Altered chord

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Altered chord
An altered dominant chord in C major [1]

An altered chord is a chord that replaces one or more notes from the diatonic scale with a neighboring pitch from the chromatic scale. By the broadest definition, any chord with a non-diatonic chord tone is an altered chord. The simplest example of altered chords is the use of borrowed chords, chords borrowed from the parallel key, and the most common is the use of secondary dominants. As Alfred Blatter explains, "An altered chord occurs when one of the standard, functional chords is given another quality by the modification of one or more components of the chord." [2]


For example, altered notes may be used as leading tones to emphasize their diatonic neighbors. Contrast this with chord extensions:

Whereas chord extension generally involves adding notes that are logically implied, chord alteration involves changing some of the typical notes. This is usually done on dominant chords, and the four alterations that are commonly used are the 5, 5, 9 and 9. Using one (or more) of these notes in a resolving dominant chord greatly increases the bite in the chord and therefore the power of the resolution. [3]

In jazz harmony, chromatic alteration is either the addition of notes not in the scale or expansion of a [chord] progression by adding extra non-diatonic chords. [4] For example, "A C major scale with an added D note, for instance, is a chromatically altered scale" while, "one bar of Cmaj7 moving to Fmaj7 in the next bar can be chromatically altered by adding the ii and V of Fmaj7 on the second two beats of bar" one. Techniques include the ii–V–I turnaround, as well as movement by half-step or minor third. [5]

Altered chord progression jazz.png

The five most common types of altered dominants are: V+, V75 (both with raised fifths), V5, V75 (both with lowered fifths), and Vø7 (with lowered fifth and third, the latter enharmonic to a raised ninth). [6]


Altered chord
Chord progression with chords borrowed from the parallel minor

"Borrowing" of this type appears in music from the Renaissance music era and the Baroque music era (1600–1750)—such as with the use of the Picardy third, in which a piece in a minor key has a final or intermediate cadence in the tonic major chord. "Borrowing" is also common in 20th century popular music and rock music.

For example, in music in a major key, such as C major, composers and songwriters may use a B major chord, that they "borrow" from the key of C minor (where it is the VII chord). Similarly, in music in a minor key, composers and songwriters often "borrow" chords from the tonic major. For example, pieces in C minor often use F major and G major (IV and V chords), which they "borrow" from C major.

More advanced types of altered chords were used by Romantic music era composers in the 19th century, such as Chopin, and by jazz composers and improvisers in the 20th and 21st century. For example, the chord progression on the left uses four unaltered chords, while the progression on the right uses an altered IV chord and is an alteration of the previous progression: [1]

Altered chord
Altered chord

The A in the altered chord serves as a leading tone to G, which is the root of the next chord.

The object of such foreign tones is: to enlarge and enrich the scale; to confirm the melodic tendency of certain tones...; to contradict the tendency of others...; to convert inactive tones into active [leading tones]...; and to affiliate the keys, by increasing the number of common tones. [7]

Altered chord
The augmented fifth often appears in the soprano voice, as here in Franck's Symphonic Variations . [8]

According to one definition, "when a chord is chromatically altered, and the thirds remain large [major] or small [minor], and is not used in modulation, it is an altered chord." [9] According to another, "all chords... having a major third, i.e., either triads, sevenths, or ninths, with the fifth chromatically raised or chromatically lowered, are altered chords," while triads with a single altered note are considered, "changes of form [ quality ]," rather than alteration. [10]

According to composer Percy Goetschius, "Altered... chords contain one or more tones written with accidentals (, , or ) and therefore foreign to the scale in which they appear, but nevertheless, from their connections and their effect, obviously belonging to the principal key of their phrase." [7] Richard Franko Goldman argues that, once one accepts, "the variability of the scale," the concept of altered chords becomes unnecessary: "In reality, there is nothing 'altered' about them; they are entirely natural elements of a single key system," [11] and it is, "not necessary," to use the term as each 'altered chord' is, "simply one of the possibilities regularly existing and employed." [12]

Dan Haerle argues that only fifths and ninths may be altered, as all other alterations may be interpreted as an unaltered chord tone or, enharmonically, as an altered fifth or ninth (for example, 1 = 9 and 4 = 3). [13] [14]

Altered seventh chord

Altered chord
An altered dominant seventh chord arising from voice leading in the first movement of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 [8]

An altered seventh chord is a seventh chord with one, or all, [15] of its factors raised or lowered by a semitone (altered), for example, the augmented seventh chord (7+ or 7+5) featuring a raised fifth (C E G B [16] (C7+5: C–E–G–B). The factors most likely to be altered are the fifth, then the ninth, then the thirteenth. [15] In classical music, the raised fifth is more common than the lowered fifth, which in a dominant chord adds Phrygian flavor through the introduction of Scale deg 2.svg . [8]

Altered dominant chord

An altered dominant chord is, "a dominant triad of a 7th chord that contains a raised or lowered fifth and sometimes a lowered 3rd." [17] According to Dan Haerle, "Generally, altered dominants can be divided into three main groups: altered 5th, altered 9th, and altered 5th and 9th." [13] This definition allows three to five options, including the original:

  • C7: C–E–G–B
  • C75: C–E–G–B
  • C75: C–E–G–B
  • (Cø7: C–E–G–B)
  • (Cm75: C–E–G–B)
Altered chord

Alfred Music gives nine options for altered dominants, [14] the last four of which contain two alterations each: [18] [19]

  • C7: C–E–G–B
  • C75: C–E–G–B
  • C75: C–E–G–B
  • C79: C–E–G–B–D
  • C79: C–E–G–B–D
  • C759: C–E–G–B–D
  • C759: C–E–G–B–D
  • C759: C–E–G–B–D
  • C759: C–E–G–B–D
Altered chord

Altered chord

Pianist Noah Baerman writes that "The point of having an altered note in a dominant chord is to build more tension (leading to a correspondingly more powerful resolution)." [18]

Alt chord

Altered chord
G7alt chord with 5 and 5 as well as 9 and 9

In jazz, the term altered chord, notated generally as a root, followed by 7alt (e.g. G7alt), refers to a dominant chord that fits entirely into the altered scale of the root. This means that the chord has the root, major third, minor seventh, and one or more altered tones, but does not have the natural fifth, ninth, eleventh, or thirteenth. An altered chord typically contains both an altered fifth and an altered ninth. To alter a tone is simply to raise or lower it by a semitone.

Altered chords may include both a flattened and sharpened form of the altered fifth or ninth, e.g. G7(559); however, it is more common to use only one such alteration per tone, e.g. G7(59), G7(59), G7(59), or G7(59).

Altered chord

The raised fifteenth is only used when the ninth in a chord is natural. It functions as a minor ninth, creating a major seventh interval with the natural ninth, assuming that the chord is in root position. The notation of a raised fifteenth is a fairly modern addition to Western harmony, and they have been popularized by contemporary musicians like Jacob Collier. Natural fifteenths are never notated as alterations or extensions, as they are enharmonically equivalent to the root. For example, a chord that includes a raised fifteenth could look something like Gmaj13(1115), or if it were written as a polychord, Amaj7/Gmaj7.

In practice, many fake books do not specify all the alterations; the chord is typically just labelled as G7alt, and the alteration of ninths, elevenths, thirteenths, and fifteenths is left to the artistic discretion of the comping musician. The use of chords labeled G7alt can create challenges in jazz ensembles where more than one chordal instrument are playing chords (e.g., a large band with an electric guitar, piano, vibes, and/or a Hammond organ), because the guitarist might interpret a G7alt chord as containing a 9 and 11, whereas the organ player may interpret the same chord as containing a 9 and a 13, resulting in every tone from the altered scale at once, likely a far denser and more dissonant harmonic cluster than the composer intended. To deal with this issue, bands with more than one chordal instrument may work out the alt chord voicings beforehand or alternate playing of choruses.

The choice of inversion, or the omission of certain tones within the chord (e.g. omitting the root, common in jazz harmony and chord voicings), can lead to many different possible colorings, substitutions, and enharmonic equivalents. Altered chords are ambiguous harmonically, and may play a variety of roles, depending on such factors as voicing, modulation, and voice leading.

Altered chord
The altered scale on C

The altered chord's harmony is built on the altered scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C), which includes all the alterations shown in the chord elements above: [20]

Altered chord
Tritone substitution for C7 (F7) and altered chord (C7(59)) as "nearly identical" [21]

Because they do not have natural fifths, altered dominant (7alt) chords support tritone substitution (5 substitution). Thus, the 7alt chord on a given root can be substituted with the 1311 chord on the root a tritone away (e.g., G7alt is the same as D1311).

Altered chord

See also

Related Research Articles

In jazz, the altered scale, altered dominant scale, or Super Locrian scale is a seven-note scale that is a dominant scale where all non-essential tones have been altered. This means that it comprises the three irreducibly essential tones that define a dominant seventh chord, which are root, major third, and minor seventh and that all other chord tones have been altered. These are:

A jazz scale is any musical scale used in jazz. Many "jazz scales" are common scales drawn from Western European classical music, including the diatonic, whole-tone, octatonic, and the modes of the ascending melodic minor. All of these scales were commonly used by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, often in ways that directly anticipate jazz practice. Some jazz scales, such as the bebop scales, add additional chromatic passing tones to the familiar diatonic scales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chord (music)</span> Harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches consisting of multiple notes that are sounded simultaneously, or nearly so. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and other types of broken chords may also be considered as chords in the right musical context.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modulation (music)</span> Change from one tonality (tonic, or tonal center) to another

In music, modulation is the change from one tonality to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. Modulations articulate or create the structure or form of many pieces, as well as add interest. Treatment of a chord as the tonic for less than a phrase is considered tonicization.

Modulation is the essential part of the art. Without it there is little music, for a piece derives its true beauty not from the large number of fixed modes which it embraces but rather from the subtle fabric of its modulation.

In music theory, an augmented sixth chord contains the interval of an augmented sixth, usually above its bass tone. This chord has its origins in the Renaissance, was further developed in the Baroque, and became a distinctive part of the musical style of the Classical and Romantic periods.

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. In simple terms, within each octave, diatonic music uses only seven different notes, rather than the twelve available on a standard piano keyboard. Music is chromatic when it uses more than just these seven notes.

The diminished seventh chord is a four-note chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a diminished seventh above the root:. For example, the diminished seventh chord built on B, commonly written as Bo7, has pitches B-D-F-A:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chord substitution</span> Technique of using a chord in place of another in a progression of chords

In music theory, chord substitution is the technique of using a chord in place of another in a progression of chords, or a chord progression. Much of the European classical repertoire and the vast majority of blues, jazz and rock music songs are based on chord progressions. "A chord substitution occurs when a chord is replaced by another that is made to function like the original. Usually substituted chords possess two pitches in common with the triad that they are replacing."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tritone substitution</span> Music theory concept

The tritone substitution is a common chord substitution found in both jazz and classical music. Where jazz is concerned, it was the precursor to more complex substitution patterns like Coltrane changes. Tritone substitutions are sometimes used in improvisation—often to create tension during a solo. Though examples of the tritone substitution, known in the classical world as an augmented sixth chord, can be found extensively in classical music since the Renaissance period, they were not heard until much later in jazz by musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the 1940s, as well as Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge and Benny Goodman.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harmonic major scale</span> Musical scale

In music theory, the harmonic major scale is a musical scale found in some music from the common practice era and now used occasionally, most often in jazz. In George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept it is the fifth mode (V) of the Lydian Diminished scale. It corresponds to the Raga Sarasangi in Indian Carnatic music, or Raag Nat Bhairav in Hindustani music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jazz harmony</span> Harmonic music theory as it applies to Jazz

Jazz harmony is the theory and practice of how chords are used in jazz music. Jazz bears certain similarities to other practices in the tradition of Western harmony, such as many chord progressions, and the incorporation of the major and minor scales as a basis for chordal construction. In jazz, chords are often arranged vertically in major or minor thirds, although stacked fourths are also quite common. Also, jazz music tends to favor certain harmonic progressions and includes the addition of tensions, intervals such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths to chords. Additionally, scales unique to style are used as the basis of many harmonic elements found in jazz. Jazz harmony is notable for the use of seventh chords as the basic harmonic unit more often than triads, as in classical music. In the words of Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha, "7th chords provide the building blocks of jazz harmony."

Jazz chords are chords, chord voicings and chord symbols that jazz musicians commonly use in composition, improvisation, and harmony. In jazz chords and theory, most triads that appear in lead sheets or fake books can have sevenths added to them, using the performer's discretion and ear. For example, if a tune is in the key of C, if there is a G chord, the chord-playing performer usually voices this chord as G7. While the notes of a G7 chord are G–B–D–F, jazz often omits the fifth of the chord—and even the root if playing in a group. However, not all jazz pianists leave out the root when they play voicings: Bud Powell, one of the best-known of the bebop pianists, and Horace Silver, whose quintet included many of jazz's biggest names from the 1950s to the 1970s, included the root note in their voicings.

The harmonic minor scale is a musical scale derived from the natural minor scale, with the minor seventh degree raised by one semitone to a major seventh, creating an augmented second between the sixth and seventh degrees.

In music theory, the half-diminished seventh chord is a seventh chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. For example, the half-diminished seventh chord built on B, commonly written as Bm7(♭5), or Bø7, has pitches B-D-F-A:

In music, harmonization is the chordal accompaniment to a line or melody: "Using chords and melodies together, making harmony by stacking scale tones as triads".

The augmented seventh chord, or seventh augmented fifth chord, or seventh sharp five chord is a seventh chord composed of a root, major third, augmented fifth, and minor seventh. It can be viewed as an augmented triad with a minor seventh. When using popular-music symbols, it is denoted by +7, aug7, or 75. For example, the augmented seventh chord built on A, written as A+7, has pitches A-C-E-G:

In music theory, the dominant seventh flat five chord is a seventh chord composed of a root note, together with a major third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh above the root. For example, the dominant seventh flat five chord built on C, commonly written as C75, is composed of the pitches C–E–G–B:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Seventh (chord)</span> Musical chord

In music, the seventh factor of a chord is the note or pitch seven scale degrees above the root or tonal center. When the seventh is the bass note, or lowest note, of the expressed chord, the chord is in third inversion.

Musicians use various kinds of chord names and symbols in different contexts to represent musical chords. In most genres of popular music, including jazz, pop, and rock, a chord name and its corresponding symbol typically indicate one or more of the following:

  1. the root note,
  2. the chord quality,
  3. whether the chord is a triad, seventh chord, or an extended chord,
  4. any altered notes,
  5. any added tones, and
  6. the bass note if it is not the root.

The jazz minor scale or ascending melodic minor scale is a derivative of the melodic minor scale, except only the ascending form of the scale is used. As the name implies, it is primarily used in jazz, although it may be found in other types of music as well. It may be derived from the major scale with a minor third, making it a synthetic scale, and features a dominant seventh chord on the fifth degree (V) like the harmonic minor scale. It can also be derived from the diatonic Dorian mode with a major seventh.


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  20. Brown, Buck; and Dziuba, Mark (2012). The Ultimate Guitar Chord & Scale Bible, p. 197. Alfred Music. ISBN   9781470622626 "In a dominant 7 context, this scale contains the root, 3rd, and 7 of the dominant chord and includes all of the available tensions: 9, 9, 11, and 13.
  21. Coker, Jerry (1997). Elements of the Jazz Language for the Developing Improvisor, p. 81. ISBN   1-57623-875-X.

Further reading