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"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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January 7, 2010 | World Dominants

This may seem a bit rudimentary to most of the JazzMando readership, but soon we're going to be introducing some theory fundamentals that demand everyone is on the same page in understanding the concept of Dominant chords and their place in harmonic function. We introduced this in our first Mandolin Sessions article six years ago, and it might be worth taking time to review if you are new here. (See Understanding the 'ii V7 I' Progression).

You probably hacked away at a V7 the first few chords you learned on the mandolin. You don't even need to know the science behind it, the sound comes so naturally, as does its compulsion to lead to a I chord. Think the song "Happy Birthday," how that first accompanying chord on "HAAA-PY" rolls so intuitively into the I (tonic) chord of the succeeding "BIRTHDAY." Follow up with "TO YOU." There's that V7 chord again, which answers up with another I chord on the end of the next phrase. In C major, it would be G7 C, in D major, it would be A7 D. This play behind the 'V7 I' is the essence of Western European music. Tonic Dominant. Dominant Tonic. The Yin and Yang. All else is just preparing for that primal cadence in the simplest of folk songs, and buried in the most complex Bebop jazz or Stravinsky classical composition.

We will skip the Dominant Preparation chords for now, but let's catalog some different ways of understanding the Dominant and its variations.

V7 and Chord extensions. We add 7th in the most basic four note voicing, but jazzers will be well-versed in chord extensions into 9th, 11th, 13th, and all kinds of variations. Though the chord members are auxiliary and transitory, the function remains the same. Don't let these alterations intimidate you. The extra chord tones are mere flavoring toppings on the same chocolate sundae:


Diatonic Substitutions. Within the major scale, you have two different chords that pretty much function the same way, the V7 or the chord built on the 7th note (whether a triad or a 7th chord). Below you'll see a series of 7th chords based on the C scale, the 5th G& and the 7th can function the same. You can think of it either as a Bm7b5 (labeled a "half-diminished chord" in classical studies) or a rootless 9th chord, based on the G)


Tritone Substitutions. Here's where jazzers can have some fun. Take the tritone substitution of the 5th chord G7, and use Db7 instead. .

TriSub.jpgAltered Chords. The notion of hybridizing the above into a whole new vocabulary is another neat trick. Swapping members of the chord by spelling G7 variations into an "Altered Chord" into voicings including with a b5, #5, b9, #9.

Circle of 5ths. There are other situations that extend (or better precede) a V7 chord with another or a series of V7 of V7 chords. In the key of C, it would be the D7, (V7 of G), and you can progress almost infinitely backwards, using the 'V7 of V7 of V7, etc" ending up with the tonic chord.

These are all different ways to employ the Dominant concept. Not getting wrapped up in the above details, you should start thinking more in terms of what they do than what they are. Understanding the function will help you select the appropriate scales to improvise over them.

More on this later!

Functional thinking...
Analysis: Macroscopes and Microscopes Part 1
Analysis: Macroscopes and Microscopes Part 2
Understanding the 'ii V7 I' Progression
Reharmonization Secrets Part 1: Taking the "harm" out of Reharm...

Posted by Ted at January 7, 2010 7:22 PM

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