• The Secrets to Playing Contemporary Worship Music

    in Gospel music

    Let me start by saying that you’ll be shocked to learn that playing more contemporary does not involve making up “new” chords. In fact, in GospelKeys X “Urban and Contemporary Worship,” one of the most commonly mentioned chords is the “major seventh” chord.

    Now, don’t get me wrong…

    You’ve probably played a major seventh chord time and time again. And you’ll probably agree that after a while, it just becomes a normal chord — if you’re using it redundantly (the same way over and over).

    Most musicians, however, fail to realize the power of the “major seventh” chord when used with other chords. In other words, learning how to play two chords at the same time. It may take some getting used to but after a week, any musician should be able to add this to their playing. It is very powerful. Let me explain…

    First, let’s cover the major seventh chord.

    1) Take any major scale

    2) Play the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th tone to create a major seventh chord

    3) Invert the chord to create what I call the “next door” effect.

    … so taking each step above, here’s how to form an Ab major seventh chord (Abmaj7):

    1) The Ab major scale is:

    Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab (played separately of course).

    2) The 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th tones from the scale above are:

    Ab C Eb G (played together as a chord).

    3) Since all major seventh chords include the 1st and 7th tones, these notes, if played right next to each other will create what I call the “next door” effect. In order to do this, take the chord above (Ab C Eb G) and invert it so that that Ab and C are at the top of the chord rather than the bottom:

    Eb G Ab C (… notice that the Ab and C are now on the other side of the chord).

    The “G” and “Ab” in the middle appear right next to each other on the piano. That is what we call the “next door” effect and produces a far more contemporary and modern sound than playing the Abmaj7 chord opened like in the previous example. GospelKeys X “Urban and Contemporary Worshipgoes into more detail about this technique, but for now, we have enough information to understand this concept.

    Now… let’s do the same thing for the Db major seventh chord (Dbmaj7):

    1) The Db major scale is:

    Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db (played separately).

    2) The 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th tones from the scale above are:

    Db F Ab C (played together).

    3) To create the “next door” contemporary feel that GospelKeys X talks about, we want to move the “Db” and “F” from the bottom and put them on the top. The Dbmaj7 chord inverted now looks like this:

    Ab C Db F

    So now we have two maj7 chords:

    Abmaj7 and Dbmaj7

    Now, we will turn these two chords into a nice urban movement.

    Let’s start with the Dbmaj7 chord (Ab C Db F). We will use that over a Bb bass on the left hand. Theoretically, this makes the chord a Bbmin9. If you don’t know your minor 9th chords, refer to chapter 14 of the 300-pg course.

    For the Abmaj7 chord (Eb G Ab C), we will play that over an F bass on the left hand. This is also called an Fmin9 (because of the addition of the left hand “F” on the bass). So another “lesson” inside of this lesson is:

    “Major chords combined with certain left hand bass notes also create minor chords.”

    So play each of the chords below giving four counts to each:


    Bb bass on the left /// Ab + C + Db + F on the right hand.


    F bass /// Eb + G + Ab + C on the right hand.


    Simply go back and forth between these two chords. This by itself characterizes the urban feel.



    But it hardly ends here. This is just the foundation. We’re going to totally change the chords above to create an even more “urban and contemporary” sound.



    As your piano playing becomes more sophisticated, you’re going to start playing chords on your left hand. So what we’re going to do now is switch what we were formally playing on the right hand to our other hand.


    You’ll see this technique talked about in depth in GospelKeys X “Urban and Contemporary Worship.” Here’s a taste of it below:

    Let’s deal with the Dbmaj7 chord first.

    Play this on your left hand:

    Ab C Db F

    Now, to complement this chord, on the right hand, let’s play a regular “Ab” major chord in the second inversion. If you don’t know what “inversions” are, click here.

    Ab maj (second inversion): Eb Ab C

    Now, here’s something to keep in mind…

    You don’t want to be playing your left hand chord too low on the piano or else it will sound distorted. Play your left hand just high enough to create a nice sounding chord. The “Eb Ab C” chord on your right might overlap with your left hand. This is alright. With Urban and Contemporary Worship,” you’ll do crazy things like this but you’ll produce crazily “modern” sounds… trust me.

    So now, you’re playing this:

    Left: Ab C Db F Right: Eb Ab C

    (If the left hand is bothering you, feel free to leave out the “F”). Keep in mind that taking it out will lessen the “phat-ness” of the sound, but if you are having trouble playing four fingers in your left hand to start, this would be the note to leave out.

    We will do the same thing for the second chord. In our left hand, let’s play the Abmaj7 we’d normally play in our right hand.

    Left: Eb G Ab C

    On our right hand, let’s layer an Eb chord on top of it:

    Right: Bb Eb G (don’t be fooled by the Bb on the bottom because this is an Eb maj chord in second inversion).

    So, the whole chord is:

    Left: Eb G Ab C Right: Bb Eb G

    Now play both chords together, repeating back and forth (four counts each).

    #1: Left: Ab C Db F Right: Eb Ab C

    #2: Left: Eb G Ab C Right: Bb Eb G

    Now this sounds a lot better than the former progression. But we’re still not done! In GospelKeys X “Urban and Contemporary Worship,” our aim is to make you sound as modern and contemporary as possible.

    Let’s keep going…

    Now, going back and forth between the two chords above sounds good. But it gets boring after a while so you’ll want to include passing chords in the progression above.

    We will include two passing chords between chord #1 and chord #2 above. These passing chords will further “urbanize” and “contemporize” our chord movement.

    Tritones are two-note chords used commonly in contemporary music. I don’t have room in this online classroom to explain them in depth but have discussed them in past newsletters. Feel free to visit the newsletter archives to read about them.

    Ok… Ok… I’ll talk about them here just for a little while:

    Tritones consist of diminished fifth intervals.

    You can also determine the distance of a tritone by simply counting three whole steps up from any note. Thus, the name “tritone.” Counting “C to D” (1), “D to E” (2), and “E to Gb” (3) would be an example. So the beginning and end (C and Gb) is a “tritone.” Now back to the diminished fifth interval concept…

    A diminished fifth interval is just what it sounds like. A fifth interval decreased by one-half step. For example a fifth interval is: C to G. To make this same interval a diminished fifth, simply lower the G to Gb.

    Now you have: C + Gb. That’s an example of a tritone. So whether you want to use the “diminished fifth” technique or the “3 whole steps” technique, both ways will help you to form tritones.

    There are six main tritones:

    C + Gb (or Gb + C)

    Db + G (or G + Db)

    D + Ab (or Ab + D)

    Eb + A (or A + Eb)

    E + Bb (or Bb + E)

    F + B (or B + F)

    * Don’t forget these little chords. They are extremely important when it comes to playing contemporary-styled music.

    It is common to move from one tritone to another tritone a half step down. This may be hard to understand so let me demonstrate what I mean:

    Above, notice the “F+B” tritone. It is common to play the “E+Bb” tritone right after it.

    Notice that in order to move from an “F+B” tritone to an “E+Bb,” you simply move both fingers down ONE key — that’s all. These two tritones are a half step apart (one note apart).

    …And that is exactly how we’re going to use them. In fact, those are the same tritones we’re going to use. They will become the left hand chording for two passing chords we’ll use to get us from chord #1 to chord #2 above. Is this stuff interesting or what?

    Tritone #1: F+B

    Tritone #2: E+Bb

    (Just a half step apart).

    For both tritones, we’re going to play simple major chords in our right hand. If you haven’t realized by now, we aren’t making up new chords. We’re simply manipulating basic major chords to create contemporary-sounding movements.

    For the first tritone, we will play an “A major” chord in our right hand.

    Left: F + B /// Right: E + A + C# (an “A major” chord in second inversion)

    For the second tritone, we will play an “Ab major” chord in our right hand. So basically, this is like the chord right above but a half step lower. You should only have to move everything down one note — that’s it.

    Left: E + Bb /// Right: Eb Ab + C (an “Ab major” chord in second inversion)

    So the entire “passing chord” movement is:

    Left: F + B /// Right: E + A + C#

    Left: E + Bb /// Right: Eb + Ab + C

    … Now, let’s stuff this “passing chord” movement into the chord progression from the beginning part of this lesson:

    Chord #1:

    Left: Ab C Db F Right: Eb Ab C

    Passing Chords:

    Left: F + B /// Right: E + A + C#

    Left: E + Bb /// Right: Eb + Ab + C

    Chord #2:

    Left: Eb G Ab C Right: Bb Eb G

    Note: The “passing chords” above are to be played faster than “chord #1” and “chord #2.” You can find an example of this very progression in the GospelKeys X “Urban and Contemporary Worship2 minute trailer video on the website. Just go to the website and click on the “view video trailer” button and you’ll hear this movement throughout the video sample.

    To end, you’ll want to “loop” this movement over and over so here’s a perfect transition to get you from chord #2 back to the beginning:

    Again, you’ll be utilizing a tritone on your left hand and a regular major chord on your right hand.

    Here it is:

    Left: A + Eb /// Right: Ab + Db + F (a “Db maj” chord in second inversion).

    This chord will take you back to the beginning. So to end, here’s an example of the entire urban movement:

    Chord #1:

    Left: Ab C Db F Right: Eb Ab C

    Passing Chords:

    Left: F + B /// Right: E + A + C#

    Left: E + Bb /// Right: Eb + Ab + C

    Chord #2:

    Left: Eb G Ab C Right: Bb Eb G

    Final Passing Chord back to beginning:

    Left: A + Eb /// Right: Ab + Db + F

    Chords to study for this online classroom:

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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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