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The Gospel Piano Chord Progression You Need to Know

Erskine Hawkins  /  Musical Genres / Aug 12

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Gospel music is a beautiful genre where the piano shines. But it can also be challenging. Fortunately, a little theory goes a long way! Understanding this gospel piano chord progression will help you play better, listen better, and appreciate gospel music even more.

This lesson is brought to you by Pianote Coach Erskine Hawkins, a professional keyboardist who has played with Eminem and Rihanna. To explore the full course and see if it’s right for you, sign up for a free trial of Pianote.

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Gospel Progression: The Root Movement Hotline

There’s a gospel chord progression that you’ll run into again and again. Try to remember it like a phone number:

📞 1 4 7 3 6 2 5 1

What do these numbers mean? They refer to scale degrees. For example, in C Major, “1” is C, the first degree of the C Major scale. “4” is F, the fourth degree of the scale. Build chords on these notes, and you’ll end up with a series of diatonic chords in C Major.

Sidebar: Chord Theory

If terms like “diatonic” and “scale degree” are new to you, take a look at these resources:

Chords are the foundation to all Western music, from classical to jazz to pop. If you’re a total beginner, you may also want to check out Chord Hacks, a free four-part video course on getting the most out of chords.

🎹🧠 THEORY TIME: THE CIRCLE OF FIFTHS PROGRESSION If the Root Movement Hotline feels familiar, you’re on to something! It is very similar to moving counter-clockwise around the Circle of Fifths. This progression is found everywhere: in classical music like Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto and in jazz standards like “Fly Me to the Moon.” Learn more about it here.

Making Things Sound “Gospel”

Now that we have our base progression, it’s time to make thing sound more distinctly gospel!

Sub In 7th Chords

We can do this by stacking an extra note to our diatonic triads, creating 7th chords which are four-note chords. These chords sound “jazzier” thanks to the tension added by the extra note.

Chord Qualities That Sound Gospel

Chord qualities include major, minor, dominant, and diminished. They’re characteristics that fundamentally affect a chord’s sound.

You can experiment with substituting different chord qualities in your 14736251 progression. For example, Erskine uses a major III chord. He also uses a G9sus4 in place of the V chord. This can also be visualized as a IV-over-V chord.

Need a refresher on chord qualities? Check out How to Play Piano Chords, which lists common chord qualities and formulas on how to build them.

Take Your Progression to the Next Level

First, get the basic root movement hotline progression down pat. Then, start experimenting with different chord qualities, chord extensions, and passing tones. Start slow and add new elements bit by bit. If you need some inspiration, check out some of our other gospel content:


Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note.

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