• Top Three Substitutions Every Creative Keyboardist Must Not Be Without

    in Experienced players,Gospel music,Jazz music,Piano,Theory

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    There are three substitutions every creative keyboardist must know — especially jazz and gospel musicians.

    If you’ve ever come across a creative musician, one of the things you’ll notice that he/she does is to replace a known note, scale, interval, chord, or progression with a related or foreign idea.

    This creative process is called substitution.

    The 1-chord in the key of C major:

    …is the C major seventh chord:

    Replacing the C major seventh chord with any related or foreign chord means that the C major seventh chord has been substituted.

    In this lesson, I’ll be showing you top three substitutions every creative keyboardist must know. We’ll be starting off right away with the first one — which is the tritone substitution.

    Substitution #1 – Tritone Substitution

    The concept of tritone substitution is connected to the tritone. Therefore, it’s important for us to refresh our minds on the tritone before we proceed.

    A Short Note On The Tritone

    The tritone is literally three whole-steps (aka – “tones”) away from any given note.

    If C is used as the reference:

    …a tritone from C would be three whole steps:

    C to D (is the first whole step):

    D to E (is the second whole step):

    E to F# (is the third whole step):

    Altogether, C to F#:

    …is a tritone.

    The Concept Of Tritone Substitution

    Here’s the principle of tritone substitution:

    A dominant chord can be substituted by another dominant chord that is a tritone above  or below.

    In the key of C major:

    …one of the strongest progressions is the 5-1 chord progression:

    The 5-chord:

    The 1-chord:

    The 5 chord in this case is a dominant chord (the G dominant 13th [add 9] chord precisely) and can be substituted with a dominant chord that is a tritone above or below G.

    A tritone below G:

    …is Db:

    Due to the tritonic relationship between G and Db:

    …any Db dominant chord can be used to substitute the G dominant chord. In this example, we’re substituting the G dominant 13th [add 9] chord:

    …with the Db dominant 13th [add 9] chord:

    Attention: Keep in mind that there are melodic considerations, harmonic implications, and tonal factors that influence the choice of a dominant chord.

    Here’s the 5-1 chord progression after the 5-chord is substituted:

    5-chord (substituted with the b2 chord):


    I’m doubly sure that you love the tritone substitute (the Db dominant 13th [add 9] chord) and its resolution to the 1-chord (the C major ninth chord).

    Sounds jazzy, huh?!

    Substitution #2 – Idea Substitution

    In the concept of chord based idea substitution, melodic ideas (runs, licks, etc.,) that are associated with a given chord quality are replaced by ideas of a different chord quality.

    For example, playing a C major seventh run over the F# half-diminished seventh chord:

    …is based on the concept of idea substitution.

    Take a closer look.

    Chord Based Idea Substitution

    There are five common seventh chord types:

    Major seventh

    Minor seventh

    Dominant seventh

    Half-diminished seventh

    Diminished seventh

    Major chord melodic ideas can be substituted with minor chord ideas, half-diminished seventh ideas, dominant chord ideas, etc.

    “Here’s An Example Of The Relationship Chord Qualities…”

    All C major seventh ideas:

    …are related to the following seventh chords:

    A minor seventh:

    F# half-diminished seventh:

    D dominant seventh:

    G# diminished seventh chord:

    All C minor seventh ideas:

    …are related to the following seventh chords:

    Eb major seventh:

    A half-diminished seventh:

    F dominant seventh:

    B diminished seventh chord:

    In a subsequent lesson, we’ll explore other chord based relationships and substitutions.

    Final Words

    These substitutions have gained common place in jazz theory and practice because of the creative outcomes they create.

    It is recommended that you listen to notable players (like Art Tatum) who explored tritone substitution, idea substitution, and chord quality substitution.

    See you in the next lesson.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Carolyn

    Thanks. God bless.


    2 Robert zacconi

    Check this out
    1) in the key of c
    A) d minor , take the third of the chord f
    And add Fourths b flat , and e flat
    B) add d flat to the chord
    C) resolve to c major 6 ,9
    What do u think 🤔😎


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