• What everybody ought to know about ninth chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players

    Lately, we’ve been talking about power chords, tritones, and substitutions.

    Today, I want to show you how to use tritones and minor chords to form crazy-sounding dominant ninth chords.

    Yes, that means if you know all your tritones (…there’s only really 6 to learn) and all your basic minor triads, then you can play dominant ninth chords — instantly!

    But not just any kind of dominant ninth chord. This voicing sounds really good!

    As you know, two musicians can play the same dominant chord and make their versions sound totally different. I’m going to give you a “behind-the-scenes” look at how that’s possible.

    Here’s the regular C dominant 9 chord:

    C E G Bb D

    It’s basically a C dominant 7 chord with an added “9” tone. If you don’t understand where the 9 comes from, read yesterday’s lesson.

    There are only two steps to transforming this boring, “standard” ninth chord into a snazzy one!

    Step 1: Play the tritone replacement for the dominant chord on your left hand. Remember, you can always substitute the appropriate tritone for a full dominant chord since a tritone utilizes the key tones of the dominant chord. Basically, take the 3rd and 7th tones out of the dominant chord and play them on your left hand. That is a tritone.


    C dominant 9
    C + E + G + Bb + D

    You’d take out E and Bb and play them together.

    * As you probably know, “E” is the third tone of the scale and “Bb” is the flat seventh tone.

    So far, my left hand has “E + Bb” in it.

    Step 2: After you have determined what tritone to play on your left hand, you’ll want to identify the 5th tone of the chord. You’ll want to play a minor chord off this tone on your right hand. If I’m playing a C9 chord, the 5th tone of C is basically G (which is in the chord). I’m simply going to play a G minor chord on my right hand.

    It’s that simple! Find 5th tone of chord (or scale) and play its minor triad. Point blank!


    C dominant 9
    C + E + G + Bb + D

    *The fifth tone in C major is G. Therefore, I’m going to play a G minor on my right hand: (G + Bb + D)

    You can try different inversions of this G minor triad but I prefer first inversion, which means the keynote will always be on top: (Bb + D + G)

    Same for the tritone, you can try the alternate inversion but I like my flat seventh on the bottom (Bb + E) but feel free to try the other way around too (“E + Bb”). They both work.

    So my full chord looks like this:

    C dominant 9
    Bb + E on left hand /// Bb + D + G on right hand

    If you do use the opposite tritone “E + Bb,” you may find that the “Bb” from your tritone meets the “Bb” from your G minor chord if you’re playing both hands close to each other. This is fine. It actually results in a nice little effect with simply “E” on the left hand and “G minor” on the right hand.

    Now here’s the best part.

    In gospel music, you can really work this! Try going down a half step and doing the same thing. Then quickly move that chord back up to your original chord.

    So basically, take this same exact voicing of C9 and move it down to B9.

    If you understand “big picture thinking” (yesterday’s post), this shouldn’t be hard.

    What is the tritone that goes with “B?” Bam! That’s your left hand!

    What’s the 5th tone of B? Play it’s minor chord in first inversion! Bam!

    B dominant 9
    A + D# on left hand /// A + C# + F# on right hand

    *I’m using informal naming to make it easier to follow

    And this B dominant 9 (a.k.a “B9”), which is the same exact chord as C9 (but moved down a half step), leads perfectly to the C9:

    B dominant 9
    A + D# on left hand /// A + C# + F# on right hand

    C dominant 9
    Bb + E on left hand /// Bb + D + G on right hand

    In fact, if you play gospel music and know the classic “shouting” bass run:

    C – E – F – Gb – G – A – Bb – B – C

    *It’s a bass line so play each of these notes separately.

    …Imagine playing this same dominant 9 voicing over each of these bass notes.

    But here’s the thing — with this voicing, you don’t really play the bass. Either you rely on someone else playing the bass or you just play the chords rootless.

    Imagine replacing each of those “shouting” bass notes with this dominant 9 voicing?

    Try it! You already know the notes for C9 and B9.

    Just take the same formula and match up the chords for each of these bass notes. Then practice playing them because it won’t be easy at first. You’ll love what you come up with! Sounds a little crazy at first but this is how top gospel musicians like Jason White and Michael Bereal think.

    I hope you enjoyed!

    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.


    { 21 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jermaine

    Hey, let’s try to play this gospel “bass run” — ALL WITH DOMINANT NINTH CHORDS!

    That means a chord on C — then E — then F — then Gb… and so on.

    Here’s the full bass line again:

    C – E – F – Gb – G – A – Bb – B – C

    I’ll start it with the chord on “C” and “E”

    (Don’t worry naming the tritones. They can get hard with double flats and sharps. Just pick the one that works. After all, tritones are also known as “augmented fourths” as well).

    Bb + E on left hand /// Bb + D + G on right hand

    D + G# on left hand /// D + F# + B on right hand

    Who’s going to do the next chords from the bass line?


    2 Jermaine
    3 Thomas

    Another good lesson. I am learning so much Jermaine. Be Blessed!!!!



    Eb + A ON LEFT///Eb + G + C

    E + Bb///Fb + Ab + Db






    check out my girl from Earle, AR..

    she is the offspring of the Selvy Singers of Earle AR….click on JekalynTV..lol


    7 drej

    Wow what a great update!!!! more power to your elbow. At least, i get somehing new to rehearse everyday and that’s a great development for me.


    8 Roland

    F + B on left hand /// F + A + D on right hand

    G + C# on left hand /// G + B + E on right hand

    Wow…this is such a different way of looking at it,Jermaine. But it makes sense in order to get new voicings and a new approach to playing chords. And getting this down on the keyboard is another challenge..hehe



    I just want to say: God Bless you Master Jermaine Griggs. Your posts inspire me to continue learning how to play the piano.


    10 Roland

    Come on you guys,we have three more chords to go!


    11 Eresmas

    Ab + D left // Ab + C + F on right.

    Eb + A left // A + Db + Gb on right.


    12 sabatini

    How can i form a tritone combination with that is being used as a passing note


    13 sabatini

    How to form a tritone combination for a major chord


    14 hubert

    these are some cool moves but it would help a brother out if you added the sound clip of what you are talking about thanks for understanding


    15 Jermaine

    Sabatini – Tritones work with major chords on the right too.

    like “F+B” on left (Tritone) and “A major” on right. That can lead to “E+Bb” on left (tritone) and “Ab major” on right. This would actually be a “7-3” progression in the key of Ab and would take you to an F minor chord. (so the invisible bass that you don’t see is G to C to Fminor). Notice the first tritone matches with “G” and the second tritone matches with “C”.

    But in this example, of course, we’re using minor on right.


    16 Roland

    Right after this lesson was posted,I played the root progression/scale C – E – F – Gb – G – A – Bb – B – C.
    I recognised it right away and it struck me as a bold statement. Then I compared it with the blues scale right away.
    What I saw is: Raise the 3rd,add a few more notes,defy the blues and feel joy.
    It seems like I just found out the essence and core of Gospel music,and what it’s all about.
    Am I right…or just imagening?


    17 steve

    Another great blog at the best by far piano teaching website.


    18 Loyiso Mali

    Thank u to all of u guys! This is amazing. Enkosi kakhulu!


    19 ikade 0ominic ogar

    i enjoy using ur guide in playing my songs and gospel songs.


    20 Self taught piano player

    I can easily memorize all of this but my problem is that I have very small hands and I can play them but very uncomfortably (the song I’m learning has lots of Fm9 chords and I can extend my pinky to D but it feels uncomfortable and sometimes is a hit or a miss, bc my finger accidentally presses other black keys) I’m a grown up woman so I didn’t grew up much when I was in puberty so I’m under 5 foot with hands that can barely play octaves.


    21 Self taught piano player

    Edit: I can reach a D in my Fm9 chord only if I play the root with my left hand which is fine because the song I’m learning is written that way. But if I try to play the whole chord with my right hand I cannot reach the last note.


    Leave a Comment

    Previous post:

    Next post: