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Jazz Guitar Chord Theory (part 3)


In part 2 we had a look at how seventh chords are constructed. In part 3 we'll focus our attention on tensions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tensions are notes that are part of a chord, but are not chord tones (1 3 5 7).

 

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Maj9 Chord Construction

Let's have a look again at the C major scale:

C Major Scale
 
C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7


There are 3 notes left in the major scale that are not chord tones : 2, 4 and 6. If we add these tones to the chord, they become tensions. Most of the time we play tensions an octave higher compared to the chord tones because otherwise they get in the way of the chord tones (the chord would sound "muddy"). That's also the way tensions are notated:

  • 2 becomes 9: 2 + 7 (the amount of notes in an octave) = 9
  • 4 becomes 11
  • 6 becomes 13

 

So if we add the 2 to Cmaj7 we get Cmaj9:

C E G B D
1 5 7 9

 

Special Cases - 4ths and 6ths

The two other notes that are left in the scale (4 and 6), are special cases in combination with major chords:
  • First of all there is something we call avoid notes: notes that are a half tone above a chord tone. Avoid notes sound disharmonic, that's why they are generally avoided.
    If we have a look at the 4 of the C major scale (f) we notice that it is a half step above the e (the 3rd of Cmaj7). So the 4 (f) is an avoid note for Cmaj7 and is not often used on this chord.
  • The 6 is also a special case in combination with major chords. Most of the times when we add a 6 to a major chord, the 7 is omitted and there is no octave added to the 6. This is because the 6 and 7 might get in each other's way.

 

So if we add the 6 to C major chord we get a C6:

C E G A
1 5 6

 

The same goes for 6 in combination with minor chords: the b7 is omitted.

If we add the 6 to Dm7 we get Dm6. Look out : the 6 is no longer A like in the C6 example above because the root of the chord changed to D.  The 6 is now B (D E F G A B C).

D F A B
1 b3 5 6

 

The 4 is not an avoid note in combination with minor chords because it is two half tones above the b3 and not one half tone.

We can safely add the 4 to Dm7 and we get Dm11 :

D F A C G
1 b3 5 b7 11

(Note: theoretically, the 9 is included as well in a minor 11 chord)

 

The 4 is also a special case in combination with dominant chords. When a 4 is added to a dominant chord, the 3 is omitted. Chords like these are called sus4 chords and often function as a delay for a dominant chord.

Sus4 chords often also include a 9. Here's the G9sus4 chord:

G C D F A
1 4 5 b7 9

 

There's also something called altered tensions (b9, #9, b5, b13). These tensions come from the harmonic minor scale or from the altered scale and will be covered later in another lesson. The same for #11, which comes from the lydian dominant scale.

Diatonic Tensions

Here's a list of all chord types we've seen so far and their tensions:

Chord Type Added Note Symbol
Major 2 Cmaj9  
4

#4
/

Cmaj7#11
avoid note

#11 comes out of the lydian scale
6 C6 omitted 7
Minor 2 Cm9  
4 Cm11  
6 Cm6 omitted 7
Dominant 2

b2

#2
C9

C7(b9)

C7#9

b9 and #9 come out of the altered scale
4 C7sus4  
6

b6
C13

C7(b13)


b13 comes out of the altered scale

 


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