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 Chord 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

(click to expand)

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

(click to expand)

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

tritone substitution


Tips On How To Play And 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.

2. 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.

3. 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


If you enjoyed this free jazz lesson please leave a comment below.If you’re new here be sure to come back again!

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  • micrope

    You changed and enlarged my vision Steve… i think these reharmonization shares are priceless…. thank u so much… take care…

  • Funkapotamus

    Hey Steve, just wondering if you can make this substitution a a soloist with the band still playing the original G7 or would you need everybody to make the substitution together?



    • Hey Funk,
         Yeah you can definitely use it as a soloist.  You may have to be careful w/ your left hand voicing though if you’re a piano player.  
         If the rest of the band plays G7 and you play Db7 it will sound like G lydian dominant.  A very cool sound 🙂

      Always use your ears and taste though my friend as your guide in terms of when to use and when not to use.

  • Wim Kerkhoven

    Hi Steve thank you very much for the clear explanation of tri-tone substitutions.  I  start practicing right away. Please continue with your excellent lessons.
    Take care

  • Antonio Robles

    I practice and learn new things every day. I have a clearer view of jazz music cause your lessons. Thanks, Steve.

  • Ron

    Hey Steve, what a great range of excellent learning material. You kick ass buddy!

  • mrvm2001

    Thank you very much Steve!

  • Terry McGraw

    Regarding tritone subs, the substitutions can work nicely with rootless voicings, simply changing only the root. e.g F-B-E voicing can be G13 or Db7#9, depending on the root.

  • Lee Clarke

    Thanks Steve, this is a key concept that has eluded me for most of my life though I’ve heard of it before. Now I got it.

  • Benjamin MVENG

    je suis dans ce site depuis deux mois, je peux déja jouer .let it be c’est fantastique. Je souhaite avoir des accompagnements simples avec patitions. merci David.

  • 1jazzfan

    Steve, I am new to this sight. After only a week or so I absolutely LOVE the information you put out. This may be the best site for all jazz piano players and believe me when I say I’ve pretty much seen them all after 40+ years of studying. Keep things coming.

  • Antony

    Hi Steve, Is it possible to use this kind of substitution on Satin Doll as the first part is only a succession of II-V (no I chord)

  • Richard Schroeder

    Dear steve I think you are saying that the dflatt seven shares two note with the g seventh.Where is the b in the d flatt.I am confused.Richard

  • joshua

    can you please help me with the tritone concept?

  • My pleasure Gregory! We have a lesson on Peg on the site too. I love Steely Dan’s music.