I am not a jazz musician. I prefer to stick to rock or folk,
and I see a lot of what modern jazz musicians do as showing
off or needless complication of what should be simple. And so,
for a long time, I resisted learning many ideas and techniques
that I thought of as "jazz techniques," or "jazz theory," or
even "jazz chords."
I was, of course, being silly. There is no such thing as a
"jazz technique," just as there is no such thing as a "jazz
chord." Jazz musicians (most of them, anyway) are trying to do
the same thing the rest of us are trying to do: make music
that sounds good. So, while you may not want to bust out the
augmented seventh chords in your next Woody Guthrie cover, a
lot of the tips and tricks that jazz musicians use can be
applied in other contexts. One of these tricks is the concept
of "chord substitutions."
Wait, don't run away!
Chord substitutions sound scary, because we hear people talk
about things like "ah yes, the quintessential tritone
substitution with the dominant seventh over a flat
fifth blah blah blah." It really doesn't have to be
that way. A substitution is just replacing one thing with
another thing. In this case, it's replacing one chord with
This lesson builds directly on the Chord Inversions lesson,
so I suggest re-reading that one, if you have not read it yet.
That lesson introduced the slash
notation, for example, C/G, pronounced C over G. In that lesson, the slash
notation was used to choose an alternate bass note from the
notes that are in the chord. The notation can be expanded,
though, and you can play any chord over any other bass
note. Because of the way they are written, I call these
types of chords slash chords. You
might also see them called alternate bass
chords or compound
chords. All it means is you play a different note in
the bass, but it opens up a whole bunch of possibilities,
especially when songwriting.
Last lesson, I covered interval
inversions. You can re-read that now, if you want, though
it's not a big deal if you don't. To summarize, inverting an
interval just means measuring the distance between two notes
starting on the second note instead of the first note, for
example, instead of counting the distance from C to G
(perfect fifth), you can start at G and count up to the C an octave above, giving you a perfect
A chord inversion is similar. It just means starting the chord
on a note other than the tonic note.
Oooh, look at all those high numbers. Those must be really
complicated, difficult chords! Probably sound craaaazy!
Ok, so maybe not.
These chord names may sound impressive, but they’re really
just continuations of the same patterns we’ve already been
using. A ninth chord is just a seventh chord with the added
interval of the major ninth. An eleventh chord is just a
ninth chord with the added interval of the perfect eleventh,
and a thirteenth chord has the added interval of the major