Tag Archives: dominant chord

maximizing the use of the common “dominant shape” to voice chords from major and melodic minor

A multifaceted structure

The “dominant shape” is extremely versatile. In a tonal context, it can be used to voice all chords that are derived from melodic minor, and most chords that are derived from major (in a modal context, its use is broader yet). The degrees on which each of the chords below function are indicated in the captions below each example.

Transposable formulas (specific arrangements of chord tones and tensions, e.g. “3 13 b7 9”) are also given in the captions for each chord (in each caption, position B is listed first and position A second to be consistent with the music notation). By position A/B, it is meant “dominant shape (voicing used for the V chord) extracted from the major II-V-I progression in position A/B.”

The dominant shape is comprised of the following intervals (listed from the bottom to the top of the voicing): major third, major second, perfect fourth in position A / perfect fourth, minor second, major third in position B.

Tonal use cases

The mixolydian (dominant) chord is listed first, since it is, naturally, the one from which the thought of using the dominant shape to play other chords comes from. Then we have the altered chord, and it is interesting to note that there is a sub V (tritone substitution) relationship between the mixolydian and the altered dominant chords. Eb7 and A7alt, for example, indeed share the same guide tones (G and Db/C#), and their roots are indeed a tritone apart. As a result, one chord can be substituted for the other following the tritone substitution rule.

Works on degrees: V (major), IV (melodic minor).
Position B: 3 13 b7 9; Position A: b7 9 3 13.
Works on degrees: VII (melodic minor).
Position B: b7 #9 3 b13; Position A: 3 b13 b7 #9.

I have then chosen to list the locrian and minor 6/9 chords, since they are also widely used. In fact, a minor II-V-I can be played entirely using the dominant shapes presented here (e.g. Emi7(b5) = E A Bb D, A7alt = G C Db F, Dmi6/9 = F A B E).

Works on degrees: VII (major), VI (melodic minor).
Position B: 1 11 b5 b7; Position A: b5 b7 1 11.
Works on degrees: I (melodic minor), II (major).
Position B: 6 9 b3 5; Position A: b3 5 6 9.

Next up are the lydian and phrygian sounds, which also come in handy, albeit arguably more sporadically than the ones mentioned previously.

Works on degrees: IV (major), bIII (melodic minor).
Position B: #11 7 1 3; Position A: 1 3 #11 7.
Works on degrees: III (major), II (melodic minor).
Position B: 5 1 b9 11; Position A: b9 11 5 1.

Lastly, the mixolydian b13/aeolian sound is probably the least common of all (moreover, it is rather tricky to find an adequate chord symbol for it, so the space has been left blank).

Works on degrees: V (melodic minor), VI (major),
Position B: 9 5 b13 1; Position A: b13 1 9 5.

Practice tip

Internalize both shapes by taking them through the cycle of fifths (using different roots in the left hand for example; that way you’ll get the different sounds described above). It’s fine if you have to think about the formulas at first, but try and gradually shift towards using your ears and muscle memory exclusively. It is without question a challenging exercise… But trust yourself in the process: it will be way more fun!


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5-note 2-hand voicings: example of a minor II-V resolving to Ima7

The example above is a great exercise to practice some solid sounding 5-note voicings for a minor II-V (resolving to a Ima7 chord, just like in the second half of the bridge to All the Things You Are¹). So buckle up and get ready to take this whole thing through the cycle of fifths in all keys! You might well end up with a brand new, hip sounding chord or two in your toolbox. 🙂

The first chord, F#mi7(b5), is built using what Mark Levine (1989) calls the insen pentatonic (B C E F# A). You can construct it yourself (without looking at the sheet music) by first playing an E below middle C (as the b7 of the chord, that E respects standard low interval limits), then skipping the F#, playing the A, skipping the B, playing the C, and so forth (in other words, playing every other note in the insen pentatonic scale and sounding all the notes together with both hands). As you can see from the example above, I have notated all five inversions of that chord (first ascending, and then descending all the way back to the inversion chosen initially). I find it very beneficial to practice in that fashion in order to create a “sheet of sound” effect (like McCoy Tyner comping for John Coltrane!); having all five versions of the chord under your belt will also enable you to voice lead as smoothly as possible in any situation, taking into account where you’re coming from and where you’re going harmonically. Lastly, if the tune you’re playing calls for dwelling on a certain chord for a somewhat prolonged amount of time (a few bars), there lies a perfect opportunity for you to explore some of those inversions for the sake of variation…

The second chord is a B7 to which we have added a b9, a #9, and a b13. These tensions form a C2 triad (C D G) which when inverted gives us either two perfect fourths stacked on top of each other (D G C), or a Gsus triad (G C D)². Therefore we have an upper structure triad chord (UST) voiced with the aforementioned triad on top (played by the right hand) and the guide tones in the bottom (in the left hand). To be musically consistent with the phrasing used for F#mi7(b5), I have included several “inversions” here too (to be precise: inversions of the top triad in the right hand, and inversions of the guide tones in the left).

The final chord to which this progression resolves is an Ema7 chord (with thensions 9 and 13). The building process here is the exact same as for F#mi7(b5) (with the playing and skipping of every other tone in the scale), except that this time, a “regular”³ anhemitonic (containing no semitones) pentatonic is used (B C# D# F# G#). Notice how each individual voice outlines the pentatonic scale melodically… Neat, huh? I sure like it! (the same thing goes for the insen pentatonic we talked about above).

And there you have it: three solid sounding, 2-hand voicings for your minor II-V resolving to a major I chord. I hope you’ll enjoy practicing this snippet and that it will prove to be a valuable addition to your harmonic vocabulary!

Notes

¹ Click here for a transcription (example #2) of guitarist Remo Palmieri soloing over the bridge of All the Things You Are (Gillespie 1993).

² Click here to see these quartal triads (2 and suspended) in root position and their inversions notated in treble clef.

³ In order to differentiate this particular pentatonic scale from other kinds of 5-note scales (such as the insen pentatonic mentioned earlier), I usually refer to it as “global.” After all, it “has been found in use upon every single continent of the planet Earth.” (Hewitt 2013)

References

Gillespie, Dizzy. Groovin’ High. Savoy 152. 1993 (originally released in 1955).

Hewitt, Michael. “Section 5: Pentatonic Scales.” In Musical Scales of the World, 125-134. The Note Tree, 2013.

Levine, Mark. “Chapter 15: Pentatonic Scales.” In The Jazz Piano Book, 219-237. Petaluma: Sher Music Company, 1989.


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getting into the altered sound

Let’s take a look at a few things that can be done when an altered dominant chord presents itself in a tune (e.g. Eb7alt). The first thing to know is that the altered chord derives from the altered mode, otherwise known as mode VII of melodic minor. But to break out of the diatonic sound of the scale and gain a little freedom with it, here are a few tricks…

There are 5 different triads that can be used as numerators (the denominator being the basic chord sound, i.e. combinations of chord tones 1, 3, and b7) to get a solid sounding upper structure triad voicing for an altered chord:

  • bIImi
  • bIIImi
  • bV
  • bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-1

You can then combine both minor triadic upper structures and both major triadic upper structures to form two hexatonic scales, which can be used as interesting melodic devices:

  • bIImi / bIIImi
  • bV / bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-2

Now, if you take a closer look at both these hexatonics, you’ll notice that they have five notes in common. These notes make up a pentatonic scale (bV major pentatonic, a.k.a. bIII minor pentatonic), which can also be used as an even more angular melodic device.

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-3

Click “Download File” below to hear the midi examples notated above. The full PDF document is also available here. Enjoy!


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