ACEing Chord Substitution using Chord Flow

For songwriters and guitarists, it’s powerful to know what chords work together. It’s even more powerful to know what chords can work in place of one another. But chord substitution can seem complicated. You have to know the notes in a given key. You also need to know the notes in the chords. It’s a lot of information. 

Here’s another approach; use Chord Flow. A Chord Flow is a pattern of chords that follows the phrase “B.E.A.D. Guides Chord Flow.” Here’s a Chord Flow using all major chords:

The major chords B, E, A, D, G, C, and F and their chord charts. BEAD Guides Chord Flow is a memory tool to remember this pattern.

Chord Flow organizes chords by the principle of descending fifths, but you don’t have to worry about that unless you decide you want to understand the music theory behind Chord Flow. To ACE chord substitution, we only need to know two things. The phrase BEAD Guides Chord Flow and how to spell the word ace.

How to ‘ACE’ finding related minor chords


We created a Chord Flow using the major chords above. Now we need another one using minor chords like this:

BEAD Guides Chord Flow spelled using minor chords Bm, Em, Am, Dm, Gm, Cm, Fm.

Now, we’re going to ACE this.

What do I mean by that? We’re going to line up the major and minor chords, so the Am and C start to spell the word ACE:

This lines up four major chords with their related minor chords.

Now, D is lined up with Bm, G is lined up with Em, C is lined up with Am, and F is lined up with Dm. All of these aligned chords are good substitutes for each other. 

That’s useful, but it’s only four chords. We can do better than that once we know a secret, the pattern of Chord Flow, B.E.A.D. Guides Chord Flow repeats itself. To the right, the pattern repeats itself using flatted chords, like this:

Now we know that Gm is Bb’s related minor. Eb and Cm are also related, so are Ab and Fm.

There are still three chords for which we don’t know the related minors, B, E, and A. To find those, we need to know that Chord Flow’s pattern repeats on the left using sharp chords. We can discover the missing chords by adding that pattern to the minor Chord Flow:

Now the B chord is lined up with its related minor, G#m, E is lined up with C#m, and A is with F#m.

We haven’t finished spelling ACE because I got distracted filling in those missing chords. To finish, we’ll take one more Chord Flow using minor chords and line up the Am and C of the first two with Em, like this:

The A, C, and E of Am, C, and Em spells ACE. When you extend these Chord Flows to the right with flat chords and to the left with sharp chords, you end up with stacks of three chords like these.

(This image could continue further to the left. The next column would line up A#m with F#m and D#m, and so on . . . )



Unfamiliar with BEAD Guides Chord Flow?
Here’s an intro: BEAD Guides Chord Flow Intro
Here’s how it works in the Key of C: BEAD in the Key of C
Here’s how it maps chord substitutes in the key of C: BEAD Substitutes

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The Prompt:

Art by Hillary Waters Fayle. Find out more about Hillary’s work here.

The Musical Idea:

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