOM 11TH
Bb+D+F+A+C+Eb

Is the A really or is it supposed to be Ab, I feel that I have not understood the whole dominant (DOM) part of it. I thought that any time you see DOM it means the 7th is lowered?

Thank you for any feedback you may give me.

Ray

4 Melissa

G major 9
G + B + D + F# + A

G minor 9

G + Bb + D + F + A

G 9

G + B + D + F + A

G min maj 9 ????

G + Bb + D + F# A ????

Thanks for this great info. By thinking in terms of all these chords as ” 1 chord plus 5 chord” i was able to call them up really fast. great help.

5 sangiwa eliamani

I am learning alot but not so much ready for alot of comments , before i make afool of myself.
Anyway God bless you.

6 Jermaine

@Sangiwa: Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself. No one is a fool here. Participating is better than sitting back silent… trust me! Join in! Even if you’re wrong… you’ll get feedback and understand why.

Take care,
Jermaine

7 rayjohnson83

Let me take a shot at it………..lol

F major9
F + A + C + E + G

F minor 9
F + Ab + C + Eb + G

F9
F + A + C + Eb + G

F minor-major 9
F + Ab + C + E + G

F11
F + A + C + Eb + G + Bb

F13
F + A + C + Eb + G + Bb + D

8 Jermaine

@Ray: You right on the money doc!

So did breaking up the chords into smaller ones really help to know them faster?

9 chawk

E major

E major + B major = E major9
E+G#+B+D#+F#

E minor + B minor = E minor9
E+G+B+D+F#

E major + B minor = E dom9
E+G#+B+D+F#

10 Jermaine

@Chawk: Awesome.

(P.S. – long time no see, where have ya been? :) )

11 chawk

I been reading and listening to your blog radio talk show. It’s all good! Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not in vain.

12 Jermaine

Thanks Chawk! Are you a regular listener? If you haven’t already, call in one week so you can be live on the air. It’ll be fun!

13 chawk

I haven’t, I’ll keep listening for now. Your Q&A are hard! (smile) and I’m not there yet.

14 Tike

C7+DMA7

C7 DMAJ7
C+Bb C#+E+A+A

15 Britte

Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thanks Nevertheless I am experiencing situation with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting identical rss drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx

16 merlie

hi jermaine, as a bigener i played the same chord in my left and right hand. what shall i do so that i can follow ur step?

17 merlie

if you dont mind asking what is big chords?

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20 Ernie potts

I’m a beginner but I just realized to play a 7 in any key you take the whatever note is in the bass and play the chord associated with the third tone of that scale. Example

Key of c

C major 7 = C in the bass over E minor
D minor 7 = D in the bass over F minor
E minor 7 = E in the bass over G minor.

It works in every key.

21 Sergio

Hi Germaine,

This is the best explanation about polychords I´ve ever read. Keep up the good work!

Sergio Kokitsu
From Brasilia, Brazil

22 Sergio

Hi Jermaine,

Sorry but I think you made a mistake.
When you say 1-major + b7-major = 1-dominant 11 chord, isn´t it a 1-MAJOR 11 chord?

Sergio Kokitsu

23 Jermaine Griggs

Sergio,

The b7 (aka – “flatted 7th”) is what you’re playing the major chord on, not the major 7th. So in the key of C, this would be:

1 major (C major) + b7 major (Bb major) = C dominant 11

(C + E + G) + (Bb + D + F) = C dominant 11

C major 11 would be: C + E + G + B + D + F and the formula would be:

1-major + 7-diminished = C major 11

or

1-major + 5-dominant7 = (C + E + G) + (G + B + D + F)

Of course, G is same note so you’d only play it once.

24 Sergio Kokitsu

Hi Jermaine,

Thanks for the explanation. I was confused about b7-major, because I was thinking it as 7-diminished.

Sergio Kokitsu

25 Tshepo

Wow..I do love the piano chords you give.Can you please send me lessons every time so that I may practice.

26 Thersa Mencia

Some really fantastic articles on this website , appreciate it for contribution.

27 bob

hey guys
just happened onto this site. GREAAT job J. eight years old just starting

guitar. talk about clearing up a million ???”s trying to be self taught what a job

JERMAINE………THANK YOU

BOB

28 Nene

I learnt that when playing major 13 chords the 11 is left out. …how true is I that?

29 martins oyise

great