Ever wanted to play songs after a quick scan of the chart? Memorise Songs? Use some more “modern” sounding chords?
The Ultimate Worship Guitar Chord System is a set of 30 modern chords for praise and worship.
Using the Worship Chord System
You can do eight things with this chart:
- Use contemporary chord sounds
- Change chords quickly
- Work out the key of a song
- Change the key easily
- Work out the chords by ear
- Use the Nashville Number System
- Play without music
- Write original worship songs
How do I get contemporary guitar chord sounds?
Modern worship uses modified chords with extra notes, compared to the basic chord shapes.
Obviously, you can’t just add any note. The notes have to fit both the chord and the key of the song.
The chart lists out great sounding replacements for the basic chords.
Each row gives the chords for a single key – either C, A, G, E or D. It is the “CAGED System” in action, with a contemporary voicing twist.
Using the chart
- Find the key of the song. Let’s say it is E for this example
- Use the ‘E’ row. You’ll see the E marked on the left side of the chart.
- On your sheet music, look at the first letters of each chord: In E, you’ll see E, A, B and C#m
- Look these first letters up on the row: E becomes E5, A becomes Asus2 and so on
- Using the chord box diagrams, play the substitute chords on the chart
You will now be playing chords with more complex names – and more complex sounds!
These sounds are the ones I have found work really well with contemporary pop/rock style worship.
How do I change chords quickly?
The trick is to minimise finger movement.
Obvious, isn’t it?
If you keep most of your fingers in the same place over a chord change, it’s clear that it will be smooth and fast.
Let’s look at an example of this. We’ll use ‘Open the Eyes of my Heart’ by Paul Baloche in the key of E.
What’s wrong with ‘normal’ chords
Using typical ‘normal’ chord voicings, we would play E – B – A – E like this:
Now, nothing wrong with those chords at all. They sound good. They feature in every guitar chord chart you ever saw.
Look what happens to your fret hand as you change from E to B:
- You lose the entire shape
- You lift your first finger from the G string, and put it on the A string
- You have to lift your second finger into the air, off the fretboard
- You have to put your third finger on the D string and flatten in over three strings
It’s just as much work to go from B to A, and then again from A to E.
And you’re still left with that very basic, ‘traditional’ sound.
How to get smooth chord changes
From the ‘Key of E’ row of the chart, play these:
If we look at changing from E to B now:
- Put your third finger down where it naturally falls on the D string, 4th fret
- You’re done!
It’s even easier to explain than normal chords.
Watch an easy E-A-B-A chord change in action
To see how straightforward this is – and how good it sounds – watch the video from the free beginner’s worship guitar course
Like all the videos, there is a lesson followed by demo of the technique in action over the backing track.
You can stream or download the backing track – minus guitar – for your practice.
You can also see the free lessons / backing tracks showing popular chord sequences in the key of E, using this system:
- Video: How to play E using contemporary chords
- Video: How to play A to E (4-1 pattern) using contemporary chords
- Video: How to quickly change between E, A and Busing contemporary chords
- Video: How to play the 6m-4-1-5 pattern in E using contemporary chords
How do I find the key of a song by ear?
You can do this with the chart as well:
- Look at the first chord in each row.
- Play it.
- Does it sound ‘right’?
- If so, the key of the song will be written on the left of that row.
It will be either C, A, G, E or D.
But what if none of them sounded right?
Using a capo to play other keys
You can check other keys by using a capo :
Place the capo at the first fret. This is termed”Capo 1″ in musical shorthand.
Repeat checking the five chords:
- Look at the first chord in each row and play it.
- Do any of these sound right?
- If so, you can use the chords in that row to play the song.
The key will be one semitone higher than the one marked on the left.
So if the first chord in the C row sounded right, you would use the chords in that row as normal, with Capo 1.
The actual key sounded would be C# (also known as Db).
At this point, you have covered ten of the twelve possible keys.
Just two more to check:
- Place the capo at fret 2 – ‘Capo 2’
- Play the first chord from the A row (Asus2).
- If this sounds right, use the A row chords Capo 2 for a sounded key of ‘B’
- If not, play the first chord in the E row.
- If this sounds right, use the E row chords Capo 2 for a key of ‘F#’
It didn’t work …
If by this point nothing sounds right, check your guitar with a tuner.
But this might not solve the problem. The piece may itself be not tuned to standard pitch (A = 440 Hz).
This often happens to adjust a guitar to a piano. Guitars with six strings are easier to re-tune than a piano with eighty eight!
My advice here is to find the key that sounded closest to your ears. Then go with that.
Remember our goal is to play the tune with the worship band. Provided the band usually is tuned to standard pitch, changing to the nearest standard key makes it easier for the whole band.
How can I work out the chords to a song by ear?
When you don’t have sheet music, but you need a chord chart, this system can help you.
The first step is to work out the key – like we did earlier. Find the row of the chart for that key.
This row contains the six most commonly used chords for that key. They are in order, most to least used, left to right.
Let’s say we are in the key of G.
The first chord is – in most cases – a G. So play the G5 substitute from the chart (first column, most used)
But what’s the next chord?
Well, for many praise/worship songs, the very next chord along that row – Dsus2 – is the next most likely. So try it.
If it doesn’t sound right, work your way along the row – Cadd9 next, then Em7 and so on.
As soon as a chord sound right, write it down on your freshly-minted chord chart.
We are reverse-engineering songs here. They are put together in a certain way: so we can pick them apart the same way.
How do I use the Nashville Number System
The Nashville Number System is a way of using numbers to represent each of the chords in a given key.
It’s brilliant, because if you learn the chord pattern as “1-4-5” (instead of E-A-B), you can then map those numbers into any key.
The chart does this for you.
The top of the chart has column headings 1 – 4 – 5 – 6m – 2m – 3m. These are the ‘Nashville numbers’.
Let’s give it a try.
Let’s say we are going to play the chord pattern above, “1-4-5”
To play this in the key of C, look at the first row of the chart (Key of C), then play the chords in the 1, 4 and 5 columns.
You’ll end up playing C, Fsus2 and G5, which are the 1-4-5 chords in C. You’ll recognise that sound. It’s used everywhere.
Now, let’s do the same 1-4-5 pattern, but in the key of A.
Look up the second row of the chart (Key of A) and play the chords in the 1, 4 and 5 columns from that row.
Now, you’re playing Asus, Dsus2 and E5 – the 1-4-5 in the key of A.
Can you hear how these two patterns sound ‘the same, only different’.
You’ve just stumbled on the secrets of how to:
- write original songs
- change the key of songs to ones you can sing better
- memorise chords without reading them
We’ll cover these in more detail below.
Describing Chord Patterns
A key use is to describe patterns of chords. It’s an easy way to memorise songs.
Because of how our ears and brains work, we hear chords in patterns. We don’t hear them standing alone.
Some patterns sound better than others. And it’s good to learn those patterns.
We use the Nashville Number System to describe those patterns without tying us to a single key.
A chord pattern sounds “the same” in a ny key – just a bit higher or lower.
Example of a Chord Pattern using Nashville Numbers
In the key of C, if we play a pattern that is C – Am – F – G, we can call this ‘1 – 6m – 4 – 5’.
(You’ll recognise this one, for sure – it’s very popular)
This lets us learn a small number of patterns by Nashville Chord Number – then play them in any key easily.
It’s a favourite trick for Music Directors in worship bands: “Now play 1 – 5 – 6m – 4”
How do I play a song in a different key?
Because all “1” chords sound alike in each key, and so do all “4” chords, all “5” chords and so on, our chart makes a handy tool to change keys.
Each column (vertically down) of the chart gives the equivalent chord in that key.
To transpose a song (change key), simply play the chord in the same column, from the row for your new key.
If you were playing E, A and B in the key of E, you would be using chords 1,4 and 5 in the ‘Key of E’ row. If you now play the 1, 4 and % from thr ‘Key of G’ row, you have instantly changed key to G.
How can I create worship songs with this chart?
Once you’ve mastered the basic patterns, you can start writing songs. And the chart helps once again.
Because each row contains the top six chords that fit together, you can simply try playing them, in any order!
The chords in each row are ordered by how often they appear in songs. The most used one is on the left. The least used ones are on the right.
Making a simple song out of two patterns
As an example, you might pick the key of C. Have a look at the top row of the chart.
You might choose to play C – Fsus2 for your verse. Nice and simple. You might then choose Am – Fsus2 – C – G5 as a chorus. Moody!
Sounds pretty much like a praise song, right? Or play these same chords using worship dynamics techniques for quieter worship times.
For more ideas, see the lesson showing the 12 most common chord progressions in worship songs (needs free trial)
Now have a pray, a think, and open up the psalms or Epistles. Anything come to mind? Any thoughts, lines, words, pictures?
Have a go at writing a simple lyric.
Write down your chord patterns and your lyric ideas. You’ll have a custom built worship song you could try with your cell group, or local church.
It really isn’t just the “big churches” who get to write songs!
Every house has its own voice. And so do you, as a worshipping musician.
What’s the best way to practice these chords?
Two key principles:
- Practice a little, often
- Use the backing tracks
A little often It’s more effective to practice say 15 minutes each day, than it is to practice for 2 hours once a week. There is something about the muscle memory you need to build up that works better that way.
Playing guitar certainly involves thinking about what to play; but at first, it is a physical skill. Concentrate on getting your fingers to the point where they move ‘almost automatically’.
Backing tracks are so useful that I created dozens for this course. There are two huge benefits: Timing and Togetherness.
As the tracks are recorded to a computer click track, you just ‘absorb’ timing as you play along. You will feed that inner drummer of yours!
Equally importantly, you are playing with a band. Learning on your own, it is so easy to learn to overplay. You naturally ‘fill out’ the sound with your guitar.
But in a worship band, it’s important you learn to blend. Know how to leave space for others – and find space for yourself.
Using the backing tracks again helps you absorb this idea, as you learn as part of a team.