• The Key To Playing Altered Passing Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    Yesterday, we discussed how to use diminished passing chords a half step lower to transport us where we want to go.

    In other words, if you wanted to get to D minor 7, you’ll use the diminished 7 chord a half step lower — in this case, Db dim 7 (or C# dim 7). That was yesterday’s concept.

    Another Approach To Passing Chords

    Today, we’re going to cover how to use passing chords a half step HIGHER than the target chord.

    So, in trying to get to the same D minor 7 chord, we’ll now focus our attention on Eb — a half step higher — rather than Db (which is a half step lower and would usually carry a diminished 7 chord).

    The only difference is we’re not using a diminished 7 chord this time. We’re going to use an altered dominant chord… a “#9 #5” seventh chord to be exact.

    Altered Passing Chords

    Let’s back up and cover this dominant 7 (#9 #5) chord. (BTW, here’s a great article about them.)

    First you simply start with a dominant 7 chord. Let’s use C as an example.


    That’s the base.

    The chord calls for a sharp 9.

    Remember: Sharp means to raise, flat means to lower.

    Ask yourself… “What is the 9th of C?”

    C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6, B is 7, C is 8, D is 9

    Answer: Pretty much the same letter as the 2nd tone of the scale (shortcut)… “D”.

    That lets me know this chord will have some kind of D in it. But not any kind of D… it needs to be sharped (or raised).

    D becomes D# (the sharped 9).

    That’s one altered tone down, one more to go.

    The chord also calls for a sharped (or raised) 5. Luckily, this tone is already in our chord so we don’t have to add it. We simply alter it.

    The 5th of C is G. So we literally take the G in our chord and raise it to G#.

    So to recap:

    D (the 9th) became D# (the sharped 9)

    G (the 5th) became G# (the sharped 5)

    Put it all together and you’ve got yourself a C7 #9#5 chord (C + E + G# + Bb + D#):

    Or play the C in your left hand bass and the rest of the chord on your right hand:

    Now here’s the cool part about this chord.

    It’s flexible.

    You can either use the bass note as is (in this case “C”) or you can use the bass note 3 whole steps away (Gb).

    I know this has officially crossed the “quick & easy” border but stick with me here. This is called a tritone substitution.

    The same chord above can be played with Gb on bass. Granted, it changes the name of the chord to dominant 13 but that’s alright.

    Note: C to D is one whole step, D to E is another whole step, and E to F# (or Gb) is the third whole step. That’s how I got Gb.

    This is exactly the type of chord that works very well as a passing chord a half step higher.

    Since the bass is Gb, this would be the perfect chord to come down to an F minor 7.

    Now ask yourself, what major keys have F minor 7 in them?


    Eb major has an F minor 7 on the 2nd tone so this Gb passing chord could be used to take us to the 2nd tone.

    Db major has an F minor 7 on the 3rd tone so this Gb passing chord could be used to take us to the 3rd tone.

    Ab major has an F minor 7 on the 6th tone so this Gb passing chord could be used to take us to the 6th tone.

    And if we back up, the original chord was C7 #9#5 (without changing our bass note to Gb). This is a fourth down from F minor 7 and we already know how strong fourth intervals are (think CIRCLE OF FOURTHS). So when you get tired of using the Gb passing chord, swap in the C7 altered chord and you still have a winner!

    I know this post is loaded but there’s good information here.

    Passing Chords Homework

    Learn the dominant 7 #9#5 in all 12 keys. Just start with my C7 #9#5 above and move every finger up ONE note. Write down the chord. Moving every note in the chord up a half step will give you the chord in Db. Doing it again will give you the same chord in D. Do this 10 more times and you’ll have all 12 of them.

    To multiply this chord, find the bass note 3 whole steps higher (or lower… you will get the same note). That will give you 12 more versions. These are the ones that work very well a half-step higher but you can still use the first versions too! So you get a 2-for-1 deal!

    Lastly, look for opportunities to use these. They work very well before minor chords.

    So there you have it — more passing chords to add to your arsenal.

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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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