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Jazz Blues Tritone Substitutions


Introduction to Jazz Blues Guitar



When learning how to play Jazz Blues guitar, it is not only essential to learn how to navigate the standard changes, but also to check out some of the common subs used by legendary players such as Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and others.

One of the most common subs is adding in a tritone substitution to bar four of the Jazz Blues form. This chord not only creates a level of tension in your comping and soloing, it also flows smoothly from the I7 chord in bar three and resolves nicely to the IV7 chord in bar five, giving you an “inside-outside-inside” sound in your jazz guitar playing when using this sub.

In this lesson you’ll explore the background behind adding this substitution to the Jazz Blues form, as well as check out how to apply this technique to your comping and soloing when you take it to the woodshed, jam room or band stand.

All of the examples below are written out over a Jazz Blues progression in the key of F. To make sure you get a well-rounded approach to this topic, be sure to take these subs, chord shapes and licks into as many other keys as you can when working these ideas in the woodshed.


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Jazz Blues: The First 4 Bars

Before we dig into the different subs presented in this lesson, let’s review the first four bars of a Jazz Blues chord progression in case these changes are new to you or it’s been a while since you’ve worked on them.

The standard Jazz Blues chord progression has three chords played within the span of the first four bars as shown in the example below:


Tritone substitution on a jazz blues ex 1



Jazz Blues: The First 4 Bars With Tritone Subs

Now you can spice things up a bit by adding in a tritone substitution into bar 4, as you can see with the B7 chord in the example below.

The B7 is called the “Tritone Substitution” of F7 because both chords share the same tritone interval.

Tritone = #4 interval

  • The 3rd and 7th of F7: A and Eb
  • The 7th and 3rd of B7: A and D# (=Eb)

Like you can see, the notes are the same and the interval between both of these notes is a tritone.


Let's see how this works on the guitar:

  • Grab the notes A (2nd fret 3rd string) and Eb (1st fret 4th string) and play the root F (1st fret 6th string). It will sound like an F7 chord:

    F7 chord

  • Then, keep the top two notes where they are and simply move the F to a B (2nd fret 5th string) and now that chord will sound like a B7:

    B7 chord

Pretty cool right!

You can use this B7 in bar four of a blues because the B7 resolves down by a half-step to the Bb7 chord in bar 5 of the blues:


Tritone substitution on a jazz blues ex 2


Now that we’ve explored the why’s and how’s, let’s apply this technique to a comping and soloing situation over a Jazz Blues in F progression.


Comping Example

You can use any 7th based chord when applying a tritone sub to the fourth bar of a Jazz Blues, depending on the context and musical situation you are in. But, one chord that a lot of players like to use when applying a tritone sub is the 7#11 sound:

B7#11 chord

Notice that the #11 interval of the tritone sub (F or E# to be more exact) is the same note as the root of the I7 chord (F7 in this key).

This #11 interval provides a further connection to the I7 chord, along with the 3rd and 7th as we saw earlier, helping you to step “outside” of the written chord changes, but still maintain ties to the tonic key of the tune.


Listen to the Audio for the Tritone Sub Comping Example:


Tritone substitution on a jazz blues ex 3


Lick Example

You can also apply the tritone substitution to your soloing to create a level of tension that is then resolved when you arrive at the IV7 chord in bar five.

There are two things to keep in mind in order to apply this technique in a smooth and pleasing sounding manner:

  • The first thing to keep in mind is that arpeggios and arpeggio based lines are usually a good way to go when first learning how to apply the tritone sub to your solos. Arpeggios help to outline the chord changes in a very definitive way, and so they can really bring the sound of the tritone sub to the forefront of your lines.
  • The second thing to keep in mind is that you will need to resolve your tritone sub line in the next bar of the tune to make it sound convincing to the listener.

If you keep this in your mind as you are working these changes in the practice room, then you will be able to move from an “inside” sound in bar 3, to an “outside” sound in bar 4, before resolving to an “inside” sound in bar 5 in a smooth, and easy to follow manner.

Check out the lick below as an example of how to apply the tritone sub to a single-note line.

Once you’ve worked this line in the practice room, try and come up with some of your own licks and phrases that use this technique. It's is better to work with a backing track on this approach as it will allow you to familiarize your ears with the sound of the tritone sub approach in your solos.

To learn more about building and playing licks such as this one, check out the article Expand Your Jazz Blues Soloing With 1 Simple Shape


Listen to the Audio for the Tritone Sub Lick Example:


Tritone substitution on a jazz blues ex 4


Adding the tritone sub to bar four of a Jazz Blues Chord progression is not only a great way to step outside of the given chord changes, adding some tension and release to your comping/soloing along the way, but it is a fun and relatively easy way to bring a sub used by such great players as Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery into your jazz guitar playing today.

If you liked this lesson or have any questions regarding this material, join us over at the Forum Thread about Jazz Blues...



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