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Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip

Robert Strait (6660) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Advanced · Tempo: 60
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Okay, on to our next variation. So far we have reharmonized measure two with a dominant approach and a b5 substitution to create a chromatically descending phrase.

A note about substitutions. The term "substitution" can often be quite misleading. Many of us find the concept complex, confusing, and difficult to understand. Try to keep in mind that "substitutions" are not truly substituting anything, because they still function as the chords they are supposedly substituting for. They really are just ways to generate voicings. For example, the Db7 on the previous page is a "b5 substitution" for G7, but in reality it still functions as G7(b5,b9). When playing in a solo guitar context, it can be difficult to perceive this because the bass note, which establishes the harmony, may be absent (such was the case with our Db7...there is no G bass note present). If you were play a Db7 with a bass player who was playing a G bass note, you would clearly hear it as G7(b5,b9):


Often, a single chord structure can function as many different chords. What ultimately defines it is the bass note. Take a look at this structure:

Depending on the bass note, this structure can function as many different chords:


Therefore, chord substitutions and reharmonization are two separate things. When we reharmonize something, we are changing the original harmony (as in dominant approach). With chord substitutions, most of the time, we aren't changing the original harmony, but instead we are extending, or coloring, the harmony. The original harmonic function remains intact. We are really just generating different voicings, and many times those voicings will be rootless (i.e. Db7 in place of G7 in our arrangement). For this reason, some musicians do not acknowledge the term, "substitution", but it has been my experience that the term is widely used in music (and in my lessons!!)

With that said, take a look at the example below.

The next change to the arrangement comes in measure 1. Again, I use "dominant approach" to create more movement in the voices. On the "and" of beat 2 (the last melody note over Fmaj7), I have replaced Fmaj7 with C#dim7. C#dim7 is actually "substituting" for A7, which is the V7 of Dm7, the chord we are approaching. This is often called a diminished substitution. The common way this concept is defined is that you can substitute a diminished 7th chord whose root lies a half-step above a dominant 7th chord to generate a dom7b9 voicing:

A7b9 (dim. sub)

This is the simplest way to visualize the diminished substitution concept, but it is slightly incomplete. If you dig a little deeper and familiarize yourself with the dimished 7th chord structure, you will notice that there are only three dim7 chords which can truly exist. This is because, due to the symmetrical nature of the diminished form, the chord actually inverts itself every three half-steps, or IOW, every minor 3rd. Take a look:


If you look closely, you will see that all those chords have the same exact notes. This is a very handy phenomenon, because anytime you encounter a dim7 chord you can freely move it around the fretboard in minor 3rds and it will always function the same - it just inverts itself (the order of the notes change, but they are still the same notes).

The same idea applies to the diminished substitution concept. Since the chord shape inverts itself every minor 3rd, not only can you use it a half-step above the root of a dominant 7th chord to create a dom7b9 voicing, but you can also use it built on the 3rd, 5th, or b7th of any dom7 chord. All of these dim7 chords can function as A7b9:


Okay, back to our arrangement. The C#dim7 is functioning as an A7b9 in a dominant approach to the Dm7, and it helps create a nice, chromatically ascending bass line. On the last eigth-note in the measure, there is another chord substitution: Fmaj7 stands in for Dm7. This is commonly referred to as a relative major substitution. You can substitute any minor 7th chord with a major 7th whose root lies a minor third above the root of the minor chord. The result is a minor 9th voicing (I've added the D note in the bass so you can hear the complete chord sound):


So, again, even though we seem to be using Fmaj7 in place of Dm7, the harmony is actually still functioning as Dm7.

On beat 1 of measure two, there is a new voicing for Gm9:


The rest of the measure is the same as on the previous page (a dominant approach to C7), except on the last melody note. I have replaced C7 with a b5 substitution, F#+7, to chromatically voice-lead back to Fmaj7. Remember, F#+7 is still functioning as C9b5.

Are you starting to get the jist? Of all these ideas are being incorporated to allow for smoother voice-leading between the chords. Do you see the individual lines emerging in each of the voices? See if you can extract each line by playing them separately on your instrument.

Next variation!!
Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip - Page 9