Tritone Substitution Is a Really Great Hack

Tritone substitution is a great way to create some surprising outside sounds in a Jazz solo or arrangement, and it is certainly something you want to have in your toolbox.

In this video, I am going to go over what it is and talk about it using a little music theory but also using a visual approach that works really well for guitar, and I will also talk about how tritone substitution will open up another related sound in Jazz: The Altered dominant and especially how to play solos over it, something that can be very difficult to learn, but which tritone substitution gives you tons of ideas for.

What is Tritone Substitution?

You can use tritone substitution to make your chord progressions or solos more interesting by changing the chords and getting some colorful notes in there.

This is something we do with dominant chords, but it can be extended to entire II Vs

If you look at a G7 shell voicing like this and a Db7 Shell voicing then you can see that only the root note is different, that is because they share 3rd and 7th:

G7: 3rd and 7th B and F

and for

Db7 the 7th and the 3rd are B and F.

Since they are similar you can exchange them in a simple progression like this:

Like this they sound pretty similar, but if you add extensions to the chords then you can hear the difference: EX3

Here the Db7 sounds more surprising and you can hear it pull towards the Cmaj7 in the II V I cadence.

Break in with turnaround? Before we start looking at soloing over the chord..

What Scale and Arpeggios Can You Use?

Since the Db7 is a dominant that does not resolve then you can use the lydian dominant scale for it Ex 4

Something that is very useful to notice with this is that Db Lydian b7 is in fact the same set of notes as Ab melodic minor, and therefore also the same as G altered, which is going to be very useful later.

Try Arpeggios from the 4 basic chord tones

If you want to make some solo lines over the Db7 when we use it as a tritone sub then a good place to look first is the diatonic arpeggios from the chord tones.

This doesn’t always work for all of them, but with this chord they are actually all really useful

From the root

From the 3rd

From the 5th

From the 7th

Now we can continue and use this material to make it a lot easier to learn how to play altered dominants.

That really looks like another chord?

If you look at Example 9 then you can see that the chord voicings for Db7 are the same as what you use for a G altered voicing. In many ways you could describe a G altered as a Db7(#11) with a G bass note.

No Dominant Arpeggio?!

The thing that is often difficult about the altered scale is that we have the scale:

G Ab Bb B Db Eb F G and all the

diatonic arpeggios: Gø AbMaj7 Bbm7 Bmaj7(#5) Db7 Eb7 Fø Gø.

But we don’t have a G7 arpeggio and Gø doesn’t really work, so it is difficult to come up with lines in the way that we usually do, and lines are just running up and down the scale which sounds pretty boring.

But since the Db7 really works the same then you can just start using the Db7 arpeggios that I just covered, then you have 4 arpeggios

Turning it into G altered lines

Applying this to a G altered is pretty simple. Here is an example using the Fø and Db7 arpeggios on a G7alt:

The AbmMaj7 works great as well:

And of course you can apply the Bmaj7(#5) like this.

How Do You Practice This

You can of course work on this in II V I cadences or turnarounds, but it also makes sense to try to add it to songs. A great place to work on this is to take the G7 in the bridge of Stella. That is of course not really an altered dominant but is a great place where you have a little more room to play and you can experiment with thinking Db7.

Put this into music!

If you want to use this then it is a good idea to also to have some repertoire, so songs you can actually using it on.

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