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How to Spice Up Chord Progressions

Question by Kendy

Hi Mike!

How can I spice up a chord progression?

For example, in key of G the chord progression is: Gmaj7, Am7, Bm7. You play a Gmaj7 then your going to go the next chord, Am7.

How can I put an extra chord before going to another chord? Because here in our place, there was a great musician he likes to spice up chord progressions. Like if the chord progressions is simple strumming like G, D, C. he will make that progression not boring.

He will add an extra chord before going to a next chord. What is he doing? Is that kind of style only? or there is a lesson/theory for that?


There are a number of ways to spice up your chord progressions.

One way is to use diminished chords as links between two chords a whole step apart.

For example, using your Gmaj progression...

Gmaj / G#dim7 / Am7


Gmaj / A#dim7 / Am7

Another way is to slide into the chord from the fret below or above.

All you do is play exactly the same chord shape, but a fret lower/higher and slide into the next chord from there.

For example...

Gmaj / G#m7 -slide- Am7


Gmaj / A#m7 -slide- Am7

Click to hear

Another cool way of spicing up chord progressions is to use the scale of the key you're in and literally "borrow" parts of it to create phrasing around your destination chord.

This might sound complicated, but you'll naturally explore this concept once you learn to connect chords with scales. See the below video for the "big picture"...

So what that guy you mentioned might be doing is moving between different inversions of these chords by mapping out a related scale on the fretboard and creating interesting phrases from that.

A good knowledge of how chord inversions are formed will help with this.

A simplified version of this method is to simply play chords from the same scale as "passing" chords between the others.

For example, the G major chord scale is as follows...

Gmaj / Am / Bm / Cmaj / Dmaj / Em / F#dim

Instead of moving from Gmaj straight to Am7, I could use any of the other chords from that key to insert before the chord change...

Gmaj / (Cmaj7 / Bm7) / Am7

Click to hear

These passing chords would most likely be played quicker, say in double the time of the regular chord changes.

Also, try venturing outside the diatonic scale and adding in random chords between the regular changes.

For example, just playing around now I came up with this (passing chords in brackets)...

Gmaj / Am7 / (A#m7) / Bm7 / E9 / (Eb7) /

Am7 / (Fmaj7 / Eb7) / D9 / Ab7#11 / Gmaj

Click to hear

Notice how I use the Ab7 chord just before resolving back to Gmaj. This is a typical jazz embellishment - a leading dominant 7th chord one semitone (fret) above the tonic chord.

A lot of these passing chord movements are chromatic, meaning the regular changes are linked by chords a semitone higher or lower.

Keeping the inserted chords tight around the regular chords will help you change quickly and cleanly.

Hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration!

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Playing lead over non diatonic chord progressions
By: Jake

Hey Mike. I'm interested in playing progressions that venture away from the typical diatonic sequences. I'm just not sure how I can play lead over them. I'm guessing I have a few options.
1. Playing the scale over the corresponding diatonic progression (i.e Am pentatonic over Am chord scale), adding a non diatonic chord (i.e. Bb), and just judging by ear what notes to play over it (still using Am pent scale)
2. Changing scales between chord progressions (i.e. Am > Bb progression = A minor scale > Bb Major scale). With this option, im guessing the best way to smoothly transition is to look for common notes between the scales

I probably need to study arpeggios and modes as well to get a better grasp on this? I've heard of a term called modal interchange, as well as approaching non diatonic progressions as a series of key changes.
Love this site man thanks a lot :)

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