Autumn Leaves Chords – 5 Useful ways to unlock Extensions

How you add extensions and color to the Autumn Leaves Chords is a big part of the sound of Jazz Harmony. In this video I am going to go over 5 different sets of chords ranging from a very basic Drop2 set via a various extensions and alterations to a spacy modal harmonization.

When checking out the possiblities for adding and changing the chords it is practical to use a chord progression that you already know and have in your ears. In that way it doesn’t become only theory but you can also relate it to a song you already know.

In the lesson I am going to use the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves and I have 5 different variations of the chords on this song that you can use to explore what is possible and of course also directly start using in your playing.

#1 The Song and the Drop2 voicings

When you are checking out a jazz standard like Autumn Leaves it is a good idea to just go through it with a basic drop2 voicings. The Drop2 voicings are anyway very useful for any type of jazz comping so you should check them out. You can check out the How To Play Jazz Chords Study guide

The voicing set using only drop2 chords and no extensions is shown here below in Example 1.

#2 Adding Basic Extensions

Now that we have a basic set of chords to work with we can start adding extensions to them.

The basic rule is that you can work with when adding extensions to chord voicings are:

  1. The 9th replaces the root
  2. The 13th replaces the 5th

With these two concepts it is easy to add an extension to a chord and putting it in there won’t change the core part of the chord which is covered with the 3rd and 7th.

In the first version I used a higher Bbmaj7 voicing. Mainly to avoid having a b9 interval in the chord which is not so great for that chord. Now that I am exchanging the root for the 9th the b9 (between A and Bb) is gone and I can use the lower version of the Bb and Eb chords.

On the Am7(b5) we can’t really us a 9th since the Bb is not the greatest extension on an Aø chord. In this case I am using an 11th and I am using it instead of the 3rd. This can work sometimes, but won’t always workout for a lot of chords. In this case the b5 combined with the 11th will still make it a clear m7b5 sound.

#3 Adding several extensions to the chords

The next logical step is to start using two extensions for each chord. Which is what I am doing here below.

The Cm7 is turned into a Cm7(9,11). The 9th is replacing the root, and the 11th is replacing the 5th. In a minor chord the 13th doesn’t work well with this m7 chord, but using the note below the 5th is a viable option.

The F7 is turned into a 13b9 which is from the diminished scale. 

The Bb chord uses the rules above to add a 9th and a 13th. The Ebmaj7 stays with a 9th.

On the Aø I have now added a 9th. The 9th is implying another scale on this chord. The first choice would be G minor, but now with the B in there it is coming out of C melodic minor.

The D7 is analtered chord adding b9 and alterering the 5th to a b5.

On the tonic chord I am using a GmMaj7 with an added maj6th which really drives home the melodic minor sound.

The final G7 is coming out of the altered scale and is derived from the original G7 voicing. 

#4 Autumn Leaves Chords: Other Sounds and voicing types

Sometimes another way of adding different sounds is not to add more notes to the chords but instead to opt for certain voicings that have a characteristic sound. The last two examples use this quite a lot.

The first Cm7 is voiced as an Bb triad over an Eb which has a distinct sound with the  second interval between the Eb and the F.

On the Bbmaj7 the  sounds is tweaked a bit by adding a #11 instead of the 5th. For the rest the 9th is added.

The Aø the sound is again A Locrian nat. 2 (or C mel minor) The voicing has a 9th instead of the root and an 11th instead of the 3rd. You could see it as an Ebmaj7(#5)

The D7(#9b5) is constructed similar to the rules above.

Another example of the GmMaj7 where I am using a Drop2 voicng but now using the minor 2nd between the root and the maj7th to color the sound.

With the G7alt voicing it is clear how this sound is really closely related to it’s tri tone substitute: Db7.

#5 The Spacy Herbie Hancock meets Brad Mehldau Jam

The final version is more a modal treatment of the chords. The focus is completely changed here. When harmonizing in a modal way the priority is not helping the chord to function but just to give it an interesting sound.

The Cm7 is now with an added 13th which really ruins its function: To delay the A (the 13th that is now in the chord). The F7 altered that follows compensates the harmonic movement with altereations.

On The Bbmaj7 chord is an incomplete chord, which here means that it has no 3rd. It does contain the 7th, 13th and #11. The Ebmaj7 is left untouched to change up the pace a bit.

The cadence to Gm is reharmonized with a tritone substitution to Eb7 D7 instead of Aø D7. The two dominants are then embellished by adding the II chord as well: Bbm7 Eb7 Aø D7. To add even more sounds I have turned the Aø into a Am7(9) which is essentially borrowing it from G Major rather than G minor.

With the tonic chord I also added another more colorful sound: Gm6(9#11) this chord is coming out of D harmonic minor and is really just meant as a surprising sound on the Gm chord.

The final G7 is a G7(#9) which is using a Bb triad over a B. This is coming out of the diminished scale.

The Chord Diagrams

If you prefer to check out the chord diagrams you can reference this chart:


0:00 Intro

0:58 Drop2 voicings

1:26 Ex 1 Basic Drop2 voicings

3:42 Ex 2 Adding Extensions + basic rules

7:07 Ex 3 More Extensions + advanced rules

9:51 Ex 4 Advanced Sounds

13:09 Ex 5 Modal Harmonization (Herbie Hancocks Playground)

18:06 A few thoughts on comping

18:57 Do you have a great approach for working with chord extensions?

Learn, Listen and Experiment

The best way to integrate these things is to try and play through them and relate them Autumn Leaves. But also try to incorporate them into your own playing and combine it with what you play already. It is always good to keep experimenting.

Finding more ideas on Autumn Leaves

If you are looking for more ideas and examples on Autumn Leaves then check out this WebStore lesson with 5 choruses of examples:

Autumn Leaves Comping – Lesson

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You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

Autumn Leaves Chords – 3 ways to add colors and extensions

Autumn Leaves Chords – Chord Diagrams

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