This article represents the viewpoint of the author. As with anything read on the Web, it would be wise to verify all information with a reliable source, such as a music teacher or music textbook.
By Darrin Koltow
Think back to when you were a kid, coloring with Crayola crayons. Would you rather have had the huge mega-box with tons of colors in it, or would you have preferred the rinky-dink 12-color box? Naturally, you go for the big box of crayons.
Let's do the same with chord playing. Instead of using only the root, 3, 5 or 7 in the top voice of our chords, let's put some other tones on top. We can call these other tones Chord Colors.
This lesson will launch you on an exploration of Chord Colors, by showing progressions with the 9 on top. We'll put the 9 on top of major chords, dominant 7 chords, and minor chords.
Let's begin with the 9 on top of a major chord.
== Major, add 9 ==
Dig this progression, which illustrates a major chord with a 9 on top.
The first chord here is an F major, add 9. It's still a pretty mellow, restful chord, like the plain F major chord. But it still gives us a dissonant little itch so we remember it. Use the major add 9 in place of a regular major chord.
Let's look at another example of the major add 9 chord in action. This one's also in C:
Now you have no excuse to play major chords with only the root, 3, 5 or 7 on top all the time. Work the major add 9 into your comping and playing.
== Dominant 9, #9 ==
Let's look at shapes for the dominant 9 chord, to replace the dominant 7 when we get tired of playing it.
This tab throws a little Blues your way, in the form of the F#9 and F9 chords. Notice how the #9 note of the F, the G#/Ab, is the b7 of the Bb. This is a Blues note.
The #9 chord doesn't have to be used just as a V7 going to a I. You can use it as a I, or tonic, chord. You can start or end a phrase with it, or start or end a tune with it. Or, you can use it to say, "I can play a #9 and you can't! Neener, neener, nee-ner!"
== Dom 7, Flat 9 ==
While the dominant 7 #9 is kind of like a "celebrity" chord that likes to say, "Look at me. I'm special," the dominant 7 flat 9, or 7b9, is a hafta-know, workhorse, nuts and bolts chord. Let's check out some music illustrating the b9.
Is the Blues cool or what? In this example, we treated the b9 of F as the b3 -- the Blues three -- of Eb. You're painting a classic blues line with this: b3, 2, root, and doing so in a II7-V7-I progression.
We need to do that again, on string E.
The 7b9 chord is important because it can be *four* different 7b9 chords. Take a look at the notes in the F7b9: F, F#, A, C, Eb . The essential notes here are F#, A, C and Eb. We can leave out the root. Now, let's pretend that A is our b9 note, instead of the F#. If that's true, then the I, or root, of the chord would be Ab. We would have an Ab7b9 chord. If you leave out the root, the notes in this chord are C, Eb, Gb and A. Ta-da: the same notes found in the F7b9. Therefore, Ab7b9 and F7b9 are the same chord.
Continue this procedure to extract the remaining two chords from this same set of notes. You'll get these four dom 7b9 chords: F7b9, Ab7b9, B7b9, and D7b9. Pretty nifty, huh? This means that, when you're playing along and you reach this chord, you could use it as a V7 to move into one of four different key centers -- actually, *eight* different key centers, if you count major and minor. In other words:
F7b9 ==> Bb major/minor
Ab7b9 ==> Db major/minor
B7b9 ==> E major/minor
D7b9 ==> G major/minor
Think of the dom7b9 as a kind of powerful wildcard, or a Get Out of Jail card in Monopoly.
If you want to learn more about the dom 7b9, check out the article "The Shape," either on TrueFire.com or on MaximumMusician.com.
== Minor 9 ==
The minor 9, a minor 7 with an additional note one whole step above the root, sounds an awful lot like a major 7 whose root is a minor third up from the minor 7's root. For example, a D minor 9, having notes D, E, F, A, and C, is pretty darn close to an F major 7, with notes F, A, C, E. I don't hear a lot of major 7 type sounds in the Blues, but we still want to find what Blues potential there is in minor 9. Let's see what we can do.
The "PC" stands for Passing Chord. And I don't want to hear any suggestive comments about that, no matter how witty they are.
This is a quick and dirty Blues in F. For the C7, we snuck in two passing chords: one of 'em is a Db7#9, and the other is the D minor 9 we wanted to work in. D minor 9 can actually substitute for the C7, because it has two of C7's regular tones, C and E, and the other tones are extensions to C7: the A is a 13 of C7, and the F is the 11 of C7. Both A and F are common alterations to C7.
The D minor 9 can also substitute for G13, with which it shares tones D, E, and F. Since Dm7 can sub for G13, and C7, that gives us two different dominant 7 chords that D minor 9 can sub for. Each of *these* chords, G13 and C7, can appear in three different Blues progressions: the C7 shows up in a C Blues as the root, the F Blues as the five, and the G Blues as the four. G13 can show up in a G Blues, C Blues and D Blues. There are four different Blues keys here: C, D, F, and G. I mention this only to show how D minor 9 can appear in four different Blues, using just one approach to chord substitution.
I want to do something a little more Bluesey before we leave the D minor 9.
With this tab, we turned the D minor 9 into a D9 by changing the F to an F#. A truly Bluesey move: minor to major third.
There are many other ways of exploring the Blues potential of the minor 9 chord. The approach we've been using is to ask the question, "What dom 7 chord is the D minor 9 like?" We put the answers we came up with into mini progressions.
I hear you clamoring for more Chord Colors, more tabs, more music, more fun. You can find these things first by looking into your own mind. Write your own licks, tricks and tunes. Plus, there are lots of other lessons out on 'Net, including some by me. Check 'em out at WholeNote.com or MaximumMusician.com.
Keep in mind these important points when you're learning about Chord Colors or extended chord tones: practice 'em in a *musical* context that you like. In other words, use 'em in *songs*. Will each Chord Color sound great in every song? No. But experimenting and exploring are half the fun anyway, verdad?
Another thing to keep in mind: there's a lot more fun to be had with extended chord tones. We didn't even touch on the 11 or 13 chord colors, let alone the plus-5, minus-5 possibilities. We also didn't do any work with combining extended tones into one chord, such as you can find in a D13b9, for example. (By the way, the D13b9 is a *super* cool-sounding chord. Serve while hot. Garnish with onions. Refrigerate leftovers.) But, I leave that to your explorations, or a possible future article.
For more info about Chord Colors, the cool Guitar Chords ebook, exotic pickle-based diets or other guitar-related things, contact me at dkoltow@MaximumMusician.com.
Keep playin' and have fun.
Feel good. Play guitar.