By Duane Shinn
Gospel music is full of history and soul. It comes from a rich tradition of folk songs and church hymns. Gospel stays alive by remaining relevant, taking various aspects of the musical culture of the day and bringing those aspects into the spiritual fold. In modern gospel, jazz has been introduced into traditional songs. This has sparked the musical term "gospel chords."
Gospel chords are extended chords, such as the 9th, 11th and 13th. Maybe you're not familiar with these chords. If you're not sure how to form these chords, here's a brief lesson.
Start with a dominant seventh chord. This is a basic triad with a flatted seventh added. For example, in the key of C, the basic triad is C-E-G. This is a C major chord. In the C major scale, the seventh is a B, so the flatted seventh is a Bb. To get a dominant seventh, we'll add the Bb to the basic triad.
This chord can be played in many different ways. You can use the left hand for the root and leave the other three notes for the right hand. You can play all of the notes on one hand. You can switch them around to your heart's content. When you switch the notes of a chord around like these, you are using inversions.
To get the 9th, 11th, and 13th you'll have to add more notes to the chord. Since the notes of the octave are number 1-7, you must continue past one octave with numbering. The 9th tone is an octave above the 2nd; the 11th is an octave above the 4th, and the 13th is an octave above the 6th. This is where using different hands for different chord tones really comes in handy. A well-played gospel chord shouldn't sound cluttered.
Now that you have studied all those extended gospel chords, when are you going to use them? Now that you have studied all those extended gospel chords, where are you going to use them? To start with, any gospel number can be spiced up with some jazz gospel chords. Try them out and see what works for you.
Take a standard like The Old Rugged Cross. In the key of A, the progression is A, A7, D, B7, E, E7, A. To give it some flavor, substitute any of the dominant seventh chords with 9th, 11th or 13th chords. Experiment with them to see what suits your taste. Change the tonalities of the chords. Take the B7 and make it a Bm7. When they are worked into a simple progression, extended gospel chords make things a bit more musical. They give the song more depth and color, creating a rich sonic picture.
Gospel music is always evolving, taking different aspects of modern styles and incorporating them into a whole. Practice bringing some extended chords into old arrangements and see what sounds good to you. With a little practice and experimentation, you'll find yourself livening up any traditional praise song with a series of well-placed gospel chords.
Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"