R&B Piano Chords Tutorial- How To Decorate Your Chord Progressions

Do you want some want to learn some new ways to make your R&B piano chords and chord progressions more stylish? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

In this R&B piano tutorial we’re going to learn some ways to chromatically decorate plain old R&B chord progressions and make them much more interesting.

You’ll hear some of these chromatic chord movements in the music of Jill Scott, Michael Jackson, Musiq SoulChild, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and many other great R&B and neo soul chord artists.

Let’s get started learning now!

R&B Piano Chords Tutorial

Why not take 3 minutes and watch the video below. It will introduce you to some new chord voicings and ways to decorate your chord progressions. (Notation and extra tips for this lesson below.) httpv://youtu.be/gvFwFNl2-YE

Notated Chord Charts

The chords I play in the video above are from a i iv v chord progression in the key of E minor. First, I’ll show you the chord progression written out without any chromatic passing chords.

R&B piano chords

Now, check out the chord chart with the chromatic passing chords written in.

(Make sure you also check out all the extra tips and practice strategies on the bottom of the page.)

R&B Piano Chords

7 Concepts To Help You Master This Lesson

1. R&B Piano Chords Are Often Times Just Jazz Chords

The chords in this lessons are all minor chords. Most of the time I’m playing the root of the chord in my left hand and the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of the chord in my right hand. These chord voicings can be used in both R and B, neo soul, jazz, and hip hop too. They’re very versatile.

If you want to learn more about these chords you can check out this lesson on minor jazz piano chords.

2. It’s All About The Half Step

The secret to getting that jazzy chromatic sound in your R&B piano chords is to play the same chord voicing either a half step up or a half step below your resolution chord. So, if you resolution chord is an Amin7 you would play either a Abmin7 (half step below) or a Bbm7 (half step above) right before the Amin7.

3. Syncopation Makes It Groove

Groove is everything in RnB music. So, in order to be most effective with this chromatic chord technique make sure you listen to the rhythms i used in the video.

In the video I play the main chords Em7, Bm7, and Am7 mostly on the downbeats (beat 1 of the measure especially).

I play Bbm7 on the upbeats (either on the ‘and’ of the measure or the ‘e’ of the measure (second sixteenth note of the the measure)

4. Space: The Final Frontier

The notes you don’t play are just as important as the notes you do play. Notice how I don’t fill up every beat of the measure with a rhythmic attack.

On a rhythmic level funk works because of the back and forth of syncopated rhythmic attacks with sustained notes. (Sorry for the Star Trek reference by the way. I couldn’t resist!):)

5. Blues Scale And Fills

As you can hear in the video I use little melodic fills here and there. These little soulful fills are mostly made of the blues scale.

The blues scale is an easy scale to play. It’s just a 5 note scale. First, start with a major scale and build your scale using the formula below:

  • Blues Scale Construction: 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7, 1

So, in the key of E the major scale notes are E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D# E. You would flat the 3rd note (G# turns into G), the 5th note (B turns into Bb), and the 7th note (D# turns into D).

If you want to learn another song that features the blues scale heavily I recommend you also check out this Chariot piano tutorial.

6 Tips To Help You Practice This Piano Lesson

1. Learn these piano chords in all 12 keys. Not fluent in all 12 keys yet? Check out this piano major scales lesson.

2. Practice grabbing a chord and then play the same chord a half step higher.

3. Practice grabbing a chord and then play the same chord a half step lower.

4. Once you are comfortable with moving quickly between the chords chromatically add a metronome to your practice and start playing them in time. You can start rhythmically simple. Don’t worry about syncopating. Just get it in time.

5. Add the rhythmic device (syncopation) on to each passing chord. If you’re unsure how to do it take a listen to how I do it in the video above.

6. If you want to learn how to decorate your piano chords in more of a rock or pop style you can check out this pop piano chords lesson.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this piano lesson. Have fun practicing these r&b piano chords and the chromatic movements as well. Be creative with them and have lots of fun!



Do you like the sound of this chord? Where can you use it in your music? Please leave a comment below and share with the community!

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  1. Harry on July 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Hi Steve, Thank you for your lessons!

  2. Mosesy on July 26, 2013 at 5:43 am

    I would like to receive your online piano courses. Thank you

    • Steve Nixon on July 30, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      Very cool. Thanks Mosesy. More piano stuff to come.

  3. BeatzOnMth on July 28, 2013 at 3:04 am

    Alot of good information here, thank you , we need more Rnb Tuts on here

    • Steve Nixon on July 30, 2013 at 11:02 pm

      Thanks and glad to know you’re enjoying the R&B piano lessons. I’ll definitely be adding more in the near future.

  4. Xeniego on September 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    I’m trying to learn the jazz, blues and rnb; I got some good material here. Thanks for the information.

    • Steve Nixon on March 15, 2015 at 1:26 am

      You’re welcome Xeniego.

  5. Jacob on January 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks a lot for this. I’ve been rapping for a few years as well as playing piano, and now I’m looking to produce my own instrumentals. I’ve always loved these spacey, r and b-type chord progessions and this will be very helpful. Thanks again!

  6. mo on February 7, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    thank you !!! really good lesson

  7. jeffrey on March 5, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Hi, it would be verry usefull to have that beat you used to jam along! holla

  8. james on March 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Steve Steve Steve!!!! Great lesson from an awesome teacher. So in summary, neo chords are minor 9th chords that could be adjusted in left hand with relative minor in left hand with major 7th in left??

    • Steve Nixon on March 15, 2015 at 1:18 am

      There are many type of neo soul chords. These are just a small sample of them albeit an awesome voicing!

  9. Thiago Freitas on November 26, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Steve, nice work!!! I just started to study the piano and this tips ´bout soul and neo soul techinics are very nice. Thanx a lot, dude.

    • Steve Nixon on March 15, 2015 at 1:11 am

      My pleasure Thiago!

  10. Warren on December 30, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks, Steve. Nice lesson. Is there anywhere online or the like where one can find all the chords in a particular key, including jazzy/rnb/modified chords like these? I’ve found quite a few places that will give you all the ‘vanilla’ chords in a particular key, but nowhere really that lists out all possible chords in a key.

    • Steve Nixon on March 15, 2015 at 1:10 am

      Hi Warren,
      Thanks for the comment. We will be creating lots more tutorials on piano chord progressions in the future. Stay tuned!

  11. Nick on June 16, 2016 at 2:50 am

    In your bm7 where are you getting the c#?

    • Steve Nixon on June 16, 2016 at 4:17 am

      Hi Nick. In a Bm7 the C# would be the 9th. It comes from the dorian mode.

  12. Nick on June 17, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks it took me a moment to wrap my head around it…sheesh!

  13. mogfrank on July 10, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Nice one Steve but pls try to be breaking up ur chords fully

    • Steve Nixon on July 12, 2016 at 5:42 am

      Thanks. This particular groove we wouldn’t break up the chords. It would mess up the time feel. Other grooves it would be cool though. Thanks for your comment.

  14. moses on August 13, 2016 at 11:37 am

    i love this ….

  15. gaetano caracciolo on January 12, 2017 at 6:19 pm


  16. WM Alfred on April 27, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Sweet stuff! You have excellent knowledge and a very pleasant personable style

  17. Earl on April 18, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Hi I just reviewed your lesson on Neo Soul chords and it’s very simple and straight to the point I appreciate this good lesson. Jazz and neo soul chords don’t follow a scale pattern often times breaking them how does another instrument accompany the chords?

    Thanks again for the lesson.

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