How to Play Gospel Chords without the Bass note

Have you ever wondered how Gospel Musicians get that "dope" sound when they are playing? A good gospel keyboardist or organist always seems to have that  special "sauce" in the way they play their chords on the piano. 

Well, chances are you are hearing a rootless chord voicing!!

What is a Rootless Chord?

A rootless chord voicing is a chord that is played without the bass note. Although there are many types of rootless chords I would like to talk about two chords that gospel musicians like to use a lot. These are the Rootless 13th chord, and the Rootless v9#5 chord

Check out these examples of how you can play an F7 chord, 2 with the bass and 2 without the bass. These are 4 ways to play the same chord!

  1. 1
    F7 13 (no 5) chord: F-Eb-A-D-F
  2. 2
    F7 13 (no 5) chord: Eb-A-D-A-D-F (rootless)
  3. 3
    F7b9#5 chord: F-Eb-A-C#-F# 
  4. 4
    F7b9#5 chord: A-Eb-F#-C#-F#-A (rootless)

Each of these chords sound slightly different! The video below will show you how these can be used to play a gospel song

How to Start Using Rootless Gospel Voicings

I would recommend a 3 step process to finding out what chord to play on any bass note

  • Step 1: Know or Write the Bass Note
  • Step 2: Determine which Bass Notes are Dominant or Passing Chords
  • Step 3: Try the chords in the chart. The Red Section first, then the Blue Section.

Step 1  - Know The Bass Note

As far as the ear is concerned, if you are not at the level where you can hear the bass note in a song, then I would suggest spending more time on developing your ear to recognize bass notes. This is far more important than playing rootless chords

If you are at the stage when you can hear the bass notes, it could be a good idea to write out the bass notes in a song, the same way that I did in the video above

Step 2 - Decide where to use your rootless chords

Once you know the bass note to the song, it is time to determine which the chords in the chart will work with the chosen bass note

I generally classify bass notes into Target notes and Passing notes. But it can be more nuanced that that. When listening to the bass note playing with the record see if you can catch any dominant chords. For gospel, we tend to use the dominant chord a lot, so the "guess and check" method should work well here. In fact, in gospel music, even the 1 can be a dominant chord

Put a check or circle the notes that are Dominant Chords or that you think work well as passing chords

Hint: you may not have to write down every bass note, if the bass player is doing a cool riff, those notes are unnecessary. You only need the notes that are necessary for the song

Step 3 - Pair the chords in the chart with your bass note(s)

This next section is the easiest part. Simply try to play the chord in the chart instead of the bass note. 

I have a couple of hints for this section

  1. 1
    The chart is divided into LH and RH, for Left Hand and Right Hand
  2. 2
    The chart reads the notes from Left to Right and most of the LH voicings in the chart should be closer to middle C, rather than the Lower C,
  3. 3
    You must Experiment. Expperiment. Experiment. See what works and what doesn't, and let your ear be your guide.
Gospel Chord Rootless Chart

If you are a member of our website, this is NOT the correct page. The correct page will include, a 25 minute tutorial for you, a midi file, and LMV file, a downloadable chart, and more you can use to understand rootless voicings. Access the page below

What do you think about the lesson? Do you already play rootless chords? This chart doesn't have ALL the chords, its just a starting point for you

  • Jada says:

    Great intro to rootless chords!

  • Chevonne Reynolds says:

    This is what I’ve been wanting to learn about!

  • Herman says:

    This is definitely needed for me thx @sean

  • Pete m says:

    Hey Sean
    Thank you for this

    Question on the chart headings; is the LH the first column ?

  • Edward Roberts says:

    This is the lesson for which I have been waiting! It gives me the tools to help improve my left hand voicings.

  • Patricia says:

    Interesting. I will give this a try.

  • Prince says:

    Nice stuff Sean. Please verify the chart, I think on 13th (no 5) chords, the RH and LH should be switched.

  • Joe Williams says:

    This is awesome!! Glad I came to the main site!

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