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 #181 – Reducing to Power Chords

We have talked about how power chords can create ambiguity in the harmony because you cannot exactly tell if the chord is major or minor. In addition, transforming a diminished triad into a power chord creates a chromatic in the key pitch collection as well as ambiguity in the leading tone.

Besides blurring the lines of major and minor, reducing to power chords can help enforce root movements. Now that the listener cannot rely on whether a major chord moved to a minor chord, vice-verse, or whatever – they have to pay attention to the root movement.

Chords that are a P5 or P4 apart will now have more power in transition. The listener will notice the sol – do pitch movement, even if the chords are not V – I, because the key is not exactly distinguishable due to the power chord harmonization.

This can work to your advantage, or work against it. So, pay attention to where and how you use power chords – especially when you are bouncing between triadic harmony and power chords.

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Tip #180 – Using the Principle of the I 6/4 Chord

This post is NOT a debate on if the I 6/4 chord acts more of a tonic or dominant chord. Instead, we will be talking about the principle behind the chord and how to apply it to other practices.

While the analysis of the I 6/4 chord is up to debate, the function is not – the chord comes before the V chord, and then it usually resolves to the I chord from there. Why so? Well, looking at the shape as well as the voice movement of the I 6/4 chord to the V chord, it is a suspension of higher tones over the shared root resolving to the dominant chord.

Basically, we can learn from this is that by suspending voices over the dominant root, we create a delayed resolution to the V chord and then to I.

Not only can this be done with a I 6/4 chord, but it can also be done with a V sus4 chord, a V chord with upper tension tones, and variations:

Try them out – that by keeping the root the same, but changing the upper structure or voicing, you create a delay in the harmonic movement resolving back to I.

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Tip #177 – The Backdoor Progression

This is going to be a short post – but nonetheless, an interesting one.

For those that already know this chord progression, feel free to skip this, but here is something new I learned from a while ago.

In a lot of jazz, Broadway, and some rock/pop music, we have the classic ii – V7 – I progression. It is a simple way to set-up a return back to the tonic.

Now, imagine the tonic as the house and we walked the usual path to the front door with the ii – V7. Sounds, good, but what if we wanted a little surprise that still reaches the same destination? We use the backdoor progression:

iv – bVII7 – I

This is constructed in the same way as the ii – V7 – I, as you can see by shared common tones and interval distances.

Try it out and see how you think of it. Maybe it can work well in one of your next compositions.

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Tip #175 – Harmonizing a Chromatic Scale with Secondary Dominants

Once you see the process to doing this, you aren’t going to forget it.

Now, say that you have a diatonic melodic line like the one below with the notes appearing in sequential order:

Between each of the diatonic notes, we are going to approach each with a chromatic note. It should look like this now:

Okay, from here we are going to harmonize the diatonic notes with triads within the key. For the simplicity of this tip, the notes will act as the root of the chords:

Finally, it is time to add the secondary dominants. A secondary dominant is the “V7” chord proceeding before a chord it wants to temporarily tonicize. It just so happens that those chromatic tones are part of the secondary dominants we are going to build:

Our progression is now I – V7/ii – ii – V7/iii – iii , all built on a chromatic line!

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Tip #174 – Reimagining Purpose of a Circle-Of-Fifths Progression

To some people, a circle-of-fifths progression (a sequential chord progression with root movement all done by perfect fifths) is a very artistic way of composing music. Others may find it predictable because you know well in advance where the next chord is going to.

Take a look at this one for example:

You can view this as a simple circle-of-fifths progression, but how about another way:

You can also reimagine this as an overlay of IV – I – V movements. And now when you are in this mindset, you can control how to get out of the predictable pattern into a set key with the understanding that you have the momentum of a IV – I – V progression.

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Tip #173 – Retrograde Harmony

Some of you might recall that retrograde in music involves taking a music figure and playing in backwards. Usually, this is done with a melodic line, but we can use it with harmony and get some interesting progressions!

Take a look at these two phrases below and their harmony:

Play the piece how it is above first. Now: try the retrograde option below:

You will hear that the resolutions are unexpected – which can work to your advantage or not.

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