Teach Yourself Music Theory – 34.) Inverting Seventh-Chords

If you remember all there is to inverting triads, inverting seventh-chords should be no problem at all. On the other hand, if you still have trouble with inversions – I suggest you look over past posts before starting with this one.

As mentioned in the past, inverting a chord is like reordering the chord members… but this time, a note besides the root is in the bass.

Whereas a triad had three different inversions (one for each chord member), a seventh-chord will have four different inversions:

  • Root Position – where the root is in the bass; noted with a “7” symbol
  • First Inversion – where the third is in the bass; noted with a “6/5” symbol
  • Second Inversion – where the fifth is in the bass; noted with a “4/3” symbol
  • Third Inversion – where the seventh is in the bass; noted with a “4/2” symbol

These inversions can be noted with Roman numerals (below the staff) or in lead-sheet notation (above the staff):

Try writing various seventh-chords, identifying them, and then inverting them. Also, listen to how each of the inversions sound.

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Tip #231 – Reducing to the Essentials

If you could only play two notes to suggest the harmony, which ones would you choose? How can you choose the right night to imply the right harmony without making it ambiguous?

Previously, we have talked about making harmonic accompaniment ambiguous by playing only octaves and fifths. What if we want to do the opposite.

Well, instead of the fifth, what other notes of the chord impact its quality? That would be the third (telling us if it is major of minor), the seventh (tell us what kind of seventh chord it is), and sixth (for extra color).

Some people have been known to call this “shell voicing” when you limit your harmonic voicings down to two notes: the root/bass and a tone that tells us the quality of the chord.

NOTE: if the chord was diminished, playing the flat fifth would be more of a priority, but not when it is a perfect fifth.

Try it out. When building a bass line, an accompaniment, or whatever, challenge yourself by only playing 2 notes.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 33.) Identifying Seventh-Chords

Before we begin, let’s review:

Previously, we have talked about triads, which are chords comprised of three different pitches, with the notes (from lowest to highest) are a third apart from each other.

If we add another third on top of the triads, we get a seventh-chord, which is a chord comprised of four different pitches with the notes (from lowest to highest) are a third apart from each other and span a distance of a seventh.

The alteration of a triad to a seventh-chord will look like as such:

Now, just like triads, seventh-chords have different names depending on the intervals between each chord member. However, if you can identify the triad the seventh-chord is built from as well as the extra interval above it – you will be more comfortable with identifying triads.

Let’s take a look:

  • Augmented Seventh = Augmented Triad + M7 above root
  • Major Seventh = Major Triad + M7 above root
  • Dominant Seventh = Major Triad +m7 above root
  • Minor Seventh = Minor Triad + m7 above root
  • Half-Diminished Seventh = Diminished Triad + m7 above root
  • Fully-Diminished Seventh = Diminished Triad + d7 above root

This is how they would look (with the third of the chord placed an octave above):

Another way of being able to distinguish between the different seventh-chords is through this diagram:

In comparison to the Major Seventh chord (which we will call “home base” due to its lack of alterations), all the other seventh chords have a pitch raised or lowered.

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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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