Chord Extensions: How To Play Sweet Sounding Harmonies
Want to sound good with chord extensions? You’re in the right place.
In the video below, Steve teaches one of his Inner Circle students how to use chord extensions to create variety.
Take a couple minutes and watch the video below. Steve will break down how to use chord extensions for you.
1. How To Understand Chord Extensions Using Simple Math
Are you wracking your brain figuring out what 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths are?
If so, then we have this neat simple math trick you can use.
This trick is called the minus 7 chord extension trick.
Here’s how to figure what note is that extension: Simply subtract 7 from the number of the extension.
For example, if you want to figure out what note is the 9th from C, just subtract 7 from 9.
Do the math correctly and the answer to that is 2 (9 – 7 = 2).
Since we have 2, this means that the 9th from C is simply D because D is the 2nd note from the C major scale.
How To Apply The Minus 7 Chord Extension Trick
Now, try to figure out how to play Cmaj7(13,9) using our minus 7 chord extension trick. First, know what are the notes of Cmaj7.
Cmaj7 simply has C, E, G, and B. Now what about the 13th and the 9th?
When you subtract 7 from 13, you get 6. A 6th away from C is A, so A is your 13th.
Subtract 7 from 9 and you get 2. A 2nd away from C is D so D is your 9th.
Given all that info, your Cmaj7(13,9) has the notes C, D, E, G, A, D.
Now you have all the notes you need to play a Cmaj7(13,9). Sweet, isn’t it?
However, you have to take note you can’t simply play your chords in just anyway you want. This because dealing with extensions may set you up for a messy trap called minor 2nds.
2. How Minor 2nds Can Mess Up Your Music
Minor 2nds are definitely dissonant. Since they’re really a challenging sound you have to know how to use them properly in your music.
Lots of newbies screw up this critical interval in their jazz improvisation and in their chord voicings.
Our next few tips will help avoid the minor 2nd trap.
3. We Analyzed Hundreds Of Jazz Chord Voicings (And This Is What We Learned)
In our study of famous solo piano jazz chord voicings, we discovered three very interesting techniques:
- Most left-hand voicings play only a root and a 7th or a root and a 3rd.
- Right-hand voicings play notes not played by the left hand. These are any 3rds or 7ths not found in the left hand as well as all extensions.
- You can choose not to play the 5th.
Now let’s see how all of those three techniques work in a ii – V – I chord progression.
Check out how the notes line up on a keyboard for these chords starting with Dm7(11,9):
When playing this chord, play the D and C (root and minor 7th) using the left hand, and then F (3rd), G (11th), and E (9th) with the right.
Next is a G7(b13,b9) chord:
Play the G and B (root and 3rd) with the left hand while play F, Ab, and Eb (7th, b9, b13) with the right.
The G7(b13,b9) resolves nicely to the Cmaj7(13,9) below:
You can play C and B with your left hand (root and major 7th), and then play E, A, and D with your right hand (3rd, 13th, and 9th). You cannot see a G (5th) in there.
The 5th sounds so consonant that it doesn’t bring any characteristic to the chord. This is why it can be omitted.
The next thing you need to learn is what extensions can be used for different chord types. We’ll go deeper into that in the next tip.
4. How To Assign Proper Chord Extensions For Every Chord Type
In jazz, the most commonly used chord types are the major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, and minor 7th(b5) chords.
Occasionally, you might use sus2 and sus4 chords.
Each of these chords can only make use of a specific set of chord extensions.
If you are not careful how you voice your chords intervallically you can run into unpleasant sounding minor 2nd intervals.
Below you will find our cheat sheet for chord extensions:
- Major 7th chords – 9, #11, 13
- Minor 7th chords (tonic) – 6, 9, 11
- Minor 7th chords (not tonic) – 9, 11
- Dominant 7th chords that resolve to the I chord – All extensions except major 7th and 4th
- Dominant 7th chords that do not resolve I chord – 9, #11, 13
- Sus4 chords – 9 and 13.
- Minor 7th(b5) chords – 9, 11 (Note: We use extensions for minor7th(b5) chords less often)
The Best Way To Gain Jazz Chord Vocabulary
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5. How To Add More Excitement By Altering Chord Extensions
The dominant 7th chord is one of the most flexible chords you can use in jazz.
You can create more interest with dominant 7th chords in a lot of ways.
One of these tricks is to alter the extensions on beats 3 and 4.
The question now is how do you alter the extensions on the 3rd and 4th beats?
Alter the extensions in such a way that will be only a half step away from the notes of the next chord.
Here A Practical Example Of How To Alter Chord Extensions
Here how you do it. Let’s say you’re still playing a ii – V – I in the key of C.
On the 1st and 2nd beats, play the G7 chord with extensions as they would naturally appear in the C major scale.
Your chord in this instance is a G7(13,9):
On the 3rd and 4th beats, alter the 9th and 13th by moving them a half-step lower. You’ll now have a G7(b13,b9):
You can also choose to use a G7(b13,#9) like this:
From the G7(b13,b9) or G7(b13,#9), you can now switch to a Cmaj7(13,9) with really good voice leading like this:
In summary, when you want to alter your chord extensions in a V7chord, the safe bets are b9, #9, and b13. This is because:
- The b9 a V7 chord can resolve to the 13th (or 6th) or the 5th of the I chord.
- The #9 of a V7 chord can resolve to the 13th or the major 7th of the I chord.
- The b13 of a V7 chord resolves to the 9th or the 3rd of the I chord.
Also remember this: Whenever you see the term “alt” after a chord symbol, just alter the chord extensions as shown above.
For example, a G(alt) chord can be a G7(b13,b9) or a G7(b13,#9).
Altered chords and altered scales are a goldmine for improvisation. If your improv has hit a wall or you’re chords are bland, you need to explore altered harmony.
If you want to see step by step how a jazz piano legend creates killer solos with altered sounds then you need to check out the Jazz Improvisation Super System.
Jazz piano great David Garfield breaks down his amazing approach to improvising on the best chords and jazz songs in the world.
Now that you have gained control over chord extensions, what’s the next big step? Read on.
Why Your Performance Still Sounds Lifeless (And What To Do About It)
After everything you’ve done, does your music sound still lack character? Are you still playing boring, unintelligible improv?
You may have practiced various techniques in the practice room. That’s all fine and good.
However, when push comes to shove, you still can’t play anything meaningful and vibrant on stage.
Fortunately, there is a way for you to discover how to use all of those skills to play music that bursts with life and character.
The Jazz Inner Circle provides the opportunity to work with world-class jazz piano mentors on a 1-on-1 basis.
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We work with students who want to completely transform their musical lives over the course of a year.
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Enjoy learning how to use chord extensions to play sweet-sounding chords. If you enjoyed this lesson, have any comments, or anything else to add, please leave a comment below.
As always, we’re always here to help take steps to reach the next level. Happy practicing.