Gospel and R&B are such distinctive music genres that are instantly recognizable. Playing a song in a gospel or R&B style completely transforms the music.
This can sound intimidating and too advanced for many people. But there is actually a really simple way you can create that Gospel sound by using passing chords.
Passing chords are just chords that go ‘in-between’ the main chords of the song. They help you get from one chord to another. The trick is knowing what to play as a passing chord that will sound good.
We will be using Dominant 7th chords as our passing chords. Dominant 7th chords are just 7th chords with the 7th lowered a half-step. For example, C Dominant 7th is C-E-G-Bb. G Dominant 7th is G-B-D-F (no sharp). Dominant 7th chords are written with just a 7 in the music notation. So it would be a C7 or a G7.
This instantly gives us that sound we’re looking for. But how do we know WHICH dominant chord to play?
Finding The Right Chord
The answer, as I said, is easy. When we think about moving from one chord to another we have a starting chord and an ending chord. For example, moving from C major to A minor. C is our starting chord and Am is our ending chord.
To find our passing chord, we need to figure out the 5th note of the ENDING chord. That will be our dominant 7th chord! So in this example, the ending chord is Am. The 5th note of A is E. So E7 becomes our passing chord. The notes are E-G#-B-D.
Now I can hear you saying: But G# is NOT in the key of C?!
That’s true! We are actually playing outside the key signature here. But remember this is just a passing chord. It’s usually only one beat, and it is because it’s outside the key that it gives us that beautiful Gospel/R&B sound.
Let’s look at another chord change. Say we want to go from F major to G major. So G is the ending chord, and we need to find the 5th note of G, which is …. D.
So our passing chord will be D7. The notes are D-F#-A-C.
Personally, I like using these chords most when I’m moving from a major to a minor, or vice-versa, but it’s totally up to you where you put them in.
So try it out, and don’t forget to practice this in several different key signatures! One of the biggest traps I see is people staying in their favorite keys. Playing in all the keys is such a great way to speed up your learning and get more comfortable at the piano.
So that’s it! A super simple trick that will make you sound really impressive.