“Just As I Am” – Example of identifying chords

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Let’s take a song and walk
through all of the chords in it. 
I chose “Just As I Am” for this
exercise because it is a very
typical hymn from a harmony
perspective.  It contains
I, IV, and V major chords and has a
few 7th chords, a 9th, and a few
inversions.  Here is the
way it might be written
in a hymnbook.

If these chords look
boring to you, it is because
they are indeed very boring. 
So boring in fact that we need
to change them.  Below, I
am going to show you an
alternate harmonization that is
much more interesting.  But
first, let’s make sure you
understand why all of the chords
are labeled as they are.

The pickup measure and the
first two measures contain
simple C chords containing only
the root, third and fifth. 
Do not get confused by the last
half of the pickup beat. 
While the D and F do not belong
in the C triad, the chord does
not really change because it
happens so fast.  We call
these “passing tones” and you
can see that the D bridges the C
to the E in the melody while the
F bridges the E to the G in the
tenor line.  You will see
the same thing happen on the
second half of beat two in
measure 2.

Measure 3 has a 7th chord in
the last beat because of the F
in the melody line which is the
7th of a G chord.

The last beat of measure 5 is
a slash chord.  This means
a chord with a different note
than the root played in the
bass.  In this example, the
chord is a C chord but it is
being played in second inversion
with a G on the bottom.  A
similar slash chord happens in
measure 7.

Measure 6 has a 9th chord
because of the A.  Remember
that the 9th is really the
second note in the scale that
would start on the root of the
chord.  Because the chord
is G and the second note of a G
scale is A, the A is referred to
either as the 2nd or 9th.

There is nothing unusual
about the second line except for
the passing tones found in
measures 8, 10, 12, and 14.

If you still do not
understand how the chords are
labeled, study this example a
bit more before moving on. 
If you do not understand this
one, you are about to get really
confused!

Ready for something more
complicated?

Now, here is a
reharmonization of “Just As I
Am” that is somewhat closer to
how I would play it.  It is
still greatly simplified in that
I have left out the passing
tones and many other things that
would make it more complicated
to analyze.  However, it is
a good step down the road of
improvisation and is a taste of
where I want you to go. 
For the time being, I just want
you to learn how to identify
these more complex chords so I
am going to discuss it from that
perspective only.

If you cannot read this example
very well,
you
can download a pdf here
.

Before we start looking at
each chord, I would like to point out a few
things.  First, notice that
every single chord contains a
7th.  By the way, if there
is a 9th or 11th in the chord, I
often name the chord without the
7th in it, but it is implied. 

Also, remember that a 7th
(dominant 7th) can be a bit
confusing because it is actually
a lowered 7th in a major scale. 
In a C chord, the 7th is Bb
rather than B natural even
though it does not belong in the
scale.  On the other hand,
the major 7th is B natural. 
I remember it this way–a major
7th is one half step under the
root and the dominant 7th is two
half steps under the root.

Also, understand that other
people will name these chords
differently than I do and that
is fine.  There are so many
ways to name chords that we all
just agree to get along. 
In particular, musicians would
label many of these chords as
slash chords.  In fact, the
very first chord would be
labeled a IV/V or F/G. 
Even if they read the chord like
me, they might represent it
differently.  For a minor
chord, some musicians use a “-”,
others use “m” and others use
“min”.

Since the song is written in
the key of C, a C major chord is
used quite often.  Let’s
examine that chord in
particular.  Here are the
possible notes you might see in
a major C chord.

Note
number
Note
1 C
b9 Db or C#
9 D
#9 D#
3 E
11 F
b5 F# or Gb
5 G
#5 or b6 G#
6 A
7 Bb
Major 7 B

You might wonder why I have
listed a #9 (sharp 9) because that is also a minor 3rd
(which could make the chord sound minor). You can add the #9 to a major
chord as long as also play the major 3rd (while it is dissonant, it
works sometimes). 
There are other idiosyncrasies here
as well, but I do not want to go
into them now.

If you use this
chart, you can see why the first
chord in measure 1 is labeled Cmaj7(9).  
It contains C, E, and G with B
natural (major 7th) and D (9th).

I don’t want to explain every
chord in this song, but let’s
take a look at a few of them. 
As I mentioned before, you will
often see the first chord
written as F/G.  However, I
see it as a G7 with the 9th (A)
and 11th (C) added.  This
is a preference and I will
readily admit that slash chords
in situations like this are
probably easier to understand.

Another example of this
happens in the last chord of
measure 2.  This could be
written as Gdim/A
(“dim” stands for diminished). 
However, the chord to me is just
a A7 with a flat 9 (Bb).

The first chord in measure 7
is an augmented chord, which
really just means it is a major
chord with a raised 5th. 
The 9th (A) is also added.

The only chord I have named
as a slash chord is the first
chord of measure 13.  In my opinion, this
is a C chord in
first inversion.  However,
you could also label it Emin(13)
If you did, notice that there is
no fifth (B), but the fifth is
not necessary and you will often
see it missing from complex
chords.

Why are we doing this?
My goal is to get you to the
point where you can name chords
quickly.  You cannot start
doing chord substitutions until
you understand what the original
chords are.  Also, once you
can read chords quickly, your
improvisation skill will improve
dramatically.  Don’t worry
if you have to spend some time
analyzing the chords in the
second example.  However,
strive to get to the point where
you can analyze the first
example at the speed which the
song is normally sung.

Practice strategy:
Analyze the chords in at least two hymns a day.  If you have a problem with
a specific chord, skip it for now.  You will find that 95% of the chords in
hymns are simple, but once in a while, one will stump you.  That is fine.

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Latest Comments

  • Wanda L. Bowen

    I was always taught that “slash” chords meant that the first chord was for the treble and the second chord was for the bass. Was this wrong information? I used this understanding for piano and organ playing and it always seemed to work for me.

    I love your website. Thank you for your answer.

  • Stan

    God bless and may He reward you for sharing so much valuable information.

  • Lilia

    this is an eye opener. This is how I have always wanted to play hymns. My piano teacher has introduced me to your materials.

  • Klem

    As a jazz guitarist I to use the bass note to name the chord except in a basic chord inversion. The difficult of using many your voicing on the guitar gives my hand a “good” stretch. Great site Greg

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