How to Create that R&B Sound
Where are people going wrong?
What most people try to do is simply stick within a common or comfortable scale e.g. the key of C major which consists of the below chords.
Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, G7, Amin, Bdim
No matter what combinations you play of the above, it will be very difficult to obtain an R&B feel. You may get a bit more depth by extending the above chords a little bit however it probably won't make all that much difference.
The key F major may sound a little more exotic as per below.
Fmaj, Gmin, Amin, Bbmaj, C7, Dmin, Edim
However you still may not hear that R&B Neo soul sound you may be searching for. The popular jazz 2-5-1 progression still won't really help you here. The 2-5-1 progression is a simple typical chord pattern which demonstrates tension and release. R&B has a lot of tension build up but not the typical release i.e. (finished back at the 1st Maj Chord).
What the trick is
You basically have to "borrow" chords from other scales. What does "borrowing" chords mean? Well instead of playing the chords in the C major scale, why don't use a chord from another but similar scale?
By similar I mean a key that follows a very similar pattern e.g. the Key of C Major is C, D, E, F, G, A and B. All white keys and very easy to remember. Now, the key of F Major is very similar except the B is flattened, therefore - F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E.
We have two scales here C Maj and F Maj so what we can do play random chords from the Key of C and throw in the chord BbMaj (from the scale of F Maj), now see how that sounds little more soulful? Next include the chord Gmin and you should hear more of a soulful sound, since again, Gmin does not belong in the key of C, however playing it give some nice harmonic movement.
While referring to the table below, think of it as simply playing the key C and borrowing new chords from key F.
Key of C Maj
Key of F Major
You may often hear the term "Phat" chords, these are typically extremely extended chords which require both hands to play. Although they may sound impressive, you can obtain the same chronic movement with shorter chords if you are familiar with a number scales and know how to swap in and out.
In general you shouldn't need to extend beyond the 7th or 9th in most case, your right hand can play random keys from within the scale but it's not technically an extended chord.
For practicing borrowing chords for the R&B sound, it's best to stick with 7th chords at first.
Other chord movements
Don't be afraid to experiment and accidentally discover these chords. Another good example of multiple scale usage is below.
Bb min 7th or 9th
Ab maj 7th or 9th
G min 7th or 9th
The first two sounds sound like they belong in the same keys, but the last Gmin is quite a change and has a lot of harmonic tension.
Some combinations simply won't work wheres other will. Most are discovered by trial and error, but venturing outside the comfort zone.
The can be quite an issue for musicians who are not used to Jazz or this type of music genre. Especially bass players who may have their hands positioned for a particular key and may not be aware of the changes.
Check out some of the videos I put on which show typical R&B and Neo Soul progressions and movements on the piano. I tend not to chose are stick to any particular key in general. I simply link chords which I feel sound good together.