Tag Archives: modal interchange

Unlock The Mysterious Sound Of The Minor Subdominant Chords

Let’s talk about what is probably the most beautiful chords in Jazz.

When I was first getting into Jazz, the basic 7th chords sounded amazing, and it was fun to play stuff like:

but then you realize that already with a II V I you can add these beautiful extensions like minor chord with a 9th,

and you can add color to the chords in the progression but you’re still just playing the basic 251

and then you discover that in the songs, there are these other chords other progressions that are even more mysterious and beautiful like this one Fmaj7 Bb7 Cmaj7.

And this group of chords is what I want to talk about in this video. They are often described as “Modal Interchange” or “Borrowed chords” but let me show you why that is maybe not a precise description.

This group of chords is called minor subdominants, and the basic version is the easiest to understand if you start with this cowboy or country progression, imagine that our hero, the cowboy, is at home C Major,

and he has a car that he loves C7,

then he goes for a ride Fmajor,

but the cart breaks down 😣

and his horse comes and rescues him:

You can hear how this progression has a natural flow but you probably also noticed that there are a few chords in there that are not in the C major scale

because that would be these chords:

And some of the most interesting  chords are the chords that are not in the scale, but still in the key, because the key and the scale is not the same thing. The key is a larger and more complicated place than the scale.

The star of the cowboy progression is of course the F minor chord,

which is the surprising but beautiful sound that leads us back to C.

But where does this chord come from?

A Simple Explanation (that almost works)

One way to look at this is that the Fm is a chord borrowed from C minor. When you have a chord progression in C Major, you can also use chords from C minor which is especially useful for the subdominant and for the dominant chords, but later I will show you how this is a simplified explanation and it goes further than this with a lot more interesting chords!

 

For now, it is practical to start with C minor, so to begin with you have the diatonic chords of C minor and together with the diatonic chords of C major then that is a lot of material to work with:

The minor subdominants here are Fm7 Abmaj7 Bb7 and Dø:

And with these, you can do incredible things using the minor subdominant as a way back to I instead of a dominant chord:

or this, where the Bb7 is what is commonly described as the backdoor dominant, something that will come back later:

But there are more options, and some of the most common ones don’t really come from the C minor scale at all.

When Is Something A Minor Subdominant Chord?

A question that I often get when discussing this topic is “when is something a minor subdominant” and that is a little difficult to nail completely.

In tonal harmony then the function of a chord depends on what is happening around it, so you can’t just list some notes and then use that to decide what the function of the chord is. Let me show you an example with Bb7.

You could have a Bb7 that is the backdoor dominant resolving to C major: Dm7 Bb7 Cmaj7

but it could also be a secondary dominant reslving to Am or A7:

so you need to look at the key and the progression to decide what Bb7 is in the key of C major, and that is actually true for most chords.

When Is Something A Minor Subdominant

So when is something a minor subdominant: I guess the best definition would be:

It can resolve to a tonic

It contains an Ab

And it is not a dominant chord (which mostly means it does not contain the leading note, B and it will often contain a C)

As you can tell, it is not just a matter of certain notes being in there.

Let’s widen the net a bit and look at what is actually going on before looking at how to use these chords.

It Isn’t Really About Scales

I already hinted at this, the explanation for borrowing chords from the minor scale doesn’t really explain what is going on, and that is because this really comes from voiceleading. Let me show you how that works for the cowboy example.

I will play it in a different position so you can see what happens and how that gives you some much more interesting chords!

The progression starts on C, goes to C7, then moves to F. And here it is:

I want to go back to C, and one way to do that is to first make the A an Ab so that it resolves down to G on the C chord smoothly.

That is how we get Fm that resolves to C. It is about a melodic movement inside the chords,  horizontal not vertical chords which is, I think, also how we hear music.

Which is why “modal interchange” or “borrowed from minor” are not great descriptions, they are vertical descriptions of a horizontal thing.

Why Is That Better?

Why is this better? It is better because you can now have other melody notes and more interesting Minor subdominant chords. Let’s first look at variations of chords that I already mentioned and then add a new one as well.

I am talking about C major here, and a common melody note in C major is of course the major 3rd, E. If you want to harmonize that then it doesn’t really make sense to think of a chord from C minor because that scale has an Eb, not an E,

but if you can still use a minor subdominant similar to the previous example if you do this:

And the same will work for Bb7 where E becomes a #11

and this is also how you will often see the chords appear in Jazz standards like this one in There Will Never Be Another You

and It Could Happen To You

So now you have FmMaj7 and Bb7, and Fm6 as well, and the scale that makes the most sense with these would be F melodic minor, again an illustration of how it isn’t really modal interchange or borrowed chords, it is not a vertical thing.

Another Minor Subdominant Sound

Let’s find one more chord, I am going to show you this one in the “Jazz” way because the “classical” way is not used so often.

Let’s start with another subdominant chord: Dm7 moving down to Cmaj7.

But it would be nice to have that A – Ab – G in there which gives you: Dm7 Dø Cmaj7

These half-steps moving in the chords are just so nice, let’s add one more!

 

This is the “jazz” version of the Neapolitan subdominant and another great option, the difference is that usually the “classical” version has an F in the bass.

How To Use The Chords

These chords can do A LOT of things! It’s useful to understand what is happening in the harmony in songs like There Will Never Be Another You or It Could Happen To You, but you can also use the minor subdominants for your own songs or for reharmonizing songs.

And you can work on inserting these as a surprising and different sound in place of almost anything. So here are a few examples.

You can use a minor subdominant instead of a “normal” subdominant:

Maybe use a bVImaj7 instead of a IIm7 chord in Tune Up. The original sounds like this:

and then becomes:

And you can use the bVII instead of the V in I Fall In Love To Easily to go from this:

To this:

And even use minor subdominants as beautiful suspensions of the I chord in Days Of Wine And Roses so that this:

Where They Sound The Best!

So you can hear how these sound amazing for making melodies fresh, but that is not going to be useful for you if you don’t know how to harmonize melodies and make your own chord melody arrangements, something that is a part of Jazz Guitar that people like Joe Pass and Barney Kessel have almost made into an entirely new style. If you want to start working on that skill so that you can arrange a song into a complete piece of music then you need to check out this video:

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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How To Make Jazz Chords Sound Amazing – 7 Recipes 😎

Jazz Chords Are Like Cake!

Beautiful Jazz Chords are chords like this: rich-sounding chords with lots of colors and extensions, they are the amazing pastry of harmony, and like cakes, it is not the only thing you need. But it is Nice, VERY NICE!

What makes a chord beautiful is in part the chord itself, but it is as much about the chord progression, so I am going to use a lot of rich and colorful chords but also show you how amazing they sound in some great chord progressions that work as II V I alternatives if you need to add a bit of variation to your chord playing.

So the starting point is this progression:

But as you will see then we can pretty much go anywhere starting here, and you can easily make your chords a LOT more interesting!

#1 Borrowing From Minor and Not Always A Maj7

The first thing you can try is to not play a normal II chord, but instead, use a half-diminished chord so in this case a Dø.

Another thing you want to notice is how I am not playing a maj7 chord for C, but instead going with a 6/9 chord.

You want to get used to mixing those up because they can pretty much always replace each other:

B-roll: C major diatonic + C minor diatonic chords (maybe highlight Dø?)

A theme you will see in a lot of these examples is that the progression is in C major, but I am using chords that are in C minor to change things up:

 

#2 Don’t Always Play A Dominant

 

The strongest pull in music is probably the dominant resolving to the tonic like G7 to C.

But it is then also a bit obvious and not so interesting, so in that respect, it is a pity that so many people try to explain all theory as V I resolutions, it makes it boring, and you can replace a V chord with a subdominant chord that is much tastier and mysterious with an Fm chord that has some nice colors added:

#3 Dark And Light – Night And Day

This next progression is using a bright chord for a minor subdominant, namely the bVI maj7th, but that then resolves via the dominant to an even brighter maj7 tonic. This is the main cadence in Cole Porter’s Night And Day,

and maybe the lyrics are actually fitting the harmony by starting in minor and ending in major?

For this one, I added a #11 to the tonic chord making it even more bright and shining,

And it it sounds great:

#4 Bright, Brighter And Brightest!

You can also choose to stick to only using maj7th chords and create a mysterious progression where it feels like every chord could be the resolution. Here I am starting on the IV chord, Fmaj7,

then moving to the Neapolitan subdominant Dbmaj7

before resolving to a beautiful Cmaj7 variation.

The Neapolitan subdominant is, in this case, a IVm triad, so Fm with a Db in the bass as a leading note down to Cmaj7, so it is still a minor subdominant and it always sounds fantastic.

Here’s the entire progression:

The next example will also add some pentatonic chord tricks on the Cmaj7 chord!

#5 How Is That Even A II V I?!

Before diving into the pentatonic passing chords, then I need to introduce another minor subdominant variation: The Backdoor dominant, in this case, Bb7 which is the bVII in C major, so this dominant chord is actually a subdominant chord in the context.

 

The next chord is a classic Jazz trick: The Tritone Substitution

This is a pretty simple idea: In C major, the dominant is G7, and a G7 chord actually shares a tritone with another dominant: Db7. So you can exchange one for the other and the basic flow of the harmony still works.

Check out the example then I’ll explain the pentatonic chords on Cmaj7.

Let me know which of these progressions or chords is your favorite in the comment section!

In this example, I am playing 3 chords on Cmaj7 (example) and if you take away the C that I sometimes add under it, then really this is just playing chords made from Em pentatonic:

This works because we need to hear a C in the bass and then notes that give us a maj7 sound, and Em pentatonic

Em pentatonic will give us a lot of nice colors against C:  E G A B D – 3 5 13 maj7 9 and the chords are pretty easy to play.

Here’s a different take on changing the chords with a progression pretending to be a II V

#6 Maj7 chords pretending to be a II V

This way of using maj7 chords can work as a nice suspension but here it also becomes a sort of motivic development with the chord progression that is really smooth combining the bVI

and bII maj7 chords.

There is another even more weird way to use maj7 chords, that I’ll show you after this one.

#7 Altered Dominant Maj7

In this next example, I am moving around maj7 chords, starting on the bVI so Abmaj7

and then going up to this Bmaj7(b5)

which is really like a Db7 with a B in the bass, so it is a disguised tritone substitute or altered dominant which then resolves beautifully to Cmaj7:

Improvising With Chords And Harmony

With a progression like this then you can also hear how you have a creative component to putting together chords both in how you voice-lead them and how you choose what chords to add to the progression. The best place to develop that is to use it in chord melody where you can color the chords and really add your own take to the melody. If you want to explore this way of playing then check out this video where I cover both the basic approach and some of the ways you can create variations of common progressions that actually fit the song.

How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

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Can I Write More Interesting Pop Chord Progressions With Triads?

You can easily make a lot of interesting and surprising, short chord progressions that still have a beautiful natural flow, so I don’t think there is a reason why most pop music is recycling the same chords over and over.

Instead of trying to make pop songs “better” with lots of sus4 and maj7 chords, which rarely works that well anyway then I thought it would be more interesting to see what is possible to do with simple chords like triads because that is actually pretty mind-blowing what you can get away with and it\s a lot of fun

When I started playing guitar then I was always trying to make new music, mainly because I got bored with just practicing my classical guitar homework, so once I learned to play chords I was always messing around with what chords would go together. In the beginning, this was completely random, and most of it sounded horrible, but learning how you have I IV, and V chords in a key, how relative minor fits in and gives you a few more options made it easier to put chords together.  But then I ended up with another problem because the chord progressions all sounded similar and with the random chords I sometimes had some really nice progressions that worked even if I had no clue why.

It is some of those progressions I want to explore in this video, just using basic 3 or 4-chord progressions and just using triads, I’ll explain why along the way.

Let’s start with making a variation on the most cliché pop progression:

The tools you can use here is really just knowing the key a bit better, because there are a ton of options with that and later also adding some inversions.

You probably know the diatonic chords already, so for C major:

I’ll get to why I am using these spread triads later.

One thing you can do is to borrow some chords from C minor, because they often will work as well, so you can pick one of these chords:

 

___in the video here you compare the two scale__

For this first example, you can keep the same chords but just change them a bit like this:

And even just using Gm and Fm then that really changes the sound a lot. The Gm has a sort of Coldplay sound to me, they do that quite a lot:

The way to explore this is probably just to experiment, because you can get chords to work together without thinking about any types of rules.

For example you can do something like this where the first half is in major and then second part is in minor:

Coming from Jazz then what I always liked about exploring these triads progressions is that you can really dig into the basic strong harmony and how you can get to move, and also how moving notes around can create progressions that sound strong, but maybe don’t move like the very common progressions that we already know, so you can find new connections.

One thing that will makes that easier is to use inversions, so you can learn those. For a C major triad you have these inversions:

and for an Am chord you have:

You will see me use different ways of playing them as well, so C can also be C and Am can also be played as Am:

That is really just about what works better moving to the next chord.

The Power Inversions

So now if you have a chord progression like the previous one:

Then you can create a different type of bassline with a few inversions:

Where the step-wise movement is a nice way to connect the chords, you can also make one  that moves up to Eb which is also borrowed from C minor:

So as you can hear there are a lot of stuff to explore and create beautiful progressions with.

Why I use Spread Triads

You probably noticed that I am building all of this around these spread or open-voiced triads which are really just triads where one note is moved an octave.

You can look at this (C spread) and see it as a C root position where the 2nd note is moved up an octave or as a 2nd inversion where the middle note is dropped down an octave (C 2nd inv -> C spread)

For exploring harmony like this then I use them because when you have a 3-note voicing and it is opened up then it is easier to move the voices one at the time, for example if you have

Explainer:

Am then you can move the 2 outer voices down and the middle voice up to get this type of sound Am G#dim Am which is a sort of dominant sound.

Another advantage is that it is often easy to play the chord and add a bit of melody on top or just use the top-notes a s melody notes.

Adding Melody to the chords

Let’s try another one, and in this one I am being even more free with chord choices and just taking a chord that works because it resolves nicely.

Here the D/F# is really just there to resolve to the Ddim chord which resolves really smoothly down to the C chord with E in the bass.

And once you have a progression like this then you can just try to make simple melodies that move on top, mostly just step-wise.

The Power of Extra Dominant Chords

Another way to get some more chords in there is to add dominants to the progression, so if I want to move from C to Am then I can add an E in between because the E is the dominant of the Am, and that actually can give you some really nice sounds if you add inversions into the mix:

And if play it slowly, C E/B you can see how the E stays on top and the rest moves which makes it so much better. Here I am adding the Gm as a sort weird dominant for C, and I really love that sound, I guess there is some folk sound to that? Like a lot of Scandinavian folk music will have melodies that use a minor chord on the V

instead of the more classical-sounding G major:

So as you can tell, then I am not really treating this as rules that you have to follow. I change stuff around all the time and just experiment. The things I have covered until now are about giving you options to explore, and then I am using triads because that makes it easier to experiment when you are creating your own progressions. It is probably more about experimenting and then if it sounds good you can try to figure out what it is.

In general, you need to understand Jazz harmony it will make everything easier when it comes to soloing over chords or making your own progressions. So check out this video on how to understand Jazz chords and also some of the tricks that Pat Martino and Barry Harris use, it will help you get a lot further and open your mind to a lot of new ideas.

 

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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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Modal Interchange – Chord Progressions with Beautiful IVm ideas

Modal Interchange is a great way to make your Chord Progressions more interesting and surprising. With Modal interchange chord progressions can borrow colors from the minor key that are surprising but still make sense to the ear and have a natural place in the harmony as you can see in the examples I reference from both Pop, Rock and Jazz like Radiohead and Deep Purple.

One especially interesting and beautiful version of this is using IVm or minor subdominant, which is the topic of this video. I will go over 5 types of minor subdominant or IVm chords and use examples from songs so you can hear how they sound and in that way get a better impression than just the theory.

Content of the video:

0:00 Intro

0:47 The basic IVm and that one important note

1:00 How a IVm chord works in a major key

1:37 #1 Basic IVm chord progressions as a transition and independent chord

2:14 IVm Example 1 – Radiohead

2:52 IVm Example 2 – Radiohead

3:09 IVm in Jazz, extensions and scales

4:28 #2 bVII – Backdoor dominant

5:55 bVII Example and Scale choice: There Will Never Be Another You

6:39 #3 IIø or IIm7b5 – How it works

7:25 IIø Example: I Love You

7:55 #4 bVImaj7

8:30 bVI Example in a cadence: Night and Day

9:07 bVI Example as an independent chord: Triste

9:43 #5 bIImaj7 – Neapolitan Subdominant

10:44 bII Example: You Stepped Out of A Dream

10:57 bII Example: Suspending the Tonic chord

11:40 bii Example: Deep Purple

12:29 Working with modal interchange and learning to use these chords

12:51 Do you have great clear examples of IVm chords? Leave a comment!

13:26 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!