Bring On The Substitute

One thing which often characterises a jazz arrangement of any tune is the richness of the chords being used. Broadly speaking, jazz rarely uses the relatively simple 3 note chords found in other genres of music – major & minor chords tend to be extended into major 7th or minor 7th or dominant type chords, or even more exotic sounding options. This guide will give you an insight into how this can be done without having to learn too many new shapes.

Let’s begin by looking at a fairly straightforward chord progression. Here it is…

basic chords

This happens to be the basic chord sequence for “Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra. Click HERE to listen to it being played with the melody. That would be OK for a bit of a sing along after the pub, but it’s hardly the kind of arrangement you’d associate with this song is it? It needs to be more “jazzy”, so let’s start digging into the chords & the theory which underpins them.

All of the chords in this progression (apart from the E7 & B7 which we’ll come to later) are taken directly from the key of G major (see below).

Chords in the key of G major

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

G

Am

Bm

C

D

Em

F#dim

These chords are all made up from the notes of the G major scale: G A B C D E F# G. Taking the G chord as an example, it contains the notes of G B & D (see below).

G chord

Now, if you compare the notes in this chord to the G major scale you can see that they are the 1st 3rd & 5th notes of that scale. It seems obvious, then, that the next note in that sequence – 1 3 5 – would be seven. The 7th note of the G major scale is an F#. Including the F# in the chord would give us a G major 7th chord (Gmaj7). Taking things a stage further, you could add the 9th note up from the G which would be an A. This would give you G major 9th (Gmaj9). You could then go and look these chords up and play the resulting shapes in place of the G chord… but that would be doing things the hard way. A little knowledge of music theory reveals the following:

Gmaj7 = G + B + D + F#, right? Well if you ignore the G note, you have B + D + F# which is a Bm chord. Therefore Gmaj7 is nothing more than a Bm chord played over a G root. Similarly, you can evoke the sound of a Gmaj9 chord by playing a D chord over the top of a G root. If you assume that the bass player is going to be hitting the root note of each chord, this leaves you free to use chord substitutions, like the Bm & the D, in place of the G chord. This is illustrated by the diagram below:

chord sub1

Let’s look again at all of the basic 3 note chords in the key of G major, but this time we’ll state the notes they contain – each chord is made up of the 1st 3rd & 5th note relative to it in the scale:

G

Am

Bm

C

D

Em

F#dim

G+B+D

A+C+E

B+D+F#

C+E+G

D+F#+A

E+G+B

F#+A+C

 

Now we’ll take a look at what the 7th & 9th in each chord would be if we added them in:

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

G chord

Am chord

Bm chord

C chord

D chord

Em chord

F#dim

Root

G

A

B

C

D

E

F#

3rd

B

C

D

E

F#

G

A

5th

D

E

F#

G

A

B

C

7th

F#

G

A

B

C

D

E

9th

A

B

C

D

E

F#

G

 

As we saw earlier, lurking in the outer reaches of the G chord solar system, there is a Bm & a D chord. You should be able to see all kinds of chords cropping up in the extended versions of each basic 3 note chord in the key. For example, the 5th + 7th + 9th degrees of the D chord are A C & E – an Am chord in other words. The more you look for these “hidden” chords, the more you’ll see. What’s more you can play these chords in place of the basic chords to any tune to instantly “jazzify” it. There’s no reason why you should stop at the 9th either – you can take it up to the 11th or even the 13th if you wish & this will give you even more options of chords you can use as substitutions.

Here are the same basic chords all extended up to their 13th notes:

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

G chord

Am chord

Bm chord

C chord

D chord

Em chord

F#dim

Root

G

A

B

C

D

E

F#

3rd

B

C

D

E

F#

G

A

5th

D

E

F#

G

A

B

C

7th

F#

G

A

B

C

D

E

9th

A

B

C

D

E

F#

G

11th

C

D

E

F#

G

A

B

13th

E

F#

G

A

B

C

D

Looking again at the D chord, last time we saw that there was an Am available as a substitute. Now we’ve gone up as far as the 13th, you can see that we have a B (13th) D (root) and an F# (3rd) or a Bm chord – so it seems that Bm will work in place of the G chord (giving us the sound of Gmaj7) as well as in place of the D chord (giving us D13). If you try to take all this in in once go, you’ll probably explode your head, so just try substituting one chord at a time and experiment with the sounds – some will work better than others depending on the context. Much like when you play lead guitar, where you have your favourite licks & phrases that you fall back on each time, you will soon adopt the same approach with this technique – using the substitutions you like the sound of best.

Now, let’s go back to those E7 & B7 chords which are also in the tune. They do not come directly from the key of G major so why are they there? Well… they are acting as musical “signposts” in the chord progression. Here’s a little rule you can adopt when writing any chord sequence: Any chord (but it tends to sound more effective when going to a minor chord) can be “approached” by placing a 7th chord before it. The 7th chord should be a 5th (7 frets) above the chord you wish to land on. Hence the Am chord at the start of the 3rd line of the chord sequence has an E7 placed immediately before it. E7 is a 5th (7 frets) above the Am. Also, the B7 is 7 frets above the Em which follows it. This always works and is a long established principle used by everybody from Cole Porter & Irving Berlin through to Noel Gallagher, Sam Smith and many others. The 7th chords which are being used as the musical “signposts” are referred to as “secondary dominant” chords.

So, how do we do some fancy substitutions on these secondary dominant chords then? Well, it’s a bit long winded to go into now, so I’ll just give you the basic rule… either play a diminished 7th chord one semitone above the secondary dominant (Cdim7 in place of B7) or play the 7th chord 6 frets away from the secondary dominant (F7 in place of B7). There are sound reasons why this works, but I’ll spare you any more head-mangling theory for now. If you need some help looking up chords like Cdim7, for example, I recommend this site ALL-GUITAR-CHORDS which has an excellent utility that will show you multiple shapes for just about any chord you need.

When you combine all of these techniques, you end up with a chord progression which has a definite jazz flavour to it. Click HERE to listen to my jazz arrangement of “Fly Me To The Moon”. And HERE it is without the melody so you can hear my chord work a little more clearly. Notice how I try and keep the chord voicings I’m playing on the top 3 strings? This just helps keep everything sounding clean and well defined. If you fancy having a go yourself, click HERE to get a backing track with the chord part left blank.

Until next time…

Have Fun,

John.

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

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