Jazz Piano Harmony: Chord Substitutions – A Tutorial

Jazz Piano
The Power of Chord Substitutions

Chord Substitutions are one of the most powerful concepts in harmony, be it pop, jazz or any other. Substitutions can take a very ordinary sounding chord progression and really make it into something with interesting harmony. With this video you will learn how to use chord substitutions in your own playing, whether your instrument is piano, guitar or any other!

What is a Chord Substitutions?

As its name implies, whenever you’re changing one chord for another chord or for another set of chords you’re performing a substitutions. The trick is of course knowing which chords to change and when, which is what this video is about.

An Example

Let’s look at the following simple chord progression:
| C / / / | G / / / |
(One chord per bar; the forward slash is used to indicate the preceding chord should be repeated on that beat.)
One common substitution, known as the 2-5 substitution, says you can precede any chord with a chord a perfect fourth below it (be it minor or major). The chord Dm (D minor) is a perfect fourth below G major, so we can write:
| C / / / | Dm / G / |
We’ve just substituted | Dm / G / | instead of | G / / / |.

Common Chord Substitutions

The video covers several common chord substitutions, including:
(1.) Chromatic substitution: any chord can be preceded by a chord one semitone above it (e.g., G can be substituted by Ab, G).
(2.) Diminished substitution: any dominant 7 chord can be replaced by a diminished 7 chord 4 semitones above it (e.g. Ab7 can be substituted by Cdim7).
(3.) 2-5 substitution: just covered above in the Example section.
(4.) Minor 4th substitution: The 5th degree of the scale can be switched with a minor 4th (e.g., G in the key of C can be substituted by Fm).
There are many other variations available, more than I can cover in a single video. I urge you to experiment and explore using your favorite search engine.

More About Chord Substitutions from Wikipedia:

In music theory, chord substitution is the advanced technique of using a chord in the place of another, often related, chord in a chord progression. Jazz musicians often substitute chords in the original progression to create variety and add interest to a piece. The substitute chord must have some harmonic quality and degree of function in common with the original chord, and often only differs by one or two notes. Scott DeVeaux describes a “penchant in modern jazz for harmonic substitution.”
For more, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_substitution

Related Videos/Playlists:

My channel has many additional piano tutorial videos which I welcome you to check out. The main channel page is:

Here’s an interesting video about voicing the 2-5-1 progression:

How to modulate between keys using the 2-5-1 progression:

Learn to play Bach’s Prelude in C major:

My playlist of inspiring piano harmony, chord and voicing tips and tricks:

(Inside you will find additional major chord voicing ideas for piano!)

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