Learning to play black gospel piano chords can be spiritually rewarding, especially if you are employed as the piano player or organist in a gospel style church. This style of music really gets people in the mood to move, shout, and express themselves with great conviction.
It’s a good idea to understand basic chord structures before you begin to study this specialized genre. If you are just beginning to learn piano, or your skills are limited, I’d recommend you play in the key of C because, for keyboardists, it is the simplest key to master.
First, you need to know some basic terms when referring to chords. The key you are playing in is the tonic. The fourth step up in that scale is the subdominant. The fifth step up in that scale is the dominant.
The three chord progression of C, F and G will come in handy when beginning to play spiritual music. You will want to add 7ths as well as extended chords such as 9ths and 11ths. Gospel music is very expressive to match the enthusiasm of the preacher and the congregation. Compare the sounds of the two following examples of black gospel piano chords. They are shown here as Bass/Chord:
C/C F/F C/C G/G C/C
C/C E/C9 F/F7 C/C
I hope you’ll agree, the second example is much more inspiring!
Another device used in gospel music has you matching the bass to the chord; then on the fourth beat, you play the subdominant chord, and then back to the tonic chord. It is difficult to describe in words, but once you hear it, you’ll recognize it. Mix those in once in awhile, but don’t overuse this particular device.
Finally, take your gospel playing to the next level with what is commonly called preaching chords or preacher chords. This is a complex, advanced skill but can be accomplished with memorization of certain elaborate chord progressions. Preacher chords are used when the preacher is in one of his emotional moments; his sentences are more like poetry, he often moans or grunts at the end of each phrase, and the excitement really builds. Your preacher chords are played after each of these phrases to create an audible form of punctuation. They are not intended to be played while the preacher is speaking, but rather to fill in the gaps.
Here is a relatively simple chord progression you can learn to back up a preacher. For this example, I’ll use the key of C.
Your first chord is the tonic 7th (C7). Play the first inversion (begin your chord on the E key). The bass is C.
Your second chord is the subdominant 7th (F7). You don’t need to move much here; begin the chord on E flat. The bass is F.
Now play the tonic diminished. Your thumb doesn’t move, so build the chord from there. The bass is the tonic’s diminished 5th note, or Gb.
The fourth chord is the subdominant again, but this time, play it over the dominant bass, G.
Repeat this progression, or vary it. How about that? You’ve got a great start to your side career of playing black gospel piano chords!
Further Gospel Piano Resources:
- GospelKeys 101 – Basics and Fundamentals
- GospelKeys 202 – Mastering Worship Chords
- GospelKeys 300 – Exploring Praise Songs
- GospelKeys 500 – Experiencing Up-tempo Shouting Music
- GospelKeys Xtreme – Contemporary and Urban Worship
- GospelKeys Urban Pro 600
- GospelKeys Organ Series 350 & 450