Category Archives: Theory

Moods and Tones of the Season

Moods and Tones of the Season

Season Mood & Tone & Emotions & Key Words Chord Types A Good Hymn Example A Good Contemporary Song Example
Advent Anticipation Expectation Hope
Promise Repentance Light Waiting
Diminished Suspended 4 Sevenths Come, O Long Expected Jesus Behold the Lamb (Shaun Starbuck)

Christmas Eve

Silence Reverence Peace
Major Suspended Silent Night Glory in the Highest (Chris Tomlin)
Christmas Day Celebration Joy
Big Party Excitement
Major Power 5 Joy to the World All Creation Sing (Steve Fee)
Epiphany Ministry Baptism Major 7 How Lovely Shines the Morning Star Offering – Christmas Version (Baloche)
Transfiguration Glory Light Wow Major
Diminished Add 9
Down from the Mount of Glory Speak O Lord(Getty & Townend)
Ash Wednesday Repentance Sorrow Introspective Minor
Minor 7
O Gracious Lord, with Love Draw Near The Scandal of Grace Hillsongs)
Lent Sins
Minor (mid-week) Major (Sundays) O Sacred Head Now Wounded The Power of the Cross (Getty & Townend)
Palm Sunday Praise
Humility Hosanna
Major Augmented All Glory, Laud and Honor Hosanna – Praise is Rising (Baloche & Brown)
Maundy Thursday Love Communion Fellowship Major ‘Twas on that Dark, that Doleful Night Broken and Poured Out (Kevin Bueltmann)
Good Friday Funeral Despair
Sorrow Somber Sadness Darkness Tearful
Minor 6
Minor add 9 Suspended Diminished Seven – Minor9
Oh, Darkest Woe How Deep the Father’s Love for Us (Getty & Townend)
Easter Celebration Wedding
Big Party Excitement Happiness Energetic Upbeat Hallelujah Alleluia
Power 5
Major 7
Christ the Lord is Risen Today Christ is Risen (Matt Maher)
Good Shepherd Sunday Protection Solitude Serenity Tranquility Peace Major 7 The King of Love My Shepherd Is You Never Let Go (Matt Redman)
Ascension Wow
Major A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing Glorious (Baloche & Brown)
Pentecost Inspiring Spiritual Gifts Prayers Major
Suspended 2
Hail Thee, Festival Day Where the Spirit of the Lord Is (Tomlin & Nockels)
Reformation Boldness Confidence
The Church Scriptures Lutheran Traditional Liturgical
Power 5
A Mighty Fortress Mighty Fortress (Shust & Baloche)
End Times Fear
Diminished Augmented Add 9
Forever with the Lord A Mighty Fortress (Nockels)
Thanksgiving Thanks Blessings Major Now Thank We all Our God My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness (Getty & Townend)


Most people, even non-musicians know that major chords sound happy and that minor chords sound sad but it goes deeper than that. Much deeper.

For example,

A minor sixth chord is the saddest chord on earth. I am quite sure that this chord will not exist in heaven.  It sounds of loneliness, separation, abandonment and heartbreak.

An Augmented chord is used to express astonishment, amazement, surprise, magic and transformation.  Substitute it into a Transfiguration song!

How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series

How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series

I don’t think there are many Christians, even those who use nothing but Contemporary music, that doubt or question the depth and the beauty of the lyrics contained in our wealth of hymns. But sometimes, they are difficult to comprehend or are just too musically foreign to those that we are Called to reach.

There is a process to modernize these hymns and to put chords to them but it’s not easy to do and there are a lot of subtleties that only come with experience and knowledge. In this two-part series, I will try to address one basic approach to do this.

In this first installment, we will consider a step-by-step approach written for a beginner’s level and the second installment will show an example where these types of techniques have been used successfully.

So let’s start…

Step One – Put Chords to it

Here is the process you will need to add your own chords:

  1. Identify the key signature by looking at the number of sharps and flats.

No sharps or flats – key of C or Am
1 Sharp – key of G or Em
2 Sharps – key of D or Bm
3 Sharps – key of A or F#m
4 Sharps – key of E or C#m
5 Sharps – key of B or G#m (rarely used)
6 Sharps – key of F# or D#m (rarely used)
1 flat – key of F or Dm
2 flats – key of Bb or Gm
3 flats – key of Eb or Cm
4 flats – key of Ab or Fm
5 flats – key of Db or Bbm
6 flats – key of Gb or Ebm (rarely used)

  1. Know the typical chords used in each key signature (these are referred to as the harmonized scales):
MAJOR SCALE   R   -   2   -    3    4   -   5   -   6   -   7 
   C  maj.:   C   -   Dm   -   Em   F   -   G   -   Am  -  rarely
   Db maj.:   Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bbm -  used
   D  maj.:   D   -   Em   -   F#m  G   -   A   -   Bm
   Eb maj.:   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm   Ab  -   Bb  -   Cm
   E  maj.:   E   -   F#m  -   G#m  A   -   B   -   C#m
   F  maj.:   F   -   Gm   -   Am   Bb  -   C   -   Dm
   F# maj.:   F#  -   G#m  -   A#m  B   -   C#  -   D#m
   G  maj.:   G   -   Am   -   Bm   C   -   D   -   Em
   Ab maj.:   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm   Db  -   Eb  -   Fm
   A  maj.:   A   -   Bm   -   C#m  D   -   E   -   F#m
   Bb maj.:   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm   Eb  -   F   -   Gm 
   B  maj.:   B   -   C#m  -   D#m  E   -   F#  -   G#m 

MINOR SCALE   R   -    2      b3  -   4    -       5      b6  -   b7
   A  min.:   Am   -   Bdim   C   -   Dm   -   Em or E    F
   Bb min.:   Bbm  -   Cbdim  Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm or F    Gb
   B  min.:   Bm   -   C#dim  D   -   Em   -   F#m or F#  G 
   C  min.:   Cm   -   Ddim   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm or G    Ab
   C# min.:   C#m  -   D#dim  E   -   F#m  -   G#m or G#  A
   D  min.:   Dm   -   Edim   F   -   Gm   -   Am or A    Bb
   Eb min.:   Ebm  -   Fdim   Gb  -   Abm  -   Bbm or Bb (B)
   E  min.:   Em   -   F#dim  G   -   Am   -   Bm or B    C 
   F  min.:   Fm   -   Gdim   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm or C    Db 
   F# min.:   F#m  -   G#dim  A   -   Bm   -   C#m or C#  D
   G  min.:   Gm   -   Adim   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm or D    Eb 
   G# min.:   G#m  -   A#dim  B   -   C#m  -   D#m or D#  E
  1. Know what each line and space represent on the treble and bass clefs. (See below)

Image source:

4. Now the hard part. If you know the key signature by the number of sharps and flats (item 1 above), then you know the basic chords to look for (item 2), and now you should be able to identify all the notes in each grouping of chords on your sheet music by using the chart in item 3. You will also need to know the notes that comprise each chord. Here’s a little help:

C# (or Db)….. C#-F-G# or (Db-F-Ab)
C#m (or Dbm).C#-E-G# or (Db-E-Ab)
Ebm …………Eb-Gb-Bb
Em………….. E-G-B
Fm………….. F-Ab-C
F# (or Gb)……F#-A#-C#
F#m (or Gbm).F#-A-C#
G…………… G-B-D

5. Many hymns that don’t have guitar chords do so for a reason, and typically it is because every note in the melody line theoretically requires a different guitar chord. If this is the case, your song will sound too choppy with a chord change on every beat. Songs that lend themselves well to guitar accompaniment typically have a chord change at the start of the measures or sometimes at the mid-point of the measures. For example, a song in 4/4 time might have a chord change before the first and maybe the third beats. Even if you’re hymn requires a unique chord for each note in the melody line – don’t do it! If 4/4 time, stick to the chord changes on the first and third beats. Also, listen for the “strong beats” and put the chord changes on those particular notes.

6. When you have finished putting chords to a musical piece, sit back and look at the song in its entirety, as opposed to the note-by-note study that you have just finished. Look for overriding chord patterns or progressions. Sometimes, you can delete certain chords that you have identified and use fewer chords that fit into an overall theme for the song. It also sometimes helps to replace the chord names with Roman numerals and then to look for repeating patterns.

This technique should get you started. There are other more advanced issues such as numbered chords (C2, C5, Csus, C7, etc.) and slash chords (D/A, D/F#, D/G, etc.) but these can come later.

Step Two – Consider adding a Chorus and maybe a Bridge

The Chorus:
Most hymns only have verses. Lots of verses. These verses tell a story. Sometimes it’s nice to respond to these verses with either a chorus or refrain and sometimes it’s nice to alter the musical accompaniment with a bridge.

When writing a chorus, think of it as an answer to the story being told in the verse. Also, the chorus is usually sung a bit higher than the verse and with more energy. Choruses are usually the “hook” of the song; they are the part that people will remember and sing throughout the upcoming week. The chorus will have a stronger chord progression than the more fragile verses and the chorus will typically use more of the tonic key notes than in the verses. Choruses can also talk about feelings, or how you should feel about the story being told in the verses. A good example of a hymn with a great chorus that you undoubtedly know is “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Another good example would be Chris Tomlin’s recent adaptation of “Amazing Grace” with his iconic chorus “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior, has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending love. Amazing Grace.” Wow!

The Bridge:
The bridge offers melodic, lyrical and even harmonic variation. Bridges can be a welcome addition to hymns because the verses and even the chorus can be very repetitive. Oftentimes, bridges in songs written in major keys start with a minor chord and vice versa, and they almost never start with the tonic chord.

Next you will need a formula for the structure of your new hymn. Consider something like:
Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3, Chorus, Bridge, Verse 4, Chorus, End

But there are unlimited combinations.

Step Three – Consider updating the lyrics

Read through the hymn lyrics. If they are in our CW hymnbook, they will be pretty awesome. However, some hymns use too many churchy words, too many archaic words, phrases no longer in use, old English, phrases that just didn’t translate well into English from the original language the hymn was written in and what I’ll call reverse poetry. Keep all these things if the hymn sings well and makes sense to you. Only make changes if the lyrics require you to research and study them immensly before you get the picture. Our hymnal has actually already come a long way. There were massive revisions between our current hymnal and it’s predecessor so you might be OK in this regard.

If you change lyrics, make sure that you do not change the message, the rhythm, or the meter (the number of syllables per measure). You may find a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus to be helpful in this regard.

Step Four – Consider adding a Musical Turn Around

Most hymns just seem to run into a musical brick wall at the end of a verse and then awkwardly go back to the beginning. Update this! Add a short musical turn-around, perhaps just a measure or two, but find a way to musically tie the ending back to the beginning.

I know that many of you reading this post are in my denomination and have probably heard the band known as “Branches.” They have a great example of a musical turn around in their arrangement of “How Great Thou Art.” Just listen to Andy Braun and the band use a few simple chords to turn the end of each verse into a transition to get back to the beginning and you will know exactly what I am talking about. Braun’s turn-around makes an incredible hymn even more incredible and that’s the point of this effort.

Step Five – Consider Jazzing it Up

There are many ways to do this. Consider modulating the last verse up or down a whole step, or even a minor third, depending on the mood of the song. Or, take an instrumental break in between verses or simply add an intro. Another idea would be to use some chord extensions like ninths, elevenths, thirteenths or even major sevenths. Another thing you can do is add a few slash chords with inherent bass runs to connect the chords together.

Step Six – Say a Prayer of Thanks; you’ve made it.

Whew! That was a lot of work; but that hymn you’re considering redoing is worth it.

Tomorrow we will consider an example. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” that was redone by musician Michael Schroeder in 2010.

The 9, 11 and 13 Chords

The 9, 11 and 13 Chords

Guitar Level: Intermediate

The 9, 11 and 13 chords are complex chords that are often times used in jazz.  However, they can become beautiful tools to color your worship music if you know a little about them, and how to form them on the guitar neck.

Let’s use the key of D as an example.

Here’s the D scale:

D         E          F#        G         A         B         C#       D
1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8
8         9          10        11        12        13        14        15

The numbers under the notes in the scale are important for this lesson.

The Seven Chord:

The common D7 chord is constructed as follows: 1-3-5-b7.

So the D7 chord is made up of these notes: D-F#-A-C and can be played as finger pattern: x-5-7-5-7-5 with your first finger barred at the fifth fret and the root is on the A or fifth string.

You might be able to substitute either a D9, a D11 or a D13 chord in place of any D7 used in a song because these complex chords contain all the notes in the D7 chord; they just have added extension notes above the D7 chord.  Ultimately, your ear has to be the guide on whether to substitute or not.

The Nine Chord:

The nine chord is constructed by adding a 9 to the 7 chord: 1-3-5-b7-9.  So the D9 is: D-F#-A-C-E and here’s a great way to play it: x54555.

The Eleven Chord:

The eleven chord is constructed by adding a 9 and an 11 to the 7 chord: 1-3-5-b7-9-11.  So the D11 is: D-F#-A-C-E-G and here’s a great way to play it: x55555.  In practice however, some musicians will drop the third, in this example the F#.  In the final analysis, your ear must be the judge.

The Thirteen Chord:

The thirteen chord is constructed by adding a 9 and a 13 to the 7 chord: 1-3-5-b7-9-13.  So the D13 is: D-F#-A-C-E-B and here’s a great way to play it: x54557.

There is no such thing as a “10” or “12” chord.  Once you know the D7, D9, D11 and D13 chords in the positions indicated, you can move the patterns up or down the neck to form all the other complex chord shapes.

A Major to Minor Chord Trick

A Major to Minor Chord Trick

Guitar Level: Advanced

English: Circle of fifths Italiano: Circolo de...
Image via Wikipedia

The circle of fifths tells us that certain major keys are related to certain minor keys.  For example, the key of C major and A minor have no sharps or flats.  Similarly, the keys of G major and E minor both have only one sharp – the F# note and the keys of D major and B minor share the same two sharps.  This also implies that the chords are related and that they often occur together in many songs.

There is an amazing chord trick for guitarists to change quickly and easily between these related chords.  Let’s use the change from Bm to D as an example.  It only requires moving one finger.  Here’s the pattern:
Bm 224432     (first finger barred at the second fret)

And here’s what most beginning and even intermediate guitarists don’t know.  You can change this Bm chord to a D major chord by only moving one finger – the pinky.  Here’s the D chord (it’s really a D/F# if all 6 strings are played):
D 254232        (first finger barred at the second fret)

The trick is to take your pinky off the third string, forth fret, and put it on the fifth string, fifth fret; which by the way, is the root for the new chord.  The beautiful thing is that the new note that’s left bare after taking your pinky off the third string is a good note contained in the new chord.  You might notice that this new chord shape is really the C chord shape moved up the neck.

This is possible because these related chords only differ by one note.  In the above example, the Bm chord consists of the notes B, D and F#, and the D major chord is D, F# and A – the only difference being the change from the B to an A.

This is important to know because these related chords often occur together in many songs so having a quick and easy change is a great tool to have in your musical repertoire.

What’s more, this chord shape can be moved up the neck to learn the change between all the related major/minor chords.

Here they are:
Am – C/E:      002210 to 032010
Bbm – Db/F    113321 to 143321
Bm – D/F#      224432 to 254432
Cm – Eb/G      335543 to 365543
Dbm – E/G#    446654 to 476654
Dm – F/A       557765 to 587765
Ebm – F#/Ab  668876 to 698876
Em – G/B       779987 to 7-10-9-9-8-7
Fm – Ab/C      8-8-10-10-9-8 to 8-11-10-10-9-8
F#m – A/C#   9-9-11-11-10-9 to 9-12-11-11-10-9
Gm – Bb/D     10-10-12-12-11-10 to 10-13-12-12-11-10
Abm – B/Eb    11-11-13-13-12-11 to 11-14-13-13-12-11
Am – C/E       002210 to 032010

The common chords are shown boldface in the above list.

This was a pretty heavy duty lesson that results in an often neglected chord shape, that’s an inversion, and has a nice sounding third as its base note, so kudos to those who followed and whose pinkys are strong enough to reach this new chord shape.  Use it to God’s glory!

Do More than Tap Your Foot

I have mentioned in the past that timing is critical when it comes to accompanying congregational music.  Bad timing is the biggest reason why a particular song might not be working in a live setting.  Bad timing separates beginners from seasoned artists.

One of the first things I look for in any song that I play is the time signature and the tempo.  I am also a foot tapper.  But the thing is, I do more than tap my foot to keep myself in time and in the groove.  If I am playing in 2/4 or 4/4; I will tap my foot either “forward, back, back, back or forward, back, forward, back.”  Literally, my foot not only taps in time but it also moves forward or backward depending on the time signature.  This helps me to keep the groove.  For ¾ or 6/8 time, I will tap “forward, back, back, forward, back, back.”  When my foot is moving forward – I emphasize the beat, when it is going back I do not emphasize.  It’s like a clock.  Sometimes while practicing at home I will even place a tambourine on the floor in the forward position so that my foot plays the percussion on the emphasized beats.

This trick may or may not work for you but the point is that you need to find something to keep you in the groove.  Your band and the congregation will be appreciative if you do.

Magic with the SUS4 Chord

Magic with the SUS4 Chord

A suspended 4 chord (sus4) is formed by taking a major chord and replacing the third with a forth.  The formula is therefore 1,4,5.

There’s a really neat trick to play these.  We will use the F chord as an example but the pattern is easily moved up the neck to form all the other chords which will be shown later.

The trick involves using only a triad and adding just one finger to change the chord from the major to the sus4.

Here’s the example using the F major chord:

Play the major F triad as follows:

Your third finger should be on the root F note (forth string, third fret).
Your second finger should be on the A note (third string, second fret).
Your first finger should be on the C note (second string, first fret).

Just strike the three strings that are covered by your fingers.  It should sound like a nice crisp F chord.

Next use your pinky to cover the third string third fret.  This changes the A note to a Bb which changes the third into a forth.

Practice changing quickly from the F to the Fsus4 by just adding that pinky.  Keep the other fingers in place behind it.  Just play those three covered strings and keep practicing the change:
|| F / / / | Fsus4 / / / | F / / / | Fsus4 / / / | F / / / | Fsus4 / / / | F / / / ||

Play it as quickly and evenly as you can.

Now that you’ve got that down, move it up the neck to play all the other chords.  Here’s the fret patterns:

F to Fsus4:      xx321x   to  xx331x
F# to F#sus4:  xx432x   to  xx442x
G to Gsus4:     xx543x   to  xx553x
Ab to Absus4: xx654x   to  xx664x
A to Asus4:     xx765x   to  xx775x
Bb to Bbsus4: xx876x   to  xx886x
B to Bsus4:     xx987x   to  xx997x
C to Csus4:     xx10-9-8x   to  xx10-10-8x
Db to Dbsus4: xx11-10-9x   to  xx11-11-9x
D to Dsus4:     xx12-11-10x   to  xx12-12-10x
Eb to Ebsus4:  xx13-12-11x   to  xx13-13-11x
E to Esus4:      xx14-13-12x   to  xx14-14-12x

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Arpeggio Scale Pattern

Arpeggio Scale Pattern

Guitar Level: Intermediate

Most beginning guitarists start playing solos by memorizing a few pentatonic scale patterns and using them over a chord progression.  This is actually a really nice place to start but when playing solos over a chord progression; it is helpful to know which notes to dwell on; to resolve to, and to sustain with a little vibrato.  These “sweet notes” are usually found from the notes that are contained within the root chord that defines the song key.   

For example, if you are playing a song in the key of G, the arpeggio pattern will contain the three notes that make up the G chord, which are G, B and D.  These notes will almost always sound great when played against a song in the key of G.  So the next step is to find these notes within a pentatonic pattern.  A typical G pentatonic scale is shown in the following figure.  As you experiment with solos in this key, concentrate on the arpeggio chord tones.  Resolve to them, add vibrato on them and consider the other notes in the pentatonic scale as passing notes.  In other words, use these notes to get to the G, B and D notes.  This will improve your solo playing and enable your solo to be more melodic. 

For a little variety and further practice, I have also included arpeggio patterns for the G7 chord and the G add 9.  Dwelling on these notes will offer more sound possibilities and color to your playing. 

Here’s two tips to help you to remember the arpeggio notes: 

  1. Look at the arpeggio notes in the figure again.  Now visual two chord finger patterns on top of these notes.  First consider the open G chord (320033 or 320003); you will find these notes in the arpeggio pattern.  Next, consider the F chord moved up two frets; it’s now a G chord formed as follows: 355433 with a bar at the third fret.  These make up the rest of the arpeggio notes in the pattern.  This is how you can recall and remember the arpeggio notes.
  2. You can move this arpeggio pattern up one fret and play in the key of Ab, moving up two frets would be in the key of A, three frets is Bb, etc.  The pattern is movable so that you can play against any key signature.

Climbing the D Scale with Chords

Climbing the D Scale with Chords

Guitar Level: Intermediate 

Here’s some alternative ways to play some interesting sounding chords in the key of D (two sharps) that employ the use of triads and a D as the base note for each chord.  This is actually called a “pedal tone” in musical lingo and it can produce some really nice sound effects.  Try strumming these chords, finger picking them, or individual note arpeggios for different sounds. 

D Scale:
D E F# G A B C# D

Typical Chords used in the key of D:
D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#dim

Pedal Tones:
D                     xx0232
Em/D               xx0453
F#m/D             xx0675
G/D                 xx0787
A/D                 xx0-9-10-9
Bm/D              xx0-11-12-10
C#dim/D         xx0-12-14-12
D                     xx0-14-15-14

Try these chords the next time that you are accompanying a song in the key of D, even if the /D is not called for, and especially if you have two guitarists and the other player is covering the common chords.