Chord Substitutions

Now that we have taken a look at some basic music theory over the last several weeks, I’d like to finish out this mini-series by taking a quick look at a great trick we can employ to add both creativity and variety to any piece: Chord Substitution.

Chord Substitution is the use of a chord in the place of another related chord in any chord progression. The substituted chord must share some harmonic quality and degree of function with the original chord in order for it to properly take the original chord’s place. For this reason, chord substitutions often only differ by one or two notes from the original chord. For example, we can easily substitute an A minor chord (A C E) for a C major Chord (C E G) because both chords share 2 of their 3 notes between C and E. The beauty of chord substitution is this technique allows us to change the mood of the song by substituting major chords for minor chords, surprise the listener with an unexpected chord change and even lead the listener to a key change through chord substitution.

Theoretically, any chord can be substituted for another chord as long as the new chord supports the melody. However, only a few options will sound musically and stylistically appropriate for the given song. This all depends on factors such as whether or not you are staying in key, changing the harmonic structure of the song or creating a new harmony altogether.

The beauty of chord substitution is it forces you to start paying attention to the underlying notes in different chords so you can be on the lookout for a creative substitution. The more you start to fully comprehend basic music theory, the better you will be at creating songs from scratch as you will be better equipped with the necessary tools to create your vision.

I hope this mini-series on music theory has been helpful and inspires you to dig in and really explore these concepts more on your own. Stay tuned for new posts and we’ll see you next time!