Tag Archives: jazz chord progressions

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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10 Levels of Turnarounds – Unlock Amazing Jazz Chord Progressions

Jazz harmony is a huge topic, and learning to understand and analyze chord progressions can seem like an impossible task, but if you understand a few of the techniques involved you can both create beautiful chord progressions and have an easier time figuring out how to solo over them, and you can see these techniques in action on a very simple progression that you already know.

Level 1 – The Basic Turnaround

For this video, I will use this turnaround and show you how you can create some nice surprising sounds using that.

What is important to understand with the basic turnaround is that it is just an embellished version of a I V progression, which you might know if you have followed some Barry Harris videos.

The first thing to add is to turn the V into a II V which is really just a glorified version of a G7sus4 to G7

Then to add some extra movement then Am is added to have a little variation in the bar with the I chord.

This is the basic progression, now you can start making variations to it. Along the way you also want to realize that I don’t really think in substitutions that much, simply because that is not a very useful way to use or understand harmony.

Level 2 – A Secondary Dominant

The first variation that you want to add to the progression is a secondary dominant. In this case, a way to get the progression to flow a bit more towards the Dm7 chord:

 

The turnaround is in the key of C major, and the A7 is not the dominant in that key, that is G7. Like this, you are using the A7 to create a pull towards the Dm7 and add movement to the chord progression. When the A7 appears like this then it is described as a secondary dominant, so a dominant resolving to something else than the tonic of the key. Since the A7 is resolving to Dm7 then you can treat it as an A7 in D minor and the logical scale choice is then D harmonic minor making it an A7(b9b13)

Written out Dm harmonic highlighting A7(b9b13) – D E F G A Bb C# D E F G A Bb C# D E F

You could also use the same principle to have a D7 resolving to G7.

Can you see why the D7 is not a D7(b9b13)?

Level 3 – The “Easy” Diminished Chord

You can also take the secondary dominant and turn it into the “easy” diminished chord:

Here the A7(b9) is turned into a diminished chord. Also sometimes referred to as a secondary dominant diminished. This is really just an A7(b9) with a C# in the bass, and you will solo on it using the same material that you use on the A7 chord, so D harmonic minor.

On-screen comparison of A7(b9) and C#dim: A C# E G Bb – C# E G Bb

The reason for using the diminished chord is usually just to have a different type of bass melody.

Later in the video, you will also see an example of the “difficult” diminished chord which is a great example of where thinking substitutions is going to make things more difficult.

Level 4 – Doesn’t Have To Be THE tonic chord

Of course, you can also start on a different chord than the Cmaj7, other chords in the key have a tonic function and the III chord is a beautiful option that also highlights that the progression is still moving not standing still:

You also want to notice that it sounds great to use a G7 that is borrowed from minor, so a G7(b9b13). The b9 and b13 become chromatic leading notes that help pull stronger towards the resolution to Cmaj7.

Let’s have a look at the difficult diminished chord.

Level 5 – The “Difficult” Diminished Chord

The basic progression was Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7, and then you can add more momentum by playing an A7 or a C#dim chord in the second half of the first bar.

I already mentioned that this was not a substitution, what does that mean?

When you talk about substitutions then it is about taking one chord and replacing it with a related chord, but there is not really a connection between Am7 and A7(b9) in this progression, It makes more sense to just view that progression as a different route when moving from Cmaj7 to Dm7 and that is also what you have in this example:

The star of this example is the Ebdim chord. This diminished chord is an altered subdominant chord that resolves back to the more regular subdominant chord Dm7. I have some older videos on this type of diminished chord if you want to dig deeper into that. I often come across people trying to turn these dim chords into dominants that don’t resolve, personally, I don’t think that really helps me hear how the progression moves so I like this analysis a lot better.

Since it is a subdominant chord then it is usually written as derived from the IV in the scale, and in this case the #IVdim.

Let’s get rid of the tonic chord so that it doesn’t even sound like a turnaround in C.

Level 6 – Where Did The Tonic Chord Go?

As you can see then quite a few things have happened compared to the I VI II V that we started with.

There are two main things happening here: The first is extending how much is borrowed from C minor, so now you have the entire II V coming out of C minor, but probably the most curious one is the first chord which until now was reserved for a tonic chord like Cmaj7 or Em7, but now it is a secondary dominant, namely E7 resolving to another secondary dominant: A7 and then the minor II V before resolving to Cmaj7. The E7 is a secondary dominant that would resolve to Am in the key so you would use A harmonic minor when soloing over it and it has a b9 and a b13.

Choosing this as a turnaround is a way to emphasize movement, so it is not so important to have the tonic clear, but instead, it is important to keep the song going for example at the end of an A-part going to the next A-part. You will see an even more radical version of this later in the video.

Level 7 – Altered Dominants & Tritone Substitution

I have of course talked a bit about why substitutions aren’t the best way to approach harmony, but this example has two clear examples of just substituting chords with similar functions.

Here you have the secondary dominant in bar 1, A7, being substituted with an Eb7, which is the dominant that shares the same tritone interval as the core notes: C# and G

The other substitution is using an altered dominant for the G7 which is a sound that is a bit further away than borrowing from minor, and actually also related to tritone substitutions. It is a great sound to create a lot of tension and movement toward the resolution to the I chord.

Level 8 – My Favorite Turnaround

This turnaround variation is a great way to incorporate Minor subdominants and Coltrane changes into a turnaround

Here you have the first 3 chords as being straight out of a Coltrane cycle in C: Cmaj7 Eb7 Abmaj7  B7 Emaj7 G7 Cmaj7

Another way to look at this, and probably the reason why it sounds so great is that it involves a beautiful minor subdominant chord: Abmaj7

The first two chords are similar to the previous example and sound similar to what we pretty much expect in a turnaround, but the Eb7 resolves as a V chord and not a tritone substitution which takes us to Abmaj7,  a nice but still satisfying detour.

Using the Db7, the tritone substitute of the G7 makes it easier to move from the Abmaj7 back to Cmaj7.

This turnaround is often referred to as a Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but not everybody agrees on what that is, so it is a good idea to check. In emergencies, the Blues always works 🙂

Level 9 – Chromatic Passing Chords

Let’s step it up and add some chromatic chords. This one probably came from the diminished chord progression that I talked about earlier, just stepping out of the key and approaching the Dm7 from a half-step above:

Here you have the Ebm7 that just quickly jumps out of the key to slide back in on the Dm7. You will quite often hear people like Bill Evans, Jim Hall, and Keith Jarret reharmonize dim chords to parallel minor chords and even Parker does it sometimes so it may be coming from that. Again calling it a substitution for a dim chord is really a stretch though.

Level 10 – What?!

Having a turnaround where the first chord is not at all what you expect is great, and this example uses a chord that does that, but still really works in with the progression.

When the ear expects a Cmaj7 and gets a Bb7 then that still is acceptable because the Bb7 moves on to an A7 and then continues in the turnaround. The Bb7 is there as a tritone substitute for the E7, the secondary dominant for A7.

I don’t think this one is that common, but it does sound really great so you should give it a try in a Jazz standard as a reharmonization.

Put It To Use In Chord Melody

You can create amazing things by taking songs and adding chords to them while also exploring different sounds and options with the chord progression. If you want to explore how to make your own chord melodies then check out this video.

It is a great way to build your knowledge and skills with jazz chords and in the process get started making some beautiful Chord Melody arrangements.

An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

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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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Diminished Chords – Beautiful Progressions and How To Use Them

The Diminished Chords are often causing a lot of people trouble, and that is a shame because there are so many amazing sounding progressions that use diminished chords and you can make beautiful chord progressions with them as well.

In this video, I am going to show you the two main categories of dim chords and how you can use diminished chords in some great sounding progressions.

It isn’t that difficult there are just a lot of people telling you to think stuff on dim chords that don’t fit with what you hear, and that is probably getting in your way.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:27 The Two Types of dim chords

01:41 Dominant Diminished

02:16 Common Dominant Diminished Progressions

04:28 Subdominant Diminished

05:20 Resolving Diminished Problems

05:53 Common #IV dim progressions

07:32 Soloing over Diminished Chords

07:40 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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Simple And Easy Approach To A Minor 2 5 1

The minor 2 5 1 is difficult because you need more scales for it and the m7b5 and dom7(b9) chords are sounds we are less familiar with. But you can actually get started improvising on this progression quite easily and both nail the changes and play something that sounds like music and not just exercises.

In this video, I am going to go over how you can get more used to the chords and start improvising building from 2 arpeggios and adding the rest along the way, step by step.

 

Learn the chords, Play Them and Listen to Them

The first step here is really simple: Let’s play the chords of a II V I in G minor.

This is really quite simple if you want to improvise over the chords then you want to know what they sound like. Playing them will help you hear how the harmony is moving and feel the time, all basic but very useful stuff.

Play this a few times:

Then you can start playing some other rhythms and add a little interpretation to it like this, where ou get a little more used to it then you can try to change it up a little, add some rhythm, and a leading chord.

Arpeggios and how to solo with them

Now you have played the chords a few times and you have an idea about how they sound.

I am going to show you 2 arpeggios and a trick that will help you nail the changes on this progression.

First, you need an Aø Arpeggio

 

 

 

 

 

and then you need a Gm6 arpeggio:

 

A “Hack” for the D7(b9)

Now you are probably wondering what to do with the D7 chord since there is no arpeggio for it, but that is pretty simple.

Since you already know the Aø arpeggio then the arpeggio that you can use for the D7 is the same notes except that you change the G to an F# like this:

Aø:

F#dim:

 

 

 

 

 

I know that this sort of makes this 3 arpeggios and not two, but for my students, this really has worked very well so maybe give it a shot 

Practice them on the progression

Let’s go over these on the progression. Here are two exercises, but you can explore it more if you want to.

A basic version could be this:

And a descending variation to also check out the upper part of the arpeggios:

How To Solo with the arpeggios

Now you can start practicing to make lines with these arpeggios and it is really really easy to make the D7 clear because there is only one note changing: G becomes and F# so for now just try to hit that F# on the 1 of the D7 bar, then you can hear in your solo how the chord changes.

In the same way, try to make melodies that smoothly move from the D7 to the Gm6 by picking notes that are close to each other when you go from one chord to the next.

You can hear me play these examples in the video, both rubato and in time.

In the example below you can see how I move from G to F# to emphasize the D7 and from Eb to D to really bring out the resolution to Gm6:

Similar to the previous one, but now resolving to Bb on the Gm6:

And the final example that is again spelling out the D7(b9) by playing the F# on beat 1 and resolving to the 5th of Gm6.

As you can hear you in the last example, you can also change chord on the 4 and which is a nice change from just hitting the downbeat.

Try to play these and then try to make your own lines, in the beginning then just hit that F# on the D7 so you can really hear that change.

Adding the Scales

Now we can add the scale notes around the notes we already have.

There are three scales in use on the minor II V I:

Aø is from Bb major, or G natural minor
D7 is from G harmonic minor
Gm6 from G melodic minor

You can play them through the progression like this:

But you also want to check out the complete scale positions, so for Aø:

For D7:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for Gm6:

Small note on CAGED or 3NPS

You may have noticed that this is actually using CAGED positions which I don’t normally use, but the Student that I originally made this for was using those so I kept the whole thing in that system. In the end, scale fingering systems are not that important🙂

Licks with Scales and Arpeggios

With this material,  you can add notes around the arpeggio notes. In the added notes are mostly used as melodic passing notes.

The second example again illustrates how you can change to the next chord on the 4&, both on the D7 and on the Gm6.

Put this into a song

Autumn Leaves – Solo Lesson 2

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