Mike Outram

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Altered Dominants Without Tears

Here’s a way to voice the chords in a II V I. You can think of each chord as having three bits.

Picture 11

The three bits are:

  1. The Root
    • On either the fifth or the sixth string.
  2. The 3rd and 7th
    • These are on the third and fourth strings.
    • If the root is on the sixth string then the 7th is on the fourth string and the 3rd is on the third string.
    • If the root is on the fifth string then the 3rd is on the fourth string and the 7th is on the third string.
  3. The 5th and 9th
    • These are on the first and second strings.
    • If the root is on the sixth string then the 5th is on the second string and the 9th is on the first string.
    • If the root is on the 5th string then the 9th is on the second string and the 5th is on the first string.

Alter the 3rd and 7th to give you various chord types and alter the 5th and 9th to add different colours. This example is limited to a major II V I to prevent descending into the bottomless pit of possibility whilst neatly avoiding the problem of finding a loving home for G∆#5#9.

Now, what to mess with? Everything will be left unsullied apart from the 5th and the 9th of the D7 chord, and they will be fiddled with thus:

The 5th will be either b5 or #5
The 9th will be either b9 or #9

So that gives us these options:

Picture 9

Insert one of these chords in place of the D9. Like it? Is your heart gladdened by the skipping urgency of the bass, leaping and bounding like a little baby rabbit? Do you feel the stoic seriousness and perverse persistence of the guide-tones? Do you feel modern when listening to the skidding shock of icy 5ths worming their way through the chords, sneakily disturbing us with uneasy dissonance? Or are you dizzy from the heart-warming resolution that reminds us of all that is beautiful in the cosmos? Do you imagine you are very tiny and can climb onto the stave like a ladder and sit inside the notes, or hop from A# to Ab to Ab to A#, bouncing lightly on the spines of old ladies?

Things to try if it’s really wet out:

Omit bits depending on the context:

  1. If you have a bass player [lucky you] omit the bass note [your bass player will like you].
  2. If you’re supporting a melody, try omitting the top part of the voicing.
  3. If you’re playing with a piano player try using the 3rd and 7th only.

Another way to think about it:

1 + 2 + 3
1 + 2
1 + 3
2 + 3

Try omiting one voice and singing it instead.
This is good for hearing all the voices in the chord. Usually we gravitate to the top or bottom of the chord first so this kind of thing is good for improving your ear. Plus, it makes you ‘feel’ the chord differently: sing the bass notes, hopefully you’ll hear what I mean.

Also try

Replace the 5th on the 7th chord with the 13th.

Try splitting the bits up when you comp; e.g., instead of strumming the whole chord, play the top followed by the middle, etc.

You could dispense with the limitations of the other chord voicings and find other ways to resolve the altered extensions.

Any other ideas? Feel free to share in the comment box below…

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