Lets have another look at what makes Neo Soul Piano Chords so different. What about R&B chords? Whats the difference? R&B and Neo Soul tends to fall into a similar category, however many see Neo Soul as “recreating” the original R&B sounds from 70s or even further back. R&B is often seen as the commercialized version of soul.
However it also depends on who you are speaking to. Many artists will perform Neo Soul sounding music, but refer to it as just R&B.
The difference with commercial R&B
Commercial R&B tends to be more on the “Easy listening” level. Structurally wise it will follow a strict key. E.g. the key of F in a 2-5-1 would be Gmin7, C7, and Fmaj7.
Now there are many spices that can be added to give it more of an R&B flavor – as below.
- Making the chords bigger e.g. used 9ths or 11ths
- Invert the chords (inversions often sound deeper)
- Get a soulful vocalist
- Add a groovy drum pattern / bass line
All the above are ingredients to make an R&B sound out of a simple chord progression.
How does Neo Soul work
There is no magic ingredient for playing Neo Soul Piano Chords. However there are many things to avoid if you are looking for this sound. I will list them below.
Voicing methods – A chord does not have to always be in the same key position. Try experimenting with different root positions. You can even omit keys e.g. the 3rd or 5th to see how different the chords will sound. Learn how to slide of notes with a half step movement. E.g. When playing a Gmin9th I slide my right hand finger from G to A.
Avoid staying in the one key –
No matter how much you extend the chords, 9ths, 11ths etc. you probably won’t get a Neo Soul sound. Be adventurous and substitute keys for other chords. E.g. switching Minor to Major. Don’t be afraid to experiment with keys not even in the scale. Neo Soul consists heavily of keys from other scales (non diatonic).
No need to resolve in a major – Finishing the progression with a happy major chord may give it more of a commercial feel. Many Neo Soul songs have minors in place of major chords. In fact you can also do the opposite. E.g Replace the 2nd minor with a major chord and then finish with the major.
Shift the Bass Line – Similar to the voicing methods, the bass does not have to sit on the root of the chord. Something I like to do is play the bass on octave lower on the 11th if it is a minor chord. E.g. Gmin9 with the Bass on C an octave lower. For major chords, the 9th works best as a bass line. E.g. Gmaj7 with A as the bass line.
Many wonderful Neo Soul Piano chords come from trail and error. However if you hear something which sounds good. Make sure you record it in a DAW asap. I like to record both WAV and MIDI tracks just in case.