• What every musician should know about “chord stacking”…

    in Chords & Progressions

    stacking1-big.jpgSo you want to play big, fancy chords! Who doesn’t?

    And yesterday, I pointed you in the right direction.

    We got introduced to polychords, which are essentially big chords made from two or more smaller ones.

    So today, we’re going to take it a step further. Rather than stack “common” chords on top of each other, we’re going to see what happens when we venture outside the norm.

    For example, if you stack a 5-major chord on top of its 1-major chord (like G major on top of C major), you’ll easily get a major ninth chord:

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

    *G is only played once.

    Then, by simply changing one or the other to a minor chord, you’ll get a totally different chord:

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

    (You can revisit yesterday‘s post to catch up if you haven’t)

    So, this basic “5-chord over 1-chord” is what I’m calling “common,” for the purposes of this post. Master those and you can pretty much play any ninth chord. In fact, change your five chord to a seventh chord (i.e. – major 7, minor 7, or dominant 7) and that will give you all your 11th chords — even some fancy altered ones.

    In fact, if you take a basic 1-major 7 chord (like C major 7) and start experimenting with chords off every tone of the chord, you will find matches that create bigger chords.

    Don’t believe me?

    Ok, the notes of the C major 7 chord are C+E+G+B. So basically, I’m telling you to play around with chords off “E”… chords off “G” (like we’ve done in prior examples)… and even chords off “B.”

    If you take each one of the tones (not including “C”) and play random chords on them, you’ll come across things like this:

    C + E minor = C major 7

    C + E major = C augmented major 7

    C + E diminished = C dominant 7

    C + E + G major = C major 9

    C + E + G minor = C dominant 9

    C + E + G diminished = C dominant 7 (b9) (pronounced “C dominant seventh, flat nine”)

    *This is a great 6-chord. Like if you’re in the key of Eb and you’re going from Eb major to C (which is the 6th degree), play this chord and it gives you a nice bluesy feel.

    C + E + G + B diminished = C major 11

    *You can also try “B major” and “B minor” like I did in the other examples but you’ll get some really altered chords. They are used, but rarely.

    Heck, you can even experiment with chords outside of the scale.

    Like Ab major over C major (you’ll get a cool altered chord that sounds really good on a 3-chord that progresses to a 4 or 6-chord. Like if you were in the key of Ab major and used this chord to go from C (the 3-chord) to either Db or F (the 4 and 6-chords, respectively).

    The good news is that these combinations and possibilities are practically everywhere.

    And I believe you should reserve a portion of your practice for what I call, “exploration.” This is where you take proven rules and ideas from this blog and experiment further.

    For example, the rule learned in the last 2 posts is that you can stack smaller chords to create bigger sounding ones. So you take that rule and run with it! Explore and you never know what you’ll find!

    hear and play

    Hear and Play Chords 102: The Power of Seventh Chords

    This audio course will start where chords 101 left off and show you step-by-step…

    • How to form various types of seventh chords and why they are so important in playing by ear.
    • Why seventh chords are the foundation of many more extended chords like ninths, elevenths, thirteenths, and altered voicings.
    • The power of the "magic 3rd & 7th" and how manipulating them can help you to instantly play dozens of chords in all twelve keys… very easily!
    • And much more! Click here to learn more | Buy now

    Until next time —

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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!

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



    { 7 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Carla Antoine

    My name is Carla Antoine and I have been searching for the music to “Take It Back” by Dorinda Clark Cole. I realized that you played keyboard and was wondering how I can get the music. My email address is raneya@aol.com.

    Thank you


    2 Jermaine

    @Carla: I don’t know about the sheet music because we don’t really specialize in sight reading over here but the chords are written out for you at this site: http://www.learngospelmusic.com/forums/index.php?PHPSESSID=fc1c7b11b0361e6e2a8993ee10d8830d&/topic,58752.msg589446.html#msg589446

    Let me know if that works out,


    3 jonathan

    tnx so much jermaine for the tips and lesson that id learned. Will you please give some techniques and tips on how to play a simple song by using tritone (concept: right and left hand diffirencies). Hoping for your reply, my email add Thandag1973@yahoo.com.ph. Godbless


    4 Jermaine

    @Jonathan: You’re in luck. I have many posts/lessons on here about tritones…

    Click here:


    5 Josh

    Hi Jermaine…….could you explain to me the concept of chord substitution…..i don’t mean to sound thick, but can you substitute any chord for its derivatives……e.g can you use a Caug or Cdim or any other alteration of a Cmajor Chord instead of a Cmajor chord…..hope this makes sense???
    I’ll give another example, can you play CEG# or CEflatF# instead of the usual, boring CEG
    hope this makes sense…



    6 Jermaine

    @Josh: Of course you can! There are times when all of this is necessary.

    “The Greatest Love of All” (C major)

    I be-lieve the | child-ren are fu-ture |
    C major (G+C+E) | C aug (G# + C + E) | Cmaj 6 (A + C + E / C bass)

    There’s an example of a C augmented being used.

    Type “altered” or “alterations” in the search box above Josh and you’ll get many posts about it.



    7 able chords

    Jermaine pls I want to understand the concept of backing up a lead pianist with the organ


    Leave a Comment

    Previous post:

    Next post: