Understanding Chord Substitutions On The Guitar

Chord Substitutions For Guitar

Learn how, in some cases, chord substitutions can be used in place of the primary chord to produce fresh and interesting guitar sounds.

Fresh Sounds Through Chord Substitutions

    In this lesson from Modal Harmony Workshop, we learn how we can use chord substitutions to create new guitar chord colors by placing the appropriate diatonic chord in the place of the primary chord. This is especially relevant to jazz, as jazz chord substitutions are very common.


    We will need to go into some theory here, but don't worry if you miss something. Just go on and pay the most attention to the practical application 💪😎🎸.


    Many times it's easier to first see these things in action (watch the video below). Then it becomes much easier for you to come back and fully understand the theory 👍.

Chord Substitution Example

    What happens when a song calls for an Am7 chord, but you play a C chord instead? Is it a mistake? Let's look at the chord degrees of these two chords to figure it out:

  • Am7 = 1 - b3 - 5 - b7 = A - C - E - G
  • C = 1 - 3 - 5 = C - E - G

    The notes of the C chord will work just fine for Am7. It's like choosing to play degrees b3 - 5 - b7 and skipping the A. The A is obviously an important note in Am7, but it can be implied by the musical context, or played by another player in the band.


    So you can use all your C chord voicings as a chord substitution, in addition to your regular Am7 voicings. This gives you more voicing options, allowing you to make your rhythm guitar playing more interesting.

Chord Degrees For Am7 and C
Chord Degrees For Am7 and C

Video: Chord Substitutions For Guitar

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