Tip #184 – Unique Use of Dominant 13 (b9 #11) Chord

Some jazz performers, arrangers, and composers have the inclination to add tension tones and various extensions on top of simple triad chord harmonies. Not that it is a bad thing, but it can become mundane if used too often or too frivolously.

With that out of the way, one chord that I have noticed some people using is the dominant 13 chord with alterations of a b9 and #11. Usually, this is recognized as a V 13(b9 #11) in the jazz tune – but here is another use of it:

Let’s first start by separating the dominant 7 from the upper extensions. That gives us the V7 chord and the (b9 #11 13) above.

If we reharmonize the (b9 #11 13) be their enharmonic, we get a minor triad a tritone above the root of the chord.

Typically, there is no major or natural minor key that has both a V7 and bii. However, who said that the dominant chord has to function as a V7 chord? Instead, we can think of it as a tritone substation making it a bII7 in a minor key with the minor triad acting as a v. In which case, both the bII7 and v chords resolve to the minor tonic triad of i.

Try it out for yourself!

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Tip #166 – Using sus4 Chords for Inner-Voice Movement

Say that you an “out-of-the-ordinary” progression that involves a bunch of major triads going up by whole steps.

So, that would be: C – D – E – F# …

This parallel movement is irregular because there is no “standard” key that has more than two major chords a whole step apart in a row.

However, you can make the progression sound really amazing by using sus4 chords in between.

To remind: a sus4 chord is when you replace the third of a triad with a P4 interval above the root.

By altering each chord to become a sus4 voicing, you create a chromatic line ascending upwards that makes the chord progression become more interesting and flowing:

Try it out on your own with different major chords.

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Tip #165 – Using sus2 Chords for Inner-Voice Movement

Say that you an “out-of-the-ordinary” progression that involves a descent of minor triads by whole steps.

So, that would be: Cm – Bbm – Abm – Gbm …

This parallel movement is irregular because there is no “standard” key that has more than two minor chords a whole step apart in a row.

However, you can make the progression sound really amazing by using sus2 chords in between.

To remind: a sus2 chord is when you replace the third of a triad with a M2 interval above the root.

By altering each chord to become a sus2 voicing, you create a chromatic line descending downwards that makes the chord progression become more interesting and flowing:

Try it out for yourself starting at different minor triads.

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Tip #161 – Cheat-Sheet for Building Large Eight-Part Chord Structures

Previously, we have talked about reimagining the idea of eight-part chord structures. Instead of thinking the chords as one big harmony, we can mentally divide the chord into two different chords at smaller harmonic density – and then from there, arrange the two chords into unique voicings.

Below is a cheat-sheet on how to build these large chord structures:

To read the cheat-sheet, start by deciding what chord harmony/family you want to do in the left-most column. Then, you will notice that each selection is made up of two horizontal rows. The bottom horizontal rows are chord harmonies that work best for the bottom half. Likewise, the upper horizontal row is of chord harmonies that work best for the upper half.

If the chord is highlighted in light blues, that means that it is most optimal to use if you want the root to be in the melody.

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Tip #159 – Reframing Thoughts on Eight-Part Chord Structures

Say that you are being extravagant and want to incorporate a chord like this into your composition:

This is a D7(b9 b13) chord with the doubling of the root at the top.

Instead of thinking of this as one big chord, you can divide it in half and get this result:

Now, you have a D7 chord on the bottom with an Ebmaj7 chord above it.

Thinking of large chords at a micro level can help with voicing. Now that we know that the D7(b9 b13) chord is really just a combination of the two chords (D7 and Ebmaj7), we can essentially “divide and conquer” with solving how we want to voice the chord harmony:

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Tip #157 – Orchestrating to Avoid Minor Second Dissonance

Say that you are creating a closed fifth cluster (or any other cluster as a matter of fact) like the one below:

We have talked about previously about assigning the added tone the disrupts the triadic sound to another instrument family group. However, that rule is not so easy to apply to other clusters…

…especially, even when there is a m2 sound formed in the cluster.

To best resolve around the dissonance of the m2 sound, divide up the cluster chord so that the m2 harmonic interval sound doesn’t appear within the same instrument family.

So, one way of dividing this into two voices would be:

And there you go!

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Tip #155 – Building Four-Part Closed Fifth Clusters

Once again, the title of today’s tip might sound a bit intimidating… but it is a lot more simpler than you think.

Today, we will be talking about building clusters that span over the harmonic interval distance of a perfect fifth by using only four different pitches.

Basically, to build a closed fifth cluster, you take a melody and harmonize underneath it by a perfect fifth interval. Then, you “fill in the middle” with the diatonic minor third of major fifth. So, now you have a bunch of triads. Finally, you add a note a perfect fourth below the melody note. And there you go, harmonization built from closed fifth clusters:

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