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Intro to Gospel Piano Chords (Progressions, Transitions & More)

Brett Ziegler  /  Musical Genres / Mar 29

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If you want to learn gospel piano chords, transitions, and other ways to get that distinct gospel sound, this lesson is for you!

Gospel is a big genre and this is a big topic, so this lesson is just an overview of all the possibilities we have at our fingertips.

We’re lucky to have Brett Ziegler lead us through this gospel chords piano lesson. In this post, we’ll take a standard pop progression and add a number of transformations to make it sound more “gospel-y.” You’ll learn how to:

  1. Play the basic progression first
  2. Insert a 2-5-1 transition by modulating into another key
  3. Add an augmented secondary dominant chord
  4. Use a bridging half-diminished chord
  5. End strong with a 4-over-5 walk-down

Gospel Piano Chords: What to Know First

Gospel piano isn’t for the faint of heart! And you need some basic knowledge about chords. So, if this lesson feels confusing, check out these free lessons:

  1. How to Play Any Chord (Major, Minor, 7ths)
  2. All About Chord Progressions
  3. Diatonic Chords, Explained
  4. The Nashville Number System for Piano (Beginner’s Guide)

Also check out Chord Hacks, a free four-part bootcamp to master chording basics.

The Basic Progression

First things first: let’s take a look at the chord progression we’re working with. To keep things simple, we’ll be in the key of G Major (one sharp – F#) and in common time (4/4).

Here’s the basic progression. The dots indicate quarter note beats. Since we’re in common time, remember that there are four quarter notes per measure:

Gospel piano chord base progression: G D Em D C D G with I V vi V IV V I on top, separated by bar lines. Common time 4/4 and four dots representing four beats per measure.

Practice the “base” progression a few times on its own to get a hang of it.

Once you’re ready, let’s add some fluff to make it more “gospel-y.”

The 2-5-1 (ii7-V7-I) Gospel Transition

The first thing we’ll add is a ii7-V7-I transition right before the C (IV) chord.

Think of this as “setting up” that C chord. To do this, we’ll modulate (change keys) into C Major temporarily.

In C Major, ii7 is Dm7 and V7 is G7. So instead of playing just D, we’ll substitute Dm7 and G7 into that measure. Like this:

Gospel piano chord progression with added 2-5-1 transition in red.

The 2-5-1 progression is very common in gospel and jazz piano. You can learn more about it here.

What makes this transition sound interesting is because we move into a new key and, consequently, play an F-natural instead of an F-sharp in those Dm7 and G7 chords.

Learn Gospel Piano With Erskine Hawkins

If you’re joining us in April, you’re in luck. This month, our featured coach is Erskine Hawkins, a world-class pianist who has directed music for Chrisette Michele and Zendaya. He’s also toured with Eminem and Rihanna, but Erskine’s heart lies in gospel music. Today, he plays for his church community, where music changes lives.

Erskine’s lessons will be available forever in the Members’ Area of Pianote, so consider joining the Pianote family! Learn more about Erskine here.

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Adding an Augmented 7th Chord

Now let’s add another set-up chord, this time before the vi chord (Em) at the beginning of the progression.

Again, we’ll modulate briefly into the chord that’s being set up. Meaning, we’ll change keys into Em. The fancy word for this is secondary dominants.

The V7 chord of Em is B7. To make things sound even more gospel-y, Brett uses an augmented (V+7) chord. That means we’ll be playing Baug7.

Our progression now looks like this:

Gospel piano chord progression with added Baug7 in red.

“Augmented” means we raise the fifth of the chord (F#) up another half-step. This is also known as double-sharping (or augmenting) that note.

Bridging With a Half-Diminished 7th Chord

Adding chromaticism can make a progression sound more gospel. We can do this with our progression by bridging the C chord to the D chord with a half-diminished chord called C#m7b5 (#IVo7).

A half-diminished 7th chord consists of a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. Our chord can either be called “C#m7 half-diminished” or “C#m7 flat 5.” You can learn more about the different types of seventh chords here.

Gospel piano chord progression with added C#m7b5 in red.

You can hear this as “walking up” chromatically from C to D. 

The 4-Over-5 Ending

We’ve walked up. Now it’s time to walk back down. 

We can do this by playing the IV chord (our C chord) over the fifth note of the scale (D). This is essentially a slash chord.

Gospel piano chord progression with added 4-over-5 in red.

All the Gospel Chords and Transitions Together

Whoo…that’s a lot of transitions.

It’s time to see how everything sounds together! As a refresher, here’s our original progression:

Gospel piano chord base progression: G D Em D C D G with I V vi V IV V I on top, separated by bar lines. Common time 4/4 and four dots representing four beats per measure.

And here’s our progression with the 2-5-1 progression, the augmented 7th, the half-diminished flat 5 bridge, and the 4-over-5 ending. We’ve highlighted the added parts in red:

Gospel piano chord progression with all new parts in red.

We hope you enjoyed this introduction to gospel piano! To access the complete course with Brett, consider joining Pianote as a member. Happy practicing!

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Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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