Chords Lesson

Common Pop Chord Substitutions

Difficulty: beginner

The first, fourth, and fifth chords in a major key have some easy-to-remember diatonic (same key) substitutions that almost always sound great. When we're playing major key popular music, try these:

1 - Instead of Major, try 2, add9, sus, or add4

4 - Instead of Major, try 2, or add9

5 - Instead of Major, try sus, or add4

Simple, but powerful. Quickly knowing what notes to add, and what notes not to add (for example, not playing 4sus because it adds a note that is not diatonic) makes your playing sound more sophisticated.

For example, in the key of G Major:

Instead of G Major, C Major, and D Major

Try G2, Cadd9, and Dsus

G2

1234

C add9

1234

Dsus

134

In the key of D Major:

Instead of D Major, G Major, and A Major

Try D2, G2, and Asus

D2

13

G2

1234

Asus

123

Let's try some more interesting chord shapes, in the key of F Major:

Instead of F Major, Bb Major, and C Major:

Try Fadd9, Bb2/F, and Cadd4

Fadd9

1233

Bb2/F

1341

Cadd4

134

You may notice that Bb2/F is the same as an Fsus shape. They contain the same notes: F Bb C. This is called an enharmonic spelling. You can think about this chord as an Fsus, but in relation to how it is played over the fourth chord in the key of F, Bb, it makes more sense to think of it as Bb2/F.