Tritone Substitution – The Ultimate Guide

tritone substitutionIn this video I’m going to teach you how to play a tritone substitution. We all know how important the II-V-I chord progression is to jazz music. It’s used in thousands of jazz standards.

Now, it a beautiful sounding chord progression but sometimes in order to not sound so repetitious we need to find new ways to spice it up.

So, in today’s free jazz lesson I’m going to teach you guys one of the most common ways of substituting the II-V-I chord progression.  (video, and notation below)

This substitution is called a tritone substitution. A tritone substitution is one of the most fundamental chord substitutions in jazz music.  You literally hear it everywhere!

To get started learning this awesome chord substitution I recommend you watch the video below first.

Tritone Substitution With Notation

1. Here is a normal II-V-I (2-5-1) chord progression without the tritone substitution added in on the V chord.

2 5 1 chord progression

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2. Here is a II-V-I chord progression written out with the tritone substitution added on the V chord (G7 is substituted w/ Db7 instead). You should practice taking this chord progression in all 12 keys.

To apply this chord substitution just substitute the V chord with another dominant chord a tritone away.

tritone substitution

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3. Here are the roman numerals for the tritone substitution. This should help you transpose  the chord progression to all 12 keys.

tritone substitution

The Theory Of A Tritone Substitution

As a jazz piano teacher, it’s my job to make things easy for you.

So, here are 4 easy steps to figure out how to play a tritone substitution.

  1. Figure out which 2 chords in a chord progression go V to I. 98% of the time of the time the V chord is going to be a dominant chord. This dominant chord will be the one you actually apply the substitution to. Here’s an example: If you have a Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 chord progression, the G7 to Cmaj7 will be the V to I.
  2.  Once you have your dominant V chord you count up 6 half steps. That will be the root of the chord you’ll substitute with. So, you’ll play a dominant chord that’s 6 half steps as your tritone substitution.  In our example above you’d substitute G7 with a Db7 chord.
  3. Once you understand what chord your substitution chord is then plug it into your chord progression. So, now our example chord progression will be Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 Db7 Cmaj7.
  4. Also, take note of how the tritone substitution resolves down by half step. It used to resolve up by a 4th without the substitution, but now it’s just a half step down.

Pretty cool right?

4 Ways To Apply The Tritone Substitution

1. If you would like to see more demonstrations of how to play and using this tritone substitution be sure to also check out this Here’s That Rainy Day Chords Tutorial.

2. If you want an example with some jazz licks played on top then you can also check out this jazz lick lesson where I use it as well.

3. The best way to learn any new musical concept is to add it into the music you play. Repetition and action is key! So for example, you could set a goal of trying to use it all day today every time you see a 2-5-1 chord progression.

4. A blues is a fantastic place to try practicing and applying this substitution. You can check out some of the ways I use it over this jazz blues chord progression

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