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Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families - How to substitute any chord for a completely different one


Easily learn basic chord substitution.

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families

Spice up any chord progression...

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Chord substitution is actually easy if you know some basic rules.

Today will look at a few rules to help you understand how to do some of the most common and widely used chord substitutions.

In this lesson we're swapping about a chord for a completely different one - not just embellishing or extending the chord.


Chord Functions

If we understand how a chord functions we can swap it out for another chord that shares the same function!

First we'll look at how chords in a progression function and then we'll put them into families that share the same function. So you'll have a handy chart you can use to easily swap out chords on the fly...

A basic progression

To get started with let's look at a basic progression to understand the "function" of each chord.

Here's you basic progression:

I - IV - V7 or

C  - F  - G7

Chord functions:

I = TONIC
IV = SUBDOMINANT
V = DOMINANT

FUNCTION of a TONIC (I chord)

A tonic is a place of rest beginning or ending of a phrase - I like to call it "home."

FUNCTION of a SUBDOMINANT (IV chord)

The function of a SUBDOMINANT is to move from the TONIC family to the DOMINANT family - it has the feel of movement  -  I like to call it "leaving home."

FUNNCTION of a DOMINANT (V chord)

The Dominant pulls toward the tonic and wants to resolve to the tonic - I call it "I wanna go home" because it wants to go home to the tonic, our "home" chord... 


Chord Families

Now that we know how these chords function we need to put all of the chords (in a harmonized C scale) that we might use for this progression into "families."

We're going to have a TONIC family; a SUBDOMINANT family and a DOMINANT family.

Take a look...

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families - How to substitute a chord for a completely different one

Rules to remember:

  1. I, iii and vi function as a TONIC
  2. IV and ii function as a SUBDOMINANT
  3. V and vii function as a DOMINANT
  4. ANY CHORD may be substituted with a chord that shares the same function

Putting it into practice

Not let's apply some of these rules to actual chord progressions...

I for iii

We'll start with the I chord and swap I for iii.

Here's our chord progression - it's a basic I - vi - IV - V "ice cream changes"* harmonized with 7 chords.

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
If we look at our C scale harmonized with 7 chords our iii chord is an Em7  - let's swap out the I chord for it...

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
You'll notice something very interesting here... it's then exact same progression as if we were to substitute (or use an embellishment of) a Cmaj9 for the Cmaj7.

Take a look.

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
So we need to understand there are a number of means to achieve the same end  - we can arrive at this progression by other means as well...

Next up  - IV for ii

Now we'll take our progression - the one we created above (Em7 - A7 - Fmaj7 - G7) and we'll swap out the IV chord for the ii look at your C scale harmonized with 7 chords and you'll see that the chord we need is Dm7.

Original progression.

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
Our new progression with the Fmaj7 swapped out for the Dm7.

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
When compared to the original progression we now have two chord substitutions:
  1. We've substituted the Cmaj7 for an Em7 (both function as a tonic)
  2. We've substituted the Fmaj7 for the Dm7 (both function as the subdominant)

Next it'll be time to swap out the G7 (the dominant).

V for vii

We'll take our progression -  which now looks like this:
Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
And take a look at our  C scale harmonized with 7 chords to see what our vii chord is. It's a Bm7b5. Nice...  That's a beautiful sounding chord...
Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families

What if we took a real basic progression?

Lets look at something more basic...
Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
That's about as basic as it gets - now lets substitute some chords from are basic harmonized with chords harmonized with chords.

*This progression is sometimes referred to as "Ice Cream Changes"  (I - vi - IV - V, same one we've been using all along) it's a 50's progression. 

We'd call this one "Vanilla Ice Cream Changes" because of the basic chords we're using... It may even be called "Vanilla Ice Cream Changes" if it was all 7 chords by those that consider all 7 chords to be a basic progression and typically would play something like this: Cmaj9 - A7 - Dm11 - G7b5b9. 

More on this (and chord progressions) in my "Secrets of the Chord Chain" books.

We'll be swapping the C for an Em; the F for a Dm and the G7 for a B diminished.

Here is is.
Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families
The vii Diminished is a great choice for the V chord substitute - you can use it all the time.

Now it's your turn - try some of these on your own... 

Pin me! And share this will all of your 'ukulele friends'

Chord Substitution Tricks: Chord Families

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