Tag Archives: functional harmony

The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

Sometimes you get a little bit tired of playing chord progressions that all sound like this:

And you want to hear some other less predictable chords, and actually, there are a lot of options for that which are already built into the key and let you play something like this.

What I am using here is borrowing some chords from a category called minor subdominant chords,  which is a large group of chords that really can sound incredible in a chord progression!

The Chords That Didn’t Make Sense

When I was beginning to learn standards then I didn’t know how to analyze them, so in the isolated Danish mountains while I was practicing endlessly I was just trying to remember the chords, not understanding what was going on. My knowledge of harmony was limited to realizing what key something was in and maybe figuring out that something was a II V I of some sort.

But I still often ran into other progressions that sounded great, but where I didn’t really understand why, and a lot of the chords that I liked the most later turned out to be minor subdominant chords, they were often the part of the song that I was really drawn to but that I couldn’t figure out.

Tonal Harmony in (almost) 1 minute

The music that I am going to explore in this video is in a key, it is not random chords next to each other which is important to realize.

If you take the key of C major then the foundation is based on the C major scale

And the basic diatonic chords that you create in that key if you stack 3rds would give you these 7 chords:

The way I look at these chords they are split into 3 groups: Tonic chords, Dominant chords and Subdominant chords.

The groups are made so that the chords in the group can often replace each other in a progression, contain many of the same notes, and therefore also sound similar.

Usually, you call this the function of the chord, so in C major, Em7 has a tonic function, and G 7 has a dominant function.

Notice that the function of a chord is also about the chord progression, so it is not just about the notes in the chord. That is also why you can find examples of Am7 being a subdominant chord in C major as well as other places where it is tonic,

The Great Tonal Trick

When a song is in a major key then the great thing about that is that you have all the diatonic chords that I just showed you but you can also use the chords from the minor key with the same root, so in C major you can also use the chords from C minor.

Cut in: – I can, for some reason, never remember what is parallel and what is relatively minor, so I think about it like this, sorry…

This is not entirely coming from scales and is essentially more about voice-leading, but starting with a scale is a great way to get some things to work with, and then you can expand on that to get to some of the great sounds, but I will get to that later in the video.

For C natural minor:

You have these chords:

And in fact, most of these can work as a minor subdominant: Dø, Fm7, Abmaj7, and Bb7 will all be great minor subdominant chords. Let’s hear them in action also to get a better understanding of how they are used in the songs.

#1 Dø

The Dø chord is the easiest to put to use in a II V I, so that you in fact have an entire dark-sounding minor cadence that then beautifully resolves to a bright major sound, similar to Cole Porter’s I love you

#2 Fm7

The Fm7 chord is more often used as a way of getting from a subdominant chord to a tonic chord, so not as a part of a II V I. Often you will in fact see it as an Fm6 or FmMaj7, but I will get to that in a bit. Here it is moving coming from Dm7:

#3 Abmaj7

The bVImaj7 is a beautiful sound and is actually used in quite a few different ways. It can be used like the Fm7 chord:

But it can also be used in a cadence instead of a II chord, which is how it is used in Cole Porter’s Night and Day:

#4 Bb7

One of the minor subdominant chords that is a little less obvious is the bVII, also called the backdoor dominant. You often hear that used as a transition from subdominant back to the tonic:

But it is also sometimes appearing as an extra movement at the end of a section:

Now you have some basic examples so I can show you some more advanced chords before getting to the one that doesn’t fit at all,

A minor (subdominant) misunderstanding

But first, let’s just go over one of the questions that I get most often when I am analyzing something involving these chords which is something like

“why is Abmaj7 a minor subdominant? It is not even a minor chord?”

What you want to know here is that it is called minor not because it is a minor chord, but because it is coming from the minor key. The reason that it is subdominant is that it doesn’t contain a B, so the leading note in the key, and it WILL resolve to a tonic chord, so it isn’t dominant and it isn’t tonic and therefore it is subdominant.

As I already mentioned with the Am7 chord, then you can’t really boil function down to just what notes have to be in the chord.

What I am talking about in this video, is also sometimes referred to as modal interchange, but that concept is, as far as I know, a lot wider, where this is much more specific to the key and more of a description of the type of harmony you come across in Jazz standards.

The next thing to look at is how the chords often are given extensions so that they work better with the major key which gives you some really beautiful chords, and then that chord that doesn’t really fit into the system but sounds beautiful.

Make It Closer to The Key

Some of the other very common minor subdominant chords are a little different in terms of how they are colored, and those are in fact more common.

As I mentioned earlier then the minor subdominants are more a result of voice-leading than of chords from a scale, and in fact, it is mostly about one note that is moving, in C major that would be A moving down to Ab to G, which if you start with an F chord gives you:

 

The 6th note in the scale is one of the most important parts of the subdominant sound, and when you alter that you create minor subdominants.

The most common minor subdominant, and maybe the one that it all points back to in Jazz, is probably a IVm6 chord, so in C major that would be

The Fm6 is a nice sound in C major because it is closer to the key than the Fm7 that also has an Eb which is not in the C major scale.

The Fm6 also allows for having an E in the melody so there is more melodic freedom over it when it appears in a C major context. The most common scale used for this chord is F melodic minor.

You can also see, or rather hear, how Fm6 and Bb7 are interchangeable,

and that also explains why the backdoor dominant is a Lydian dominant, so it has a #11 as an extension.

There is one more subdominant chord to cover, also one that is fairly common, but first let’s look at going beyond the subdominant function.

Minor Dominant – What Is That Anyway?

This video is of course about the minor subdominant chords, but you want to be aware that you come across dominants that are borrowed from minor all the time as well.

The minor scale where the dominant function lives is harmonic minor, which is probably also why it is called that.

And here you have two chords with a dominant function: G7, which becomes a G7(b9,b13) and Bdim

Both of these are useful to have as chords you can use like this basic II V I with a G7(b9)

and this neat way of adding a dominant to get a different transition from a backdoor dominant to the tonic

A Beautiful chord that doesn’t fit

The chord that doesn’t really seem to fit and which is often seen as some sort of tritone substitute is the Neapolitan subdominant.

The way to understand it is really just to think of it as a IVm triad, so in C major that is an F minor triad, with an added 6th but in this case, it is a b6 since that is a stronger leading note to take us down to the root, C. And In Jazz, we turn that into a Dbmaj7 chord and have progressions like this:

The Most Beautiful Jazz Chords And How You Use Them

In this case, the chord isn’t found in C minor, but as you can see it is just a result of voice-leading. Keep in mind that chords is any way just a very crude way to understand voice-leading, something I have talked about before: making things into vertical chord symbols doesn’t always help you understand what is going on.

 

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Why Chord Substitutions Are Holding You Back!

To me, this is one of those things that can really open up how you work with chords and help you create some beautiful-sounding progressions without having to rely on systems and rules.

It also touches on one of the things I don’t like about a modal approach to harmony, but I will try not to rant too much about that in this video. Instead, I am going to show you a way to think about the chords that will free you from just using substitutions and will help you create some beautiful harmony that really flows through the piece.

This is closely related to the type of thinking behind the Coleman Hawkins quote: “I don’t play chords, I play movements” which is often associated with Barry Harris even though that is also not the approach that I will focus on in this video.

Like most others then I was introduced to chord substitutions pretty early in my study. This was when I was still living in Copenhagen and spent most of my time playing Jazz standards in the street when I wasn’t in school trying to get better at guitar.

I was just beginning to figure out how to harmonize melodies and turn them into chord melody arrangements but still only relying on the basic harmony (B-roll – Looking in the real book, pointing, and then trying to play a difficult chord looking baffled)

For this, I am going to start with a few basic substitutions and then we are going to expand that into something much more powerful and creative.

Chord Substitutions 101 – Tritone Subs

The first chord substitution you learn is usually the tritone substitution, which I sometimes get the impression is taught because theory teachers don’t know what to talk about in the lessons.

A tritone substitution is exchanging a dominant for the dominant a tritone away because the two chords share the same core notes: 3rd and 7th.

So in a II V I in C major EXAMPLE  the G7 is replaced with Db7. To give you this nice progression:

And you can see how the same tritone is in the two dominant chords which is why it is possible to switch them.

The best way to understand stuff like this is usually to hear it used in a song.

The basic version:

 

and with a tritone sub:

 

And this demonstrates two things: Tritone substitution(or any other chord substitution) doesn’t really make any sense if you don’t understand how it works with the chords around it. You are making the substitution to get the progression to sound different,  and you need to hear it in the context to really get what is going on, otherwise, you are in this case, just playing an E7 (b-roll: E7!) and  E7 sounds differently in a Blues in E compared to A Jazz ballad in Eb

The other thing you want to notice is that Tritone substitution usually works better when the dominant resolves, so a tritone substitute of a backdoor dominant is probably not going to sound fantastic.

Chord Substitution 102 – Major and Minor + Tritone 2.0

There are probably 3 more chord substitutions that are very common and that you want to know when you are at the stage of just swapping out chords and not really trying to think in harmony as a movement, which we will get to later.

#1 Tritone Dom instead of a II V in minor.

The first one is if you have a minor II V I like for example What Is This Thing Called Love

and you then replace the m7b5 chord with a tritone substitute resolving to the V, so in this case, Db7 moving down to C7:

The next two are about messing with how the ear expects to hear either major or minor in a II V I and then you do the opposite.

#2 a m7 instead of a IIø

If the ear expects to hear a dark-sounding m7(b5) chord EXample and instead you play a much brighter sounding chord that is a m7 with a 9th and or an 11th then that is a really nice surprise. Example

A good example could be Beautiful love. The first few bars usually sound like this:

And you can get a much brighter sound by using an Em7(11) like this:

This is pretty common and also something you can use in a solo, and there are actually even a few spots where Parker does this.

#3 a m7(b5) instead of a m7 chord

The other way around is also really nice! If you have a II V I in a song

and then make it darker by playing:

Beyond Chord Substitution

Jazz Harmony space B-roll (chord symbols flying in space?)

I guess it is sort of ironic that I started out the video by teaching chord substitutions when I actually don’t want you to think like that, so let’s go beyond that, first a bit further and then into Uncharted Jazz Harmony Space  (B-roll)

When you can only think in terms of chord substitutions then you can switch one chord out for another chord, but it actually becomes a lot better if you start to learn to work with entire progressions and come up with other ways of harmonizing that section of the melody.

This was something I first started to get into when I was studying at the conservatory and had lessons with Peter Nieuwerf and Eric Gieben who showed me some exciting ways to work much more freely with harmony, and as you will see, some of these don’t make any sense if you think of them as of chord substitutions.

Let me show you an example, that sort of goes against one of the things that makes reharmonization most effective. I am going to assume that you know what Blue Moon sounds like so that you can hear how these chords are different, and then I am going to explain what is going on.

You can hear how this still works, and still has a flow but also how far away you can go on a very simple turnaround. And actually, you can approach it in a much more open way but I’ll get to that in a bit.

The first thing I changed was turning the Am7 chord into a C#dim.

That is just a secondary dim chord and not something special.  In Bar 3, there is a lot more happening, because here the long G in the melody was original on Cmaj7 Am7, but now it is harmonized with Abmaj7 and Dbmaj7 leading into the Dm7 G7,

and Abmaj7 and Dbmaj7 are not exactly substitutions of Cmaj7 Am7, you could at most call them suspensions but since they don’t resolve back to C then that is also not really a description of what is going on.

The best way to see it is probably just to see it as something that

A/ sounds good with the melody

B/ fits in the key and the chord progression

Here they work because they are both minor subdominant chords in C major and of course sound great under the G in the melody.

In Bar 5 The Cmaj7 Am7 is turned into Bb7(#11) A7.

Again Bb7 is not really a substitution for Cmaj7 or related to Cmaj7. Instead, it is an example of choosing harmony that focuses on a different aspect of the turnaround: The chord that was there: Cmaj7 is just a tonic chord and it is a resolution when you land there, but the song keeps on moving, and the Bb7 only makes sense here because it keeps on moving to A7 and in that way is both a bit surprising but makes sense as the music continues. So you can look at the turnaround and think:

A- It is a tonic chord and then it moves on

or

B- It is a progression that needs to resolve in 2 bars.

And here I am using Bb7 because that works with the melody and really helps push towards the resolution in bar 7. In this last turnaround, I also changed the Dm7 to a D7, but that is just because I think that sounds a little better than the m7 chord with the melody.

So the big difference here is that I am much more free to use whatever chords I can get to work with the melody and the chord progression, not just looking at a chord and then thinking what chord fits instead of this.

This can give you A LOT of freedom, but before I get into that then let’s look at a way to set up a reharmonization so that it really stands out.

The Easiest Way To Make It Work

Timing is incredibly important for reharmonization and chord substitution. When you are playing a song and changing the harmony then what you are really working with is a way to go against the listener’s expectation. That is also what you hear in the Blue Moon example where I first play a turnaround in C to establish the song and then I start to change the chords.

If you start with changing the chords then there is less of an expectation and nothing for the listener to be surprised by:

And of course, that is possible but it is not nearly as strong. If you start listening for how people use reharmonziations then this is more common than you think, try to listen to Gilad Hekselman’s recording I Should Care where the 2nd half of the ABAC form starts with an F#ø Fm6 Em7 A7 because that is a new way to color the melody when it repeats in the 2nd half of the form.  This is by the way a very common reharmonization used on a ton of songs, but let’s get into some more uncommon progressions and different sounds.

Everything Is Allowed!

Until now, I was just showing you some things that were changing a chord here and there and creating some beautiful sounds, but you can also just leave out most of the chords and completely re-imagine the chord progression, using “atonal” ideas and Giant Steps.

To have a place to start check out the first few bars of You Don’t Know What Love Is:

Let’s say that you played that as the first A and now you can change things up in the 2nd A:

Here I am starting with a different chord that is essentially the same Fm6 with a Bb in the Bas and then I sculpt the rest of the chord progression around an ascending bass line ending with Gbmaj7 instead of Db7, but this would really work well moving on to Gø that would follow it.

This next example is borrowing some ideas from Coltrane’s Giant Steps circle:

Giant Steps don’t really exist in minor, and actually, you don’t want to be tied down by some sort of system when doing this, so I am being very liberal with how I incorporate the chords, and I still want to play the song.

The idea I use is to start on Fm6 and then through E7alt go to Amaj7 which is pretty far away from Fm, and to move on to Db major and finally take another route to end on Bmaj7(#11) instead of Db7.

You can probably tell how this is really more about using the Coltrane cycle as a source of inspiration and not at all a system, but like this, the melody is still intact and you get something different.

A great place to put this to use is to work on chord melody:

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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How The Pros Think About Chord Progressions (and you probably don’t)

If you are trying to learn Jazz and especially the first time you are looking at how to learn a Jazz standard, then you probably know how it is to look at a piece of sheet music and then feel that the chords are flying by in an impossible tempo.

I started thinking about this because a few weeks ago I was playing a gig with a saxophone player that I know for a long time, and we were talking about what songs to play.  It was a gig in a cafe and we were just playing standards. One of the songs he suggested was Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”

Sophisticated Lady is a song that I first learned very early on when I was still living in Copenhagen and actually I never played it since. When I was talking to the saxophone player then we could both remember looking at that song for the first time and thinking what the “hell is going on and why are the SO many chords in this?!”

And that is of course how many jazz standards will come across,  with a lot of chords that are hard to remember and even harder to improvise over.

But there is a way to make that easier, both to solo over and to remember, and the way I do this also shows why I lean so heavily on functional harmony and just how powerful a concept that actually is, but also want to talk about Pat Martino’s and Barry Harris’ systems for this which can get a bit strange but are also often very practical as well.

Learning a Jazz Standard By Heart

There was one thing that really slowed me down when I was learning songs in the beginning.

The first time I set out to really start learning a Jazz standard, then I spent two months alone in a house learning Stella By Starlight and There’s no Greater Love. Just recording a simple chorus of the chords, practicing the melody, and improvising on them every day. I kept going until I could get a simple solo to sort of make sense over them, I could hear where I was and knew the chords by heart.

The problem is that I learned everything one chord at a time. I was not thinking in groups of chords that follow each other, or groups of chords that sound similar. Chunking the chords together will make it a lot easier to learn a song because you can reduce it to a few building blocks and you know how those blocks sound, so remembering and internalizing it becomes a lot easier.

Music is a language, so I will use that comparison to help you see just how powerful this is, but first you need to clean up the chords a bit.

Don’t get distracted by extensions

A problem that I get many questions about is ho to think extensions, and whether you can use a C7(13) instead of a C7(9) and so on. And that is not really how you want to think about chords if you play Jazz. A chord is a lot of options and what notes you play, or extensions you add are more about what you want and what is going on around you in the band and in the song.

It is not thinking “now I want to play a C7(13)” Because that is not really a music thing it is a symbol that you can maybe turn into music, but you need to know how and often that means ignoring the extensions.

In the beginning, you are probably learning songs from a lead sheet like in a real book, and first you really just want to get rid of the extensions,

because what is important is the type of chord and the context, so just focus on the basic 7th chord, forget about 9ths and 11ths. You want to understand that from the other chords around it and the melody not a chord symbol, after all, a piece of music is not a row of letters in iReal.

Of course, you don’t have to literally change the sheet music, just how you think about it. Now we can get to work!

A song is a sentence

 

It is difficult to memorize and make sense of long rows of letters,

but if you start grouping the letters into words then you are attaching meaning to them and that is a lot easier to remember.

And this, of course, also works for Jazz songs, so if you can sum up 32 bar song as a bunch of smaller progressions then you have to remember a lot less, and if you are used to improvising over those smaller progressions then soloing on the song is also going to be a lot simpler.

But there are actually quite a few more advantages!

The Basic Vocabulary and where to get it

For this to work then you need to get used to thinking and recognizing the words or building blocks in the chord progressions, and you use the songs you know and the songs you are learning to spot chord sequences that you see more often. Essentially this is also why it is beneficial to analyze chord progressions.

Some of the common things you certainly want to start recognizing are things like:

Of course, the II V I as you see here in Perdido, and take the A-train

I VI II V turnaround in Rhythm Changes or Blue Moon

The V of V which you also want to notice very often is placed in certain parts of the form, so at the end of the first half as it is here in There Will Never Be or at the end of the bridge as you see in Satin Doll

The same can be said about the II V to IV, it is also very often placed in the bridge or positioned so the IV chord is at the beginning of the 2nd 8 bars of the form what you see in There Will Never Be Another You. – There Will Never Be and Satin Doll

Another useful block is IV IVm I progression which is also very common and something you want to recognize. Here it is in There Will Never Be Another You and you also have it in All The Things You Are.

The next thing will make it even more clear why you want to learn this from songs, and then we need to get into the Barry Harris and Pat Martino thing.

Hear the Harmony

A problem when you look at a lead sheet for the first time, or even just the chords in iReal, is that it is hard to have any idea about how those chords sound, but if you are used to thinking in turnarounds, II V Is, V of V etc then you are actually working towards being able to hear the harmony just from looking at the chart, and that is incredibly useful and makes it a lot easier to play a song for the first time.

It is similar to how you probably find it really easy to play a song if you are told it is a blues, something that you just already are very familiar with the sound of.

But for that to happen the words or building blocks should not be only theoretical things, they need to be something that you know the sound of, and that is the easiest to achieve by recognizing them in the songs you know really well. At the same time then you can probably also see how this will help you pick up songs faster by ear since you can rely on hearing groups of chords and not each chord in the song, and there is a good chance you are already doing this with things like turnarounds.

Chord Progressions Are All The Same (sometimes)

A danger with trying to learn building blocks is that you get stuck on the details, which is similar to getting stuck with the extensions that I talked about earlier. With stuff like this it makes the most sense to focus on how chord progressions are similar more than how they are different.

So it is a turnaround if it resembles that and all of these progressions are essentially the same thing, but maybe for this song or this arrangement one of them fits better than the others, but it is more important to also realize that it is a turnaround.

Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 A7 Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 C#dim Dm7 G7

Cmaj7 A7 D7 G7

E7 A7 Dm7 G7

Em7 Ebdim Dm7 G7

Bb7 A7 Dm7 G7

The reason why I consider these the same is that they will often be interchangeable and will work in the same way in a song. If you want to take this into the language analogy then these would be synonyms, words with essentially the same meaning, give or take a nuance.

You can expand this to other things as well like IV IVm I progressions which are essentially subdominant – minor subdominant to tonic.

Fmaj7 Fm6 Cmaj7

Fmaj7 Bb7 Cmaj7

Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7

F#ø Fm6 Cmaj7

And here a big part of why that is important to know is that these progressions sound similar, and have the same important notes and voice-leading, which means that you can approach soloing over them in very similar ways.

The Opposite Methods

One thing that is often very practical when looking at chord progressions that you want to solo over is to reduce the amount of chords in there, and this is where Pat Martino and Barry Harris sort of have opposite approaches.

The reason that you can leave chords out is that a lot of chords are really just embellishments and can be ignored without the solo losing the connection to the song, and it is easier to play strong melodies if you are not tied down by having to spell out a lot of changes.

A very useful example of this is the A part of Rhythm changes where there are a lot of chords but you can really reduce it to just one chord per bar.

The reduced version of the chords still contains the basic movement of the song and this will work great for solos.

As I mentioned, both Pat Martino and Barry Harris have systems for this, and they are both very simple rules.

For Pat Martino, everything is a II chord, so a II V becomes just a II chord.

Barry Harris goes the other way and throws away the II chord and says it is all V

Both of these can be useful, I think it really depends on the song. I think that Barry Harris’ approach gives you more natural chord progression when you have thrown away all the II chords, where Pat Martino becomes a bit strange giving you a Blues in F that looks like this:

At the same time, for guitar players connecting everything to minor seems to make it easier, maybe because we are all stuck in the minor pentatonic box 1 for eternity?

But to be fair then applying Barry’s rule to a song like I Should Care or Wes’ Four on Six also becomes a bit strange, so maybe you want to be aware of both systems and be flexible enough to use the one that works the best for you in whatever song you are playing. At least, that is what I have taken away from that. In music, context is everything.

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The Diminished Chords – Why They Are Great!

There are 3 types of diminished chords that I use all the time. They are great for a lot of things and sound beautiful in chord progressions.

Two of them are in all the Jazz standards and really just a part of tonal harmony but the last one, which I learned from Barry Harris, even if it is not a part of his diminished scale system, is maybe not even really a diminished chord. Maybe it isn’t even a chord, but I play it all the time and it is a great trick even if it doesn’t have a theoretical explanation.

Easy Diminished Chord

The first one you want to know is the easy diminished chord, the one that is easy to hear and easy to explain: The Dominant diminished chord.

A funny side-note is that I always get comments from people insisting that ALL diminished chords are dominant, which, as you will see, I don’t agree with but you should think about it in any way that works for you.

The dominant diminished chord is really from the minor key, but we can use it in major as well.

If you look at the diatonic chords in C harmonic minor: CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim CmMaj7

And you can also see that it is in fact the arpeggio from the 3rd of a G7(b9): G B D F Ab

 

so the connection to G7 is pretty clear and it resolves like this:

And you can resolve it to major as well:

A few Dominant Diminished Trick

There are two chord progressions with this chord that you see fairly often and both sound great, one of them is used as a sort of plot twist in the harmony, which is very nice.

What might surprise you is that most of the time the dominant diminished chord is used for secondary dominants like this where it is really a great transition to the II Chord

So here it is working as an A7, the dominant of Dm7, and creates a nice chromatic bass line moving up to Dm7.

Bassline melody is really what diminished chords are all about!

A great way to use the dominant diminished is to pretend that it is just a boring old II V and then it suddenly goes somewhere else:

I need to talk about the extension on the dim chord here, but first, just check out how this is a II V in C that then suddenly takes a detour and resolves to Am7 via the dim chord. That is a great plot twist.

 

On the dim chord, I am using a b6 as an extension and this is an important note to know for dim chords.

In both examples, the diminished chord is a secondary dominant and they simply just take the  scale that you would use for the dominant, so if you resolve to Am then you would use A harmonic minor over the dim chord because it works as an E7:

 

And from that scale, the E is a great sounding extension and also the root of the dominant it is associated with: E7

The reason why I say that is important is mainly that the b6 is very common as a melody note on a diminished chord as you can see here

But let’s move on to the subdominant diminished which are actually the most common ones.

Subdominant Dim – It Is a Thing!

The dominant diminished is easy to understand because it is a diatonic chord in harmonic minor and closely related to the V chord, but then you have these chords that move in a different way:

This one moves down!

And this one doesn’t resolve like a dominant

Let’s start with the F6 to F#dim example. I’ll first go over the chords and then get into scale choices

Here you can see how the F#dim appears from altering two notes in the F6. You can also see that it still contains a C and not a B which is why it isn’t dominant in the key C, they don’t sound anything like a G7.

The oversimplified way of arriving at that it is a subdominant chord is just to ask 2 things:

1 Does it move to Cmaj7 as if it is resolving? Yes – so it isn’t tonic

2 Does it sound and resolve like a G7, which it doesn’t so it isn’t dominant

If it isn’t tonic and also not dominant then it is subdominant. This is a bit crude, but it it does fit.

Since it is subdominant then it makes sense to notate it as derived from the IV chord, so I usually write them as #IVdim chords. There are actually other #IV subdominant chords, but that is for another video.

But it also resolves down to a subdominant chord.

Groups of Subdominant Chords

Sometimes I just write #IVdim instead of subdominant diminished, it is a looong word and I am from Denmark which is a small country, we don’t have room for that stuff. In fact, I will often just write IV when I mean subdominant, so a backdoor dominant which is also a minor subdominant is referred to as a IVm chord. I usually make it clear in the videos, but it sometimes slips. I find it useful to have these groups of subdominant chords that are #IV, IV and IVm, but it is probably short hand and not too precise

Descending Subdominant Dim

Before the last type of dim chord then there is also the other variation of the subdominant diminished.

This is really just an inversion of the #IVdim,

it is Ebdim and the subdominant diminished but it is resolving to the Dm7,

so it is a subdominant resolving to a subdominant. In a way similar to how you have IV IVm I.

 

And this works great to have a chord that can transition to a II chord which is of course also how you see it used the most.

Scale Dilemmas

With the Dominant diminished then you have a scale that is found in and that is part of how we understand it which makes it a lot easier.

The subdominant diminished is a lot more vague, but if you look at it from a different perspective then you can construct a scale that fits the context of key and then realize that you already know that scale.

If you look at the F#dim and the C major scale then there are two ways to create a scale that works:

 

They both work and there is one note difference so it is really up to you. I tend to recommend the harmonic minor scale mostly because you need that anyway and you probably know it already.

No Diminished Scale

So why am I not using the diminished scale, since it is called a diminished chord? It is the same name!

In the end, you can use any scale you want it is more about how you do it than which scale it is. The chord progressions that I talk about in this video are all tonal, so they are in a key and that tells you something about how they sound, and which notes want to go where. And you don’t hear each chord as an isolated thing, you hear the whole progression or the whole song.

The diminished scale is atonal because it is symmetrical, it can resolve to lots of places and nothing sounds like the root. That is why it doesn’t really fit and is more of a special effect in the music.

The Mysterious Diminished Chord

As I already hinted at then the final diminished chord is maybe not really a chord, but that doesn’t mean that you can learn something important from it.

When I was in the piano class with Barry Harris that first year I went to the Hague then he told the piano players to play this exercise that I then transferred to guitar. And it is all over my comping and chord solos:

The exercise is moving the maj7th and the 9th down to the maj6th and the root in half steps,

and as you can probably see, then every time the middle chord is in fact a Bb diminished chord. (highlight dim chord – Paly example and stop on the dim chord!)

But maybe this is a place where looking at what is happening vertically and giving it a name as a chord, is actually not the best way to understand it. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to think of it as voices moving, because the diminished chord only appears as a side effect of some chromatic voice-leading. Probably also why it is not something you will find notated as a chord in a song, at least I can’t think of one that has that. Sometimes focusing too much on vertical harmony rather than how the notes flow is not good for making music and hearing what is going on.

That of course doesn’t mean that this isn’t a great sound, and the exercise sounds great in minor as well, which doesn’t give you a dim chord.

 

 

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How To Make 4 Chord Vamps That Sound Great

Whether you need chord progressions for your own song or an intro for a song you are learning, you want to be able to come up with chord progressions that sound great, natural, and are not too boring, and messing around with harmony to make beautiful chord progressions is one of the most fun and creative things to do in music.

That is what I am going to talk about in this lesson.

Creating 4-chord Vamps with Subdominant Chords

The chords are supposed to loop, so we can start by choosing two chords and then fill in more chords between them.

For most of this video, I will focus on progressions going from a I or tonic chord, to a IV or subdominant chord.

Mostly because there is more variation possible and they are a little overlooked. Then we can take the basic 2-chord vamps and look at different ways to add chords and get more movement.

So let’s first check out these 2-chord options that already sound great and then turn some of those into more complicated vamps. Already here you might get some good ideas, but you can go a lot further.

#1 Cmaj7 Fm6 – IVm

#2 Cmaj7 Bb7 – bVII backdoor dominant

#3 Cmaj7 Dbmaj7 – bII Neapolitan Subdominant

#4 Cmaj7 Abmaj7 – bVImaj7

#5 Cmaj7 F#dim/C #IVdim

#6 Cmaj7 Ab7 – #IV double diminished – German Augmented 6th chord

 

 

These already sound great, so the next thing is to add a little more movement to them to make them more like a story in different phases.

Making More Interesting Chord Progressions

The trick to creating these progressions is to get them to make sense by adding chords that move in a logical way. I am not using any exact science or strict rules, so you can use any type of system that sounds natural to you. Most of the time you will see me add chords based on common progressions like a standard I VI II V turnaround, step-wise movement or moving in 4ths.

Diatonic Chords

When I am making the chord progressions I keep in mind this is in the key of C major, so I am in general pulling from C major and C minor, which gives me these diatonic chords to use:

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø

Cm7 Dø Ebmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Abmaj7 Bb7

CmMaj7 Dø Ebmaj7(#5) Fm7 G7 Abmaj7 Bdim

CmMaj7 Dm7 Ebmaj7(#5) F7 G7 Aø Bø

And besides that you can add secondary dominants everywhere you want, so if you have a Dm7 you can add an A7(b9) to lead to it, but also an Eb7 before an Abmaj7 (the bVI in minor).

You can check out more about secondary in the video I am linking in the description.

Turnaround with some step-wise surprises

#1 Cmaj7 Fm6 → Cmaj7 Am7 G7sus4 Fm6

Going to Am7 is coming out of a standard turnaround, and from there it is step-wise movement. You might want to notice that G7sus4 is F/G Which makes it very close to F Fm, so IV to IVm in C but with a different bass note. That is really just helping it make sense on another level.

Backdoor dominant and a secondary dominant

#2 Cmaj7 Bb7 →Cmaj7 C7/E Fm7 Bb7

With a dominant chord, you can often add a II chord in front of it to make it a II V. In this case with the Fm7, that also gives you the option of having a secondary dominant which is C7/E.

Another nice way to tie everything together is to have a pedal-point in the harmony, so a note that stays the same through all the chords. In this example, I have a G in the melody of all the chords to get that effect.

bVImaj7 is underrated

#3a Cmaj7 Abmaj7 → Cmaj7 Bb7 Am7 Abmaj7

In this example, I am using step-wise motion to go from Cmaj7 to Abmaj7. You can do this in a few ways, but this one was the nicest with the Bb7.

Instead of using stepwise motion, you can also turn it into a row of secondary dominants like this:

#3b Cmaj7 Abmaj7 → Cmaj7 Bb7 Eb7 Abmaj7

Which is a pretty different sound but certainly works as a progression that moves forward.

Composing With Chord Progressions

Coming up with chord progressions is about composing and improvising with chords so the best way to do this is to just mess around a lot and try to find new ways. There are many ways to get inspiration, but probably one of the strongest is to know and analyze a lot of songs. The advantage here is that if you learn songs you not only know the progression but also really have an idea about how it sounds, and you can always mess around with it.

Another great exercise is to harmonize or re-harmonize melodies to explore what is possible with the chords and how you can use different chords to go from A to B.

 

#IVdim: Neutral and spicy

The #IV is an uncomfortable chord for a lot of people, but it is a really beautiful sound. Here are two examples that work really well and also both use a C pedal point. The second one is a bit out and dark, but also beautiful.

#4a Cmaj7 F#dim/C → Cmaj7 C7 F/C F#dim/C

This is really just a basic C C7 F F#dim “gospel or country” progression with a C in the bass, but it certainly works. A great example of what you learn from checking out songs like St Thomas or Rhythm Changes.

The next one is a bit weird,

#4b Cmaj7 F#dim/C → Cmaj7 Eb7/C Abmaj7/C F#dim/C

Folk inspired Minor Chords (and a double diminished inversion)

The IVm and Vm chords together have a real folk sound which can be really beautiful and it works great here in combination with the Ab7 which has the heaviest name: (Hans Groiner).

You will also see the double diminished #IV chord referred to as the German Augmented Sixth chord.

#5 Cmaj7 Ab7 → Cmaj7 Fm7 Gm7 Ab7

To me calling it a double dim #IV tells me how it sounds, that’s why I use that. I don’t really have any association with that with German augmented chord, but that is most likely just me.

Another reason for using Subdominant chords

The progressions in this video are pretty natural sounding and will loop very well. If you plan to make songs with the same chords looping for a longer period of time, then it makes sense to not be too specific about the key. Being vague becomes a way to make it not too predictable. This is actually something you can see in a lot of pop music where you even have long discussions and articles about the key of pieces.

Using the subdominant chords makes these progressions less “predictable” and clear than a standard V I. Similar to the effect you have in Radiohead’s Creep, which is almost example 1. Another way to keep it a little more vague is to play fewer notes, so sticking to triads can be useful too.

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Make Your Minor Chord Progressions More Interesting

The minor key has a lot of interesting options, and also quite a few that you don’t have in Major. This video goes over some of the beautiful progressions that you can create in minor when reharmonizing a basic II V I, and you can go pretty far.

This video will give you a lot of examples and concepts to add to your repertoire!

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:47 The Tritone substitute That We All Know

02:07 Minor Ladybird Turnaround

02:50 Making it all II Vs like Wes

03:48 Making it all II Vs But Then A Little Weird

04:17 The Amazing Amount Of Diatonic Chords In Minor

05:27 The Most Beautiful Altered Dominant Is A Minor Chord

06:20 Pretending To Be Go To Another Degree0

06:59 The Neapolitan Subdominant

07:53 A Little Like Coltrane But In Minor

09:37 Another Great Sounding Substitution for the V

09:46 Why You Want To Think in Functional Harmony

09:54 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page

 

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Secondary Dominants – What You Want To Know

Understanding what a secondary dominant is and being able to recognize or find them for chords is a powerful tool you can use in your playing and compositions. This video will show you how to use them, understand them and improvise over them

And actually, it is pretty simple if you know your basic scales.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:22 What is a Secondary Dominant

01:52 Not Just Theory

03:25 Finding Them In A Song

05:39 Scale Choices and Extensions- The Two main types

06:36 Examples in the song

07:15 The V of V in major – A special rule

08:05 Secondary Dominants in Comping – Moving Progressions

09:30 Secondary Dominants in Comping – Static Chords

10:22 Adding Them To Solo As Embellishments

11:23 Why You Want To Think in Functional Harmony

11:34 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

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Make Your Chord Progressions More Interesting

There are many ways you can reharmonize chord progressions. In this video, I am going over a method that is simple and easy to use. I am using basic functional harmony to show you how you can create amazing jazz chord progressions yourself and really change the color of the songs you play.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:52 Basic II V I and The Power of Chord Functions

01:23 The Advantage of Functional Harmony

02:14 Chord Progressions Have To Make Sense Too

02:39 Subdominant chords and lots of options

02:45 3 Basic major subdominants

03:10 Is VI a subdominant?

03:41 7 useful minor subdominants

05:00 4 exotic #IV subdominants

06:15 Progressions Using Other Subdominants

07:07 Dominant Chords

08:02 Progressions Using Other Dominants

08:53 Tonic Chords and Suspensions

10:20 Changing functions – From II V I to Neo-soul

12:00 Functional Harmony – A Powerful Tool

12:16 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

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How To Create Beautiful Chord Progressions

Functional Harmony is almost a secret weapon when it comes to reharmonizing or creating great sounding chord progressions. In Jazz, we sometimes forget that just understanding basic harmony is a very strong tool for creating new sounds, and in this video, I will show you how you can mess around with a simple II V I and get some fantastic results.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

01:07 Diatonic Chords in major

02:14 Progression #1 – bVImaj7

02:49 Minor diatonic chords and Modal Interchange

05:00 Progression #2 – Tritone substitution

06:12 Don’t limit yourself to substitutions

07:03 Progression #3 – Ending in the Wrong Key

09:00 Understanding Modulation a Pivot Chords

09:34 Progression #4 – Another Dominant Alternative

11:20 Reharmonization with only Maj7 chords

11:34 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page.

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How To Analyze Songs – Music Theory and Functional Harmony

Music Theory and Harmonic Analysis can be great tools when you want to learn jazz and figure out how to improvise over a chord progression. These videos help you get started understanding how to do that, understanding functional harmony, tonal centers, and the rich harmonic language found in Jazz standards.

The videos will give you examples of how to analyze songs and also how to choose scales from that analysis. You will learn a lot from analyzing the songs that you play.

Remember that it is more important to hear the changes and recognize the sound of the theory as it is to know the name, so working on the songs you already know well will really help you. A fancy name probably won’t.

Analyzing Jazz Standards – Understand what you play!

How To Analyze Chords and Progressions – This video uses the song There Will Never Be Another You as an example and discusses the progressions found in there.

All The Things You Are – Harmonic Analysis – All The Things You Are is a great Jazz standard that we all need to have in our repertoire. In this video I am going to go over a thorough All The Things You Are Harmonic Analysis.

Analyzing a Standard: All Of Me – This song is a great example of IV minor chords and secondary dominants

Analyzing a Standard – Stella By Starlight – Functional Harmony in Jazz – I guess Stella by Starlight is in many ways one of the most mysterious chord progressions among the jazz standards. At the same time, it is so beautiful that everybody just keeps at it until they can play it

General videos on Music Theory and Analysis

Secondary Dominants – What You Want To Know Understanding what a secondary dominant is and being able to recognize or find them for chords is a powerful tool you can use in your playing and compositions. This video will show you how to use them, understand them and improvise over them

And actually, it is pretty simple if you know your basic scales.

Jazz Scales! The 3 You Need to practice and How You apply them to Jazz Chords – Jazz Scales can seem like a million options that you all need to learn in all positions and all chords, but there is a way to approach this that is a little easier than trying to learn all jazz scales in all modes. After all the Dorian mode is not as important as the Major or Minor key.

This video has a PDF download of the overview of the analysis – Click Here 

5 Types of Chord Progressions You Need To Recognize and Be Able To Play – Harmonic Analysis – In this video, I will go over 5 types of progressions that if you can use to better understand the functional harmony that you find in a jazz standard.

Music Theory Is The Effective Way For You To Learn Faster – If you know you basic Music Theory well then you can easily start to add another level to how you analyze melodies and chord progressions which will help you work more focused and learn faster when you practice.

 

You can also go through the playlistson YouTube:

Analyzing a Jazz Standard – Harmonic analysis of Jazz Pieces

 

 

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