Tag Archives: altered chord

arpeggiating altered chords

Piano being a polyphonic instrument, pianists naturally have access to playing several notes on the keyboard at once, which is definitely an advantage when trying to develop harmonic consciousness. Guitarists also have a fretboard suited to playing and hearing both simple and complex chords, and vibraphonists, with two pairs of sticks, are often seen playing four notes at once — a perfect number if you’re focusing on chord tones only! But what about you melodic instrumentalists out there? How does a flute player, a trumpet player, or a double bass player go about hearing a tune’s harmonic framework?

Having taught a few people who play such melodic instruments (as opposed to pianists which typically make up the bulk of my students), I have found that going through a tune arpeggiating its chords is a worthwhile exercise. It gives the player a deeper awareness of the changes, which later enables him or her to be more connected to the tune when improvising (and when playing/embellishing the melody).

Arpeggiating is easily achieved for most chords: play the chord tones first (root, third, fifth, and seventh) then move up to the tensions (ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth)¹. Once you’ve reached the top, just make your way back down from the thirteenth to the root. That works really well for major and minor chords with ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths, and also for most dominant chords with tensions. But altered chords (a specific kind of dominant chord) can be a bit of a challenge because of the inner workings of the altered mode: it indeed appears to have two ninths (one flat and one sharp), and can be apprehended as having two fifths as well (a diminished and an augmented fifth). This can all be quite confusing… So let’s try and see through the fog so that you know what to play when you get to those last four bars of the tune Footprints for example².

First, it is important to know that the altered chord’s parent mode, the altered mode, comes from the melodic minor scale (also called jazz minor). Play C melodic minor for instance (C melodic minor is equivalent to the C major scale with a minor third instead of a major third). Now play all the same notes as in C melodic minor, but starting and ending on the note B. This is the B altered mode (B C D Eb F G A B), mode VII of melodic minor (the altered chord is thus the VIIth degree of melodic minor). Now, let’s attribute scale degrees (notated using Arabic numerals accompanied by flats and sharps when necessary) to the notes of the B altered mode:

B 1 root
C b9 flat ninth
D #9 sharp ninth
Eb (= D#) 3 major third
F b5 / #11 diminished fifth or sharp eleventh
G #5 / b13 augmented fifth or flat thirteenth
A b7 minor seventh

If you look closely, you might notice that we seemingly have two different kinds of thirds in this mode: a minor third (D), and a major third (Eb or, spelled enharmonically, D#). Theoretically, D natural can also function as a #9 on a chord whose root is B. And since we cannot have two thirds in a given chordmode³, scale degrees 3 and #9 can logically be attributed to D# (Eb) and D respectively.

We have now identified three of our chord tones: the root (B), the major third (D#), and the minor seventh (A), which indeed outline a dominant seventh chord in skeletal form. It’s now time to add some flesh to those bare tones! Before moving on to tensions, we have to make a choice for our last chord tone: the fifth. We can either use a diminished fifth (the note F in our example) or an augmented fifth (G).

Altered arpeggio using b5 as a chord tone

If we decide that the b5 will function as the fifth of the altered chord for our purpose of arpeggiating it, we have the notes B, D#, F, and A in the lower part (chord tones) of the arpeggio. The remaining notes of the chordmode are C (b9), D (#9), and G (b13). They form the upper part (tensions) of the arpeggio. And we have:

B D# F A C D G D C A F D# B
1 3 b5 b7 b9 #9 b13 #9 b9 b7 b5 3 1

Notice that the tensions (C, D, and G) form a quartal triad that can be notated C2, D7sus(omit 5), or Gsus depending on its inversion. In this case, there is an absence of eleventh in the chordmode due to the presence of b5.

Altered arpeggio with b5 going through the circle of fifths

Altered arpeggio using #5 as a chord tone

If we decide that the #5 will function as the fifth of the altered chord for our purpose of arpeggiating it, we have the notes B, D#, G, and A in the lower part (chord tones) of the arpeggio. The remaining notes of the chordmode are C (b9), D (#9), and F (#11). They form the upper part (tensions) of the arpeggio. And we now have:

B D# G A C D F D C A G D# B
1 3 #5 b7 b9 #9 #11 #9 b9 b7 #5 3 1

The tensions (C, D, and F) do not form any specific tertial nor quartal triad here, and in this second scenario, there is an absence of thirteenth in the chordmode due to the presence of #5.

Altered arpeggio with #5 going through the circle of fifths

So there you have it: two different ways of arpeggiating altered chords in full (i.e. entire chordmodes with four chord tones and three tensions). Don’t forget to practice both examples a) and b) in all twelve keys! As always, I recommend following cycle five root motion, starting at different points in the cycle every time you pick up your instrument to practice (I’ve started with B7alt in the audio examples above since this is the chord we’ve been concerned with throughout the article).

Finally, to further illustrate my point, allow me to offer a recording of Footprints for your consideration, wherein I used seven-note voicings extensively in the keyboard part (stacked thirds for the most part and the altered voicings discussed above for E7alt and A7alt in the 10th measure of each chorus). The track features soloists Corey Wallace (trombone) and Philippe Lopes De Sa (soprano saxophone), as well as a rhythm section comprised of Akiko Horii (percussion), Hiroshi Fukutomi (electric guitar), and myself (keyboard and keyboard bass). Enjoy!

Notes

¹ These kinds of voicings are often referred to as “stacked thirds” (Levine 2014:3)

² The chords in this four bar progression are F#mi7(b5), F7(#11), E7alt, A7alt resolving to Cmi7. Listen to Wayne Shorter’s version on Adam’s Apple.

³ A chordmode is an indivisible entity that arises when a given chord sounds in unity with the scale from which it derives. “The complete sound of a chord is its corresponding mode within its parent scale.” (Russell 2001)

References

Levine, Mark. “Chapter One: The Menu.” In How to Voice Standards at the Piano: The Menu, 1-22. Petaluma: Sher Music Co., 2014.

Russell, George. “Part One: The Theoretical Foundation of the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization.” In Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization – Volume One: The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity, 1-53. Brookline: Concept Publishing Company, 2001.

Shorter, Wayne. Adam’s Apple. Blue Note 7464032. 1987 (originally released in 1966).


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Milt Jackson’s vibraphone solo on Anthropology

I recently stumbled upon an excellent article on Jazz Advice about jazz language. In short, it’s about the importance of learning it!

Jazz is indeed a language. When children learn a language, they listen, pick out their favorite words, and repeat what they hear… Over and over again! We jazz musicians can totally take example from these kids in order to improve our knowledge of – and fluency in – the language of jazz. Of course, the repeating part will involve transposing as well, and that’s where the fun really starts!

So I’ve decided to regularly transcribe some of my favorite solos, pick my favorite phrases, and share my findings with you on here. I hope you’ll enjoy them! Today, let’s start with Milt Jackson’s vibraphone solo on Anthropology.

It’s always nice to practice rhythm changes with its characteristic I-VI-II-V progression (in fact Ima7-V7alt/II-IImi7-V7(b9) in this particular case) since it’s such a common harmonic pattern in jazz.

The one phrase that really stuck out for me is played in bars 9 to 12. I like it because it has some cool non-diatonic action in bar 10. Here’s how I practiced it both in my right and left hands, using two different kinds of voicings for the accompanying hand (“positions A and B” as Mark Levine puts it in his Jazz Piano Book). The example is in Bb major, the original key. As stated before, it’s essential to take it fully around the cycle of 5ths in order to make sure to really internalize the phrase and the chords in all keys. Just be mindful of low interval limits when playing the chords in the left hand.

The use of anticipation in the second bar of Milt’s phrase is remarkable: the first four eighth notes (Ab B A F#) are all part of the half-whole scale based on F, which is the scale we would use over F7(b9). The second set of eighth notes (Bb F D Bb) is simply a descending triad outlining the upcoming Bbma7 sound in the third bar.

It’s also interesting to note that in one of the positions, the G7alt voicing can be thought of as Fmi7(b5)/G (bars 1 & 11). That means you can play a mi7(b5) chord a whole step below the root of any altered chord, and you’ve instantly got yourself a cool voicing for it!

Similarly, in the other position, the G7alt voicing resembles a Bma7(b5)/G (bars 6 & 16). So it’s also an option to play a ma7(b5) chord a major third above the root of any altered chord to get the desired altered sound.


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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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