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Passing Chords: Part 2

Spicing Up Simple Chord Sequences By Bobby Cole
Published April 2014

Passing Chords: fingers on piano keys.

In part two of this series, we explore more simple ways to spice up your chord sequences.

Last month, I introduced the idea of passing chords as an easy way to add interest to boring progressions by spicing up the classic chord sequence (G | D | Em | C). This time, we'll take things a bit deeper. You can find the audio examples on the SOS web site at We'll begin with a new chord sequence (Chord Sequence 1, Audio Example 1) that, again, has been used in hundreds of songs. It crops up a lot in jazz music, but elsewhere too, Sinatra's 'Blue Moon' and the Penguins' 'Earth Angel' being classic examples. To start off, we're going to look at the movement from C to A minor. A boring 'pop' passing chord would result in something like Chord Sequence 2 (Audio Example 2).

Although this sort of passing chord would work if you were writing a song with a pop feel, or if you were writing something that 'played by the rules' (if you ever watch X Factor or American Idol you'll know what I mean...), we can take some very simple steps that will really inject some flair to this sequence (Chord Sequence 3, Audio Example 3). Can you hear how that chord instantly sounds 'cooler' — like you're playing in a smokey jazz bar in New York? The chord name (Ab aug/Bb) might sound fancy, but it's simple — you're playing a chord with your right hand, and the bit after the '/' is the left-handed bass note. You needn't worry too much about the name for now, though if you want to progress much further you should learn all your augmented and diminished chords — in fact, it's easier than you might think to learn every single chord.

Now let's add some interest to the chords, starting with the C and the D minor. The C is made up of C, E and G notes, but we're going to move the C note to a B, to get a major 7 sound. We'll do the same thing to the D minor, turning the D into a C, to make D minor 7. When using chord extensions like this, it's very important that you play the correct bass note, as you'll sometimes change the right‑hand chord quite a lot. Look at the D minor 7 example: without the bass note, you wouldn't have a trace of D anywhere in the chord! Chord Sequence 4 (Audio Example 4) is our fully revamped sequenceBox 5 — Chord Sequence 4. It's really quite different from where we started, isn't it?

As you learn passing chords, try also to learn their equivalents in other keys, because that will make them useful for any song. So, for example, wherever you see C | Am in a song, you can put in our Ab aug / Bb passing chord, but if you're moving from D to B minor you can just slide things along and get Bb aug / C. Check out the reference chart (see box below) for similar chords you can use in other keys.

Learn Your Passing Chord In Different Keys

Major Key

Passing Chord

Chord 2


Ab aug / Bb

A minor


Bb aug / C

B minor


C aug / D

C# minor


Db aug / Eb

D minor


Eb aug / F

E minor


F aug / G

F# minor


G aug / A

G# minor

For Part One of this series Click Here

For Part Three of this series Click Here