Every NEO SOUL Guitar Chord Progression In 7 Steps [Music Theory]

The 7 Steps to Writing a Neo-Soul Chord Progression

Tommaso Zillio

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neosoul chords steps

Today we talk about how to write chord progressions in the Neo Soul style.

If you have never heard of Neo-Soul, it’s the guitar style that has taken over social media. Just visit Instagram or TikTok for a couple of minutes, watch any video featuring somebody playing guitar, and now you know what Neo-Soul is.

Luckily for you, if you like that style of guitar playing, there is a very easy step-by-step process you can follow to write your very own Neo-Soul chord progression.

I’m going to make the steps as easy as possible so even people who spend all their day on TikTok can follow (*)

(*) A sense of humor is recommended too.

Step 1: Pick A Minor Key

If, when completing this step, you accidentally choose a major key, repeat until you have selected a minor key.

Step 2: Pick 2-3 Chords From The Selected Key

If you accidentally choose 5 chords, you will want to narrow it down by 2 or 3 chords.

Oh, and make sure that you don’t just use regular major and minor triads. None of these simple triads for our sophisticated neo-soul-instagram-guitar sound!

To really get the Neo-Soul sound, you want to turn each chord into a 7th chord (you can see how on the video below)

Step 3: Draw 4 Empty Slots On A Piece Of Paper

These will be the 4 bars that our chord progression will last for (most Neo-Soul progressions are a 4-chord loop)

If by the end of this step there are only 3 spaces on your page, add one more.

Step 4: Fill These Spaces With Your Selected Chords

You may be wondering, “Fill the spaces? But I only have 2 or 3 chords, and there are 4 spaces. What gives?”

Great observation! Definitely beyond the mental possibilities of the average TikTok user (congratulations!) We will intentionally be leaving 1 or 2 blank spaces to be filled later (but not 2 consecutive spaces).

Step Fi…

…no wait, if you spend your day on Instagram watching Neo Soul videos, then by step 5 your attention span has already been stretched beyond its limit.

So I guess if you want to know what to do with the empty spaces you still have in your chord progression, you are going to have to watch the video below to see the last three steps.

Yes, not telling you the last 3 steps in the article so you will watch the video is pure clickbait. But honestly… what did you expect from an email about guitar styles popular on Instagram and TikTok? ;-)

If you want some more inspiration in writing chord progressions or just to understand chords a little bit better, my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course will be a great help in furthering your knowledge of chords.

Video Transcription

Hello, internet! So nice to see you.

Today we are going to see a very simple way to write Neo Soul chord progression. And we’re going to do that in seven steps. But before we start two important points.

The first one is that this is not literally every neo soul chord progression ever written. Because think about it, if I could cover all the chord progression in a style, in just a few minutes, that style would be pretty poor. Okay, so, take these for what it’s worth.

Second, we are going to do these in seven steps. And those seven steps are not rules, they are not written in stone, at any one of the steps, you can take a different choice than the one I make, you could do something different, and so you’re gonna get different results.

Okay, take these more as a recipe. And if you follow the recipe, as I’m giving it to you, you’re gonna get Neo Soul chord progressions, and if you change something, you’re gonna get something else. But none of these is written in stone and you can adapt the recipe to your taste. Very good.

Step number one, you pick a minor key. For the sake of example, right now I’m going to pick the key of D minor, Fantastic. In the key of D minor, we have the following chords and I’m going to use seventh chords, you have D minor seven, E minor seven flat five, F major seven, G minor seven, A minor seven, B flat major seven, and C seven.

Step number two, pick two or three chords from this key, it is most in style to pick the minor seventh chord or the major seventh chord, but you can pick literally whatever you want, I am going to pick D minor seven, and B flat major seven.

Step number three, write a grid of four slots, those will be the four bars of your chord progression, because most chord progression in Neo Soul are a loop of four chords, those four timeslots are your canvas.

Step number four, put chords in it. Now, of course, I told you to pick two or three chords, but we have four time slots, so of course, you’re going to leave some holes, don’t worry, we’re going to fill them in a second, okay, the only guideline you need to uphold here is do not leave two consecutive holes. So again, you have two or three chords, which means they’re going to leave two or one holes. But if you live two holes, those must not be one after another.

Another guideline that is very important is you do not have to put the first chord of the key in the first position, you can if you want, but you don’t have to, it is quite typical of Neo Soul to not put the first chord in the first position.

So in this period, I’m gonna put the B flat major seven in the first position and the D minor seven in the third position. So you see I’m leaving two holes, the two holes are not consecutive, and the first chord, it’s not in the first position.

Step number five, fill up the hole with passing diminished chord, oh my this sounds complex, right? But it’s not really because to play those passing diminished seventh chord, you just need to know two things. The first thing you need to know is the shape of those chords. And you just need to memorize those three shape for a diminished chord.

For instance, an A diminished chord can be played this way with a bass on the sixth string; The bass on the fifth string; and with the bass on the fourth string.

Next trick is that you can move those shapes three frets higher or lower and the chord it’s still the same diminished chord, but what diminished chord should you use to fill up those spots? I mean, it’s a C diminished chord, B diminished chord, F diminished chord, G flat diminished chord. Well, I’m going to give you the trick here. And if you want to know more about why this trick work, you check the link going up here on the top right of the video.

Well, the trick is simply to play the diminished chord that has the root one half step below the root of the following chord. So let me show you here. On slot number two, the following chord is a D minor seven. The root of the D minor seven is the D note, Very good. You from here, you go down a half step to C sharp. So in the slot before, you play a C sharp diminished chord.

Now how about slot number four? Well, the following chord when I look the chord progression is B flat major seventh. The root of this code is B flat. If I go down a half step I get A, so in slot number four, I’m playing an A diminished seventh chord.

Step number six is to choose the inversion of diminished chords so that they flow well into the next chord. And usually you want to take a shape, a chord shape that it’s close to the following chord shape. So I am playing my B major seven chord this way. And then playing my D minor seven chord this way. Before this D minor seven, I’m picking a shape for the C sharp diminished seventh chord that is close to the shape of the D minor seven. And so I’m gonna pick this one.

And for the A diminished seventh chord, I’m gonna pick a shape that it’s close to the shape for this B flat major seven. And so I’m gonna pick this one. As you can see, this choice can be quite arbitrary. I mean, I can pick whatever I want. The important point is to pick one of the shape you play and see if it works. And if not, you just change shape or move it up and down.

Step number seven, play all these with some groove.

Let’s go through the whole procedure again, to see if we can try something different.

Let’s say step number one, pick minor key, let’s stay in D minor.

Step number two, I’m gonna pick G minor seven, A minor seven, and D minor seven. So I’m going to pick different chords this time. I write my grid of four, and I put my chords in it. And this time, I’m going to start the G minor seven, going to D minor seven, and then going to a minor seven and leave a hole just before the A minor seven.

Then I’m going to fill up my passing diminished chord and just before the A minor seven, I’m gonna put up a G sharp diminished seventh chord, because G sharp is a half step below A which is the root of A minor seven. So for G minor seven, I’m going to pick this shape. For D minor seven, I’m actually going to play a D minor 9 because you know, cool substitution. So I’m gonna play this. For my G sharp, diminished seventh chord, I’m gonna play this and finally, for my A minor seventh chord, I’m going to use the standard shape.

And then you put some rhythm in it.

When you play this chord progression, remember the staples of Neo Soul guitar style, first of all an overly bright sound. Tons of reverb and slap the guitar more than is necessary. Joking of course, this is what makes the Neo soul stuff fun to play.

Do you see seven simple steps, you’re gonna follow them as they are, you’re gonna get a lot of interesting progressions out of them. And then you can let your creativity roam freely. You can break any one of the steps you can do something different at any one of the steps. Don’t let those seven steps constrain you. Okay, this is just a recipe you can change everything according to your tastes. It is just meant to get you started if you want to write some chord progression in the neo soul style. But hey, just by changing a few of those rules, you can make the Neo Neo Soul style or who knows something completely different. So feel free to play with those and have fun with that.

And if you want to know more about all these idea of writing chord progressions, chord voicing and passing diminished seven and a number of other tricks that will work in the Neo Soul style, and in several other styles. I do recommend if you’re a guitar player that you check out my course complete chord mastery. That is a course written by guitar players for guitar players where you learn harmony directly on the guitar fretboard not all that mathematical people have you do all the time, not those calculation and strange things. We learn everything on the guitar fretboard that it’s immediately applicable to your style and your music and you can make it work. Check out complete core mastery by clicking on the link at the top right.

If you liked this video, smash that like button don’t forget to subscribe and click on notification otherwise you will not know when I put up a new video. And if you have any comments, questions, suggestions for next videos, write them down in the comment I love reading from you. This is Tommaso Zillio of musictheoryforguitar.com. And until next time, enjoy.


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