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This is one in a series of free music lessons offered by composer and
music educator, Phil Seyer. Click
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In this lesson you'll be introduced to one way to do chord substitutions.
A chord subsitution is a chord that replaces (substitutes) for a chord
that you might usually expect in a chord progression. Jazz musicians like
to take traditional tunes and reharmonize them, substituting different
chords for the chords that the original composer came up with. It gives
the music a different, interesting sound.
These substitution methods can also be used in your own original compositions.
For example, you might think of using a simple dominant seventh chord
at first, but then try out a subsitute for it and like that better. Or
the "substitute" chord might just pop into your mind immediately
-- in which case it would not really be a substitute chord. (smile) Does
this make sense?
To keep this lesson focused and easy to learn, I'm limiting it to two
of my favorite kind of altered dominant chords. Before I go further, let
me explain what I mean by an altered chord.
An altered chord is a chord that has one or more of its chord tones changed
from what it would normally be in the scale that it lives in.
Review of Chord Construction. Older timers, this will be elementary
for you. If so, you may want to skip this section. Beginners, please read
on and pay close attention. This stuff is crucial. Consider for a moment
how chords for popular music are constructed: we build chords by starting
with a root tone and then adding tones, taking every other tone
in the scale. Let's build a dominant chord in the key of C. A dominant
chord is built on the fifth step of the scale. It is called the dominant
because it is a very strong and has a powerful tendency to move toward
the key center (the first tone of the scale). Let's start with the do
(the key center) and count up five scale steps: do re mi fa so.
The letter names for these scale tones in the key of C would be:
c d e f g
So g is the dominant tone for the key of C. If we build a chord on g,
it will be a dominant chord in the key of C. If we take every other tone
in the scale and form a 3-note chord (called a triad) we will have: so
ti re or g b d. The tones g b d when sounded together
form a dominant chord in the key of C. Now lets make a four note chord.
We do this by skipping over mi and adding fa. That gives
us: so ti re fa or g b d f in the key of C.
This chord is called a dominant seventh chord or V7. The V represents
the fifth degree of the scale. The "seventh" in the name comes
from the fact that the fourth tone (f) is seven tones up from the
root. If you start with g and count up 7 scale steps, you'll land
on f. This keyboard diagram shows how we count up 7 starting with
g and landing on f:
The red dots show the chord tones (g b d f). Notice how we make the chord
by taking every other note in the scale.
We can carry this futther and build a 9th chord by adding another tone
a 9th above the root: In this diagram, I have colored each chord tone
red for easy identification. Again see how we build the chord by taking
every other note of the scale.
dominant major ninth
Technically this is a dominant major ninth chord, because the interval
from g to a' is a major ninth. This is one of my favorite chords. But
let's add yet, another chord tone.
Progress Check. What name would you give to this chord in
the key of C?
- - - - - - - -
It is a dominant 11th chord. You might also refer to it
as V11. The letter name for the chord is G11. Notice how the letter name
for the chord doesn't tell us anything about the function of the
chord. That's why music students who just learn the letter names of chords
and don't think of their function within the key are really missing something.
They are playing chords, but playing them without understanding how they
fit into the key center and how they function. .
Try playing this chord on your instrument. If you play a
melody instrument like a flute, just play the notes one-at-time. You are
still playing a chord -- just a broken chord (also called an arpeggio).
If possible play all the tones at once on a piano or other keyboard instruments
or a guitar. Or click here to listen using MIDI.
How does it sound?
- - - - - - - - - -
It's rather harsh sounding. The technical term is dissonant.
It's something you might hear in a movie when something scary happens
-- for example, the camera suddenly focuses on a clue in a mystery. After
stacking so many tones to build a chord, composers often start dropping
some of them out to make the chord less heavy and dissonant. The dissonance
in this 11th chord comes a lot from the sound of ti clashing against
do or we might say the the third of the chord clashing agains the
11th. So musicians will often drop the third of the 11th chord. They may
also omit the 5th of the chord. Different arrangements of the tone of
the chords produce different effects, too. Here is one of my favorite
ways to play a G11th chord (dominant 11th chord in the key of C):
Look at the three upper tones in this chord; they are c,
f and a. Now rearrange them and you get f a c. So the upper three chord
tones of the G11th look just like an F chord! In fact, most of the time,
the guitar notation for this chord would be F/G which means play an F
chord, but put a G in the bass. But now you know that a F/G is really
a G11th chord with the third and fifth of the chord omitted. F/G is really
a dominant chord in the key of C and the root is of the chord is G, not
F. Anyway, I am digressing a bit from the main point of this lesson, so
let me continue.
Let's continue and stack yet another tone on our dominant
chord, to make a V13. In notation it might look like this at first (before
we omit some of the tones):
Progress check. Why is it called a 13th chord?
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Because if we count up from the root of the chord (g) to
highest chord tone (e), we count to 13.
Now this chord really has too many notes for most purposes
-- so let omit some of the tones. If we omit the 5th and 11th and rearranged
the tones, we might end up with this version of a dominant 13th chord.:
(I would play the two lower notes with the left hand and
the b e' a' with the right hand.)
Progress check. Is the V13 chord shown above, an altered
- - - - - - -
If you're not sure, you might guess yes, since the e' and
a' are not part of the G7 chord. But no, this is not an altered dominant
chord because the e' and a' are, indeed, part of the C scale. You can
find them in the key of C major. (By the way, in these lessons, if I don't
say "minor" you can assume that I am talking about a major key.)
Creating an Altered Dominant. Remember, an altered
chord is a chord that has one or more of its chord tones changed from
what it normally would be in the scale Now, let's make an altered 13th
chord. Lets lower the 9th.. In other words, we'll change the a' to a'-flat..
For lack of a better name, I'll call this an dominant-alt-1
chord.or a V alt1. Just so you know, some people notate an altered dominant
chord with a triangle like symbol. Others notate it as G 13.-9
[NOTE: You may want to see a free movie that illustrates
the same idea discussed here. If so, click on this link to Cool
Chord Progressions. Then look for the free sample lesson.]
As a help in finding this chord quickly in various keys,
I like to think of building a major triad on a tone a half-step below
the 7th of the chord. The 7th of this chord is f (f is seven
steps above the root g). A major triad a half step below f
is E-major. When thinking this way, we could notate the chord like this:
This time I put the three upper notes in the treble clef.
This makes it easier to see that these notes are easy to play with the
right hand. You should be able to recognize b-e-g# as an E major chord.
If not, rearrange the tones. Put the e on the bottom: e g# b. (Notice
that the a-flat is now notated as a g#. The tone g# is called the enharmonic
equivalent of a-flat.)
To build this chord quickly, play the
root and the seventh of the chord in the left hand. Then build
a major triad on a tone that is a half-step below the seventh of
the chord. Rearrange the tones of the major triad as desired for the sound
you like best.
To find this chord quickly in the key of C, I usually play
g and a higher f with the left hand and an E-major triad
with the right hand. This way of thinking is only for the purpose of finding
the chord quickly. From a pure theory pont of view, it is better to think
of it as a dominant 13th chord with a minor 9th.
When improvising or composing, you might choose to arpeggiate
the "E-major" chord or play it in different inversions. The
advantage of thinking of the upper three notes as making a major triad
makes it that it is easier to improvise or compose in this way.
Exercise: Play this dominant alt chord in the keys of G
. Then check your answer below. Hint: the dominant in the key of G is
D. Be prepared to explain your thinking as you build the chord.
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Answer. Ok, let's start with the key of G. The dominant
chord would be built on the tone d. If we put a minor 7th in the
lower part we would have: d and c' A half-step below the
c' is b, so we would think of the tones played by the right
had as making a B-major chord. Make sense? Here's what it would look like
Progress check. To build this chord quickly, play the root
and the ____ of the chord in the left hand. Then build a major triad on
a tone that is a ____ below the seventh of the chord.
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You can check your answer by scrolling up or by clicking
here. .(Use your back button to jump back here.)
Type 2 Altered Dominant
Another way to create an altered dominant chord is to play
a dominant 9th and augment the 9th (play it a half-step higher) and also
augment the fifth. Here's what it would look like in the key of C.
To find this chord quickly, I like to play the root and 7th of the chord
in the left hand. Then I play the third of the chord with the thumb of
my right hand. Above the third, I go up another major third -- that's
gives me the d-sharp. Then I go up a perfect fifth (to find the a#). I've
marked the perfect 5th interval in the example above to make this clear.
Some like to think of this chord as a major/minor chord
with #5 (augmented fifth). That's because the b-natural in the chord makes
it major. The a# can also be thought of as b-flat, which would be a minor
third. As you study music theory, you'll find that there are often different
ways to interprete the same chord.
Whenever you come across a dominant (or secondary
dominant chord), you can try substituting a different chord by adding
a 7th, 9th, or 13th to the basic dominant chord. You can also try changing
one of the tones by a half-step. For example, augment the 5th or 9th --
or lower the 13th and 9th. Sometimes this will work well and sometimes
it won't. It usually won't sound good if the melody note clashes with
the altered tone. For example, if the melody is a-nautrual, it usually
won't work to change a to a-flat in the chord. These kinds of chords tend
to work best in a jazz setting, but may also work in other kinds of music
if introduced carefully.
Assignment: try substituting some type-1 and type-2 altered
dominant chords for regular dominant or dominant 7th chords. Practice
playing these chords in various keys.
NOTE: An expanded version of this lessons in available free
with purchase of PowerTracks
Pro Audio, a MIDI and audio recording program. The tutorial includes
narration, animated keyboard showing notes played. Also, the notes turned
red when played so you can follow along easily. The examples are played
for you on your sound card or MIDI instrument.
I hope you've enjoyed this lesson. Please let me know you are alive and
well by sending me a brief note. Give me a report.
How are you doing? Are you practicing regularly? Do you have any questions?