Improvise cool R&B chords for piano

So you would like to be able to improvise those deep soulful chords with a lot of emotion and tension?

R&B / Soul or even blues chord progressions tend to have a lot more tension than other genres of music. Deeper neo soul with artists such as Jill Scott, Erkah Badu, D'Angelo, Bilal etc.. tend to have chords with so much tension that they are technically outside the scale simliar to Jazz, but the the phrase will usualy finish with a "coming home" note, usually in the Major key.

I am not too big on music theory myself so I won't be going into too much depth with explanations, rather I would just like to show you some effective R&B chord progressions which can even be applied the for guitar that can be used to build tracks. I tend to discover most R&B Chords by trial and error, although recently I have developed a technique to quickly find chord transitions.

See below for some nice R&B Chord progressions I have picked up over time.

A Four Chord Neo Soul Verse (Key of E flat Major)

Using power chords try the following R&B Chords, easy to improvise on the piano.

Fm9 / Bb7 / Ebmin9 / Ab7 - This can be looped to create a R&B / soulful tension souding verse.

Switching from Fm9 to Bb7 (Dom) is simple. The C (index) and Eb (thumb) are simply shifted to - Bb (index) and D (thumb)., bass note stays on F (see the pictures below).

Same switching from Ebmin9 to Ab7 (Dom). Bb and Db are shifted to Ab and C - simple.

Bb7 can be deepened by adding a 6th (G)

Ab7 can also be deepeend by adding a 6th (F)

Try playing these on an electric piano for that smooth sound. You can also try it out on the guitar too. The same applies of course.


Bb 7

Easy to get to the 7th without moving too much.
Easy to get to the 7th without moving too much.

Deep Neo Soul Verse

This one is another four chord pattern and has gentle tension on all chords giving it a deep sound.

Am9 / Bm7 Cmaj9th / BbMaj7.

You'll find that playing this to a slow tempo has a Dwele feel to it. Try it out preferably on an electronic Rhodes sounding keyboard.

Four chords with jazzy key changes

Start with Ab Major 7th(right hand improvise on the Eb key, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D)

G Minor 7th(right hand improvise on the Bb key, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A)

Gb Major 7th(right hand improvise on the Db key, Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, B)

F Min 7th (right hand -> back to key of Eb)

Switching keys like this is one of the main ingredients for a Neo Soul sound, this is what gives that depth and tension.

Using slash chords

Another very god technique to get a good soulful sound is to play an inversion with the bass key. For example play the chord Gmin 7th, which is G, Bb, D and F. Now this time play the sane chord but with C as the bass note e.g. C, G, Bb, D and F, listen to how that sounds.

It is the same chord it's just that you have pulled out the 11th key and put in at the front. If the play the same C in it's original position it doesn't quite give that same tension.

Check the video below.

Voicing and Improvising for R&B or Neo Soul

Voicing can be described like "giving character" to a chord, it is also a good way to improvise on the piano. A chord will normally be played by pressing all keys simultaneously however hitting the keys at different times can create a melody within that same chord. With good voicing you can really impress friends and family by them thinking you are really playing the piano with both hands when in fact you are simply spicing up a power chord.

Everybody has different methods but I like the Bass, melody x 2, Bass, Melody x 2, Bass Melody x 4.

To achieve this,simply positiion your hands for a power chord and randomly hit left, right x 2, left right x 2, left, right x 4. There are countless combinations.

Another good voicing method is to play a full 9th with your left hand. I think the easiest way to do this is invert of the 9th key as the 9th may be too far for your pinky to reach so bring it down an octave. The 9th key should now be next to the base key, with this setup you should be able to play a 9th easily with all five fingers. For the right hand try randomly hitting keys within that scale and see what you find. For a more jazzy organic feel, try hitting groups of keys that are next to each other, it creates more of a deeper harmonic sound.

An inverted 9th (blue)

What scales are used for Soul or R&B?

Listening to thousands of Soul / R&B / Neo Soul tracks I can clearly hear that the E flat, B/Bb and F major keys are the most commonly used. The key for E flat is Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C and D. This is very easy on the fingers had has a very soulful and jazzy feel to it. The 2-5-1 sequence will be Fmin, Bb 7 and Eb Maj. Once you are comfortable with these, you can branch out to other combinations or even chords out side the scale. E.g. Gb Maj has a Gospel type of feeling if played in the key of Eb.

Another good trick for a jazzy sound it to play a 6th or Augmented chords between chords transitions. This is simply done by moving the 5th or 7th (or both) down a step and playing that chord as an (in between) chord. I work it out using ear and trial and error. This also works for gospel sounding music.

Be sure to try to learn all 12 scales though, for music proficiency.

Also it is good to note that some chords that sound wrong at the time of playing actually may sound cool and original after going away and listening to it at a later time. Therefore I recommend recording your session, even practice stuff.

Check here for chord progression updates

  • Ab Maj 7th / Gmin 7th or 9th / GbMaj 7th / Fmin9th - Very soulful neo soul grove which can be played at at 4/4 signature
  • Cmin7th / Dbmin7th / Bbmin9th (tension can be eased) if you follow with AbMaj / G7.
  • Gmaj7th / Gmin9th / EbMaj9th / Db Maj9th (GMaj7th is in the key of D Major, after that use melodies from keys Eb or Db, its up to you)
  • Fmin9th, Gmin7th, Amin9th.
  • Bbmin9th, Gmin7th or 9th, Fmin9th
  • Bbmaj9th, Amin7th, Gmaj 7th - Very D'Angelo sounding.
  • Db Maj 9th, G7+9, Cmaj 7th - Very soulful and refreshing soundning
  • Fmin7th, Cmin7th, D dim 7th - Very Bluesy sounding vibes.
  • Gmin9th, Fmaj7th, Emin9th, Ebmaj7th, Dmin7th - Typical Neo Soul Vibe.
  • Ebmin7th, Emaj7th, Abin7th, Gbmaj7th
  • Gmin7th, A7#5, Dmin7th, Gmaj

Listen to Gospel Musicians

Gospel musicians are very good with the improvisation of soulful chords. They need to because they want to avoid playing the same intro when people come into the church all the time. It maybe a good tip to speak to some gospel keyboard players and find out what techniques they use. They tend to use "Phat" chords, simply means chord that use many keys, sometimes up to 10 keys using both hands. Gospel musicians tend not to explain the chord names but you will get a feel of the type of sounds they use and what notes or keys group together.

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Comments 43 comments

Hiphop Production Training Course 5 years ago

Very interesting... I will bookmark this hub thank you

Vsmoove profile image

Vsmoove 5 years ago

Very interesting blog here!

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 5 years ago from Japan Author

Thanks Vsmoove, check the web site too.

Jefsaid profile image

Jefsaid 5 years ago from London, UK

Good stuff! I have a piano that I would like to make some nice noises on so hopefully this can give me some tips

Goldenkeys 5 years ago

What music software do you use?

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 5 years ago from Japan Author

Goldenkeys, I liketo use Reason 4, but FL Studio has Vst compatibility so I like to use some of the Smooth Electric Piano soundes/Rhodes/Wurlitzer etc..

onmugen 5 years ago

Good Stuff! Very Informative!

tablesturn 4 years ago

Thanks - very useful

jazrstreets 4 years ago

loved this! thanks :)

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 4 years ago from Japan Author

Thank you very much

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 4 years ago from Japan Author

Cheers mate

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 4 years ago from Japan Author

You're welcome

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Thanks so much for this very good information.

Will bookmark. Voted up and sharing~

hotwebideas profile image

hotwebideas 3 years ago from New York

Hey this is a great hub and voted up. I have been a musician for over 40 years and have recorded a jazz album with the saxophone in 2000, but since I came from a rock background where the chords are more straightforward and less soulful, I could never get into those amazing jazz chords. Your hub is motivating me to rethink some jazz tunes.


Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 3 years ago from Japan Author

Thanks Bruce, I hope it does help people to pick up some Jazzy chords for there productions.

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

I'm sharing this with some of my own piano students. Thanks so much! Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and sharing!

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 3 years ago from Japan Author

I'm glad you find it useful.

Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 3 years ago from London, UK

Very useful - I wish I could get back my passion for playing the piano. I was learning and still had the letters on all the white keys. lol.

I will keep this for when I take it up again. Thanks.

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 3 years ago from Japan Author

Thanks, I hope you find it useful.

CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 2 years ago

This is an amazingly detailed Hub. I play the piano. I was in a jazz band years ago. We had an electric piano I bought second-hand. And for some reason, it broke. We haven't been able to replace it. I miss it!

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 2 years ago from Japan Author

You try and get back into it, thanks.

pimentel 2 years ago

simply amazing

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 2 years ago from Japan Author

@pimentel, Thanks.

Eric 2 years ago

How do you play the Ebmin9 and Ab7?

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 2 years ago from Japan Author

The Ebmin9 is simply the Ebmin7th and you can play with your left hand by inverting the 9th playing the F with your 4th finger. The keys are Eb, F, Gb, Bb, Db.

The Ab7 is just the Abmaj7th and shift the G to Gb.

Jonny 22 months ago

Thank you for the tips here.

Calvin 22 months ago

Very nice, thanks.

Charlie 22 months ago

These videos really do help a lot. Thanks mate. Love to see some more.

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 22 months ago from Japan Author

Thanks - check out my site for much more chords etc.

Wolfman 21 months ago

Thanks for this info, very usefull for my piano learning.

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 21 months ago from Japan Author

You are welcome.

Johnny 21 months ago

A very nice article there, checked out your site too. Some cool loops there, keep it up. I am trying to moving towards the Neo Soul genre.

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 21 months ago from Japan Author

Thanks, I hope this is usefull for you.

Simon 19 months ago

Thanks so for this, I checked your website too, very useful. Keep it up.

Clarissa 18 months ago

Neo soul chords are rather complex, thanks for explaining. I look forward to more videos.

Natalia 17 months ago

it was really helpful to me thnku so much from colombia south america !

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 17 months ago from Japan Author

Thank you and well appreciated

Illa Beats 16 months ago

Very informative explanations there. I've been looking to get into the Neo Soul genre for some time. It's just hard to find the material to learn.

Riley 16 months ago

Thank you for the tutorial, very useful.

Maffy 16 months ago

Thanks for the tutorials, checked out the videos on your page too. Nice downloads

brian 5 months ago

can u plz help me to space the chords to sound more nicely I see all the chords names but I don't now how 2 play them

Angelo 5 months ago

Very helpful, thank you.

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 4 months ago from Japan Author

Checking out the soulful keys site in the link - more help there

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