Triad Superimposition: B major over D7

The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Arpeggios

 

The concept of superimposition in a musical context is often debated. The direct definition of superimpose is to place an object or idea on top of an existing object or idea. Seems simple enough…right?

The confusion occurs at the intersection of two similar concepts: superimposition vs. upper structure triads. Some would consider superimposition to be the placement of a C minor triad on top of an F7 harmony…while others would consider this as the extension of one singular harmonic identity. Personally, I agree with the latter, but I also find nitpicking arguments like this one to be a waste of time and completely subjective. F

For our purposes here, the best example of superimposition is the placement of a chord that retains its identity and has no obvious diatonic relationship to the harmony that it’s played against.

Triads are a foundational element that every jazz guitarist should be completely familiar with. If you can’t quickly find a triad voicing at any specific position on the fingerboard, it would be well worth taking the time to really get them down before you start using the applications in this lesson. Accessing a triad is a simple task, yet when carefully placed over a specific harmony they can result in some really sophisticated sounds. This lesson demonstrates one of my favorite triad superimpositions.

 

We’re going to look at a triad placed over a dominant chord in a ii – V – I. Take a look at this example:

Listen & Play Along

Triad Superimposition Example 1

 

When we analyze what’s going on here, we can see that the line contains a B major triad in the second measure. If you were to rename each note in the triad based on its relationship to the D7, you’d end up with the 13th, b9th, and 3rd…

 

B major triadBD#F#
Played over D713b93

 

The reason this ends up working so well is because the B major triad serves two purposes simultaneously:

  • It highlights some very tasteful chord tones and tensions.
  • More importantly, we’re hearing it exist as a triad occurring separately from the D7 harmony.

Just like any other chord substitution device, it’s very important to have a quick way of accessing the triad while improvising. There are a few ways to memorize this technique:

  • You can think of it as a major triad built a minor third below the root of the dominant 7 chord.
  • Similarly, you can think of it as a major triad built upon the 13th of the dominant 7 chord.
  • Lastly, you can think of it as a major III chord in the key of the ii – V – I.

 

Another interesting way to access this superimposition is in the following example:

Listen & Play Along

Triad Superimposition Example 1

Note: I use the Wes Montgomery fingering for the major 7 chord arpeggio but some may prefer playing the 7th (B natural) on the 1st string at the 7th fret to avoid shifting.

 

In this line, we start out by playing a C major 7 arpeggio built on the b3rd of the ii chord. This is an upper structure arpeggio that ends up as the b3rd, 5th, b7th, and 9th…a really nice minor 9th chord sound. The interesting part of this line is the root movement of the implied chords. We start with a major 7 arpeggio that resolves a half step down into a major triad, which then maintains the same root but changes to a minor 7 arpeggio.

This series of substitutions is really easy to access and ends up highlighting some really nice upper structures and colorful tensions. Work this into your vocabulary by practicing ways to quickly locate the b3rd of the ii chord.

This superimposition is something that you’ll hear popping up all on recordings by just about every single well-known jazz musician. As with every new improvisational device, the most important part is getting your ear acclimated to this sound and internalizing the tonality. Once you make it part of your personal database of ideas, it’ll naturally work itself into your playing. If it sounds weird or “out there” to you right now…good!

 


Peter Andreev has been playing guitar for close to 20 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Berklee College of Music and a master’s degree in jazz from the University of the Arts. He’s also an active performer and educator in the Philadelphia area.


  • ThatsEarlBrother says:

    Thanks!The dendrites are busy.Keep these up and i will never dread dull brain syndrome.My Bride thanks you as well.Eb

  • ricardo o, tapia says:

    PROF, GRACIAS POR ESTA INFORMACIÓN DE SUPERPOSICIÓN DE ACORDES ELLAS ENRIQUECEN MI MÚSICA SI PUDIERA OBTENER MAS INFORMACIÓN POR MEDIO DE UN MÉTODO SERIO DE SUPERPOSICIÓN DE ACORDES PARA LA IMPROVISACIÓN ME ES MUY ÚTIL, GRACIAS POR LA GENTILEZA DE SU ATENCIÓN A MI PEDIDO,,,,

  • Mark says:

    Just wish to add that the D# is, technically, an augmented octave (D up to D#). Yes, we learn to see it/use it as the en-harmonic equivalent of D# being Eb, the flat 9 of D7. Classical contrapuntal composition would more likely treat as an Aug.octave as the D and D# would usually not be sounded at the same time, the way harmonic composition (jazz/pop) usually does.

    • Ace says:

      Are you kidding Mark? Why do you have to drop “well technically according to classical counterpoint” on this article!? Quit making music a pissing contest and play the notes that sound right, and quit acting like you know anything about making music because you know what a textbook would say

  • Torsten says:

    Why does the Bmaj triad (instead of the dominant 5) sound “harmonic” in this 2-5-1 sequence?
    Well, I think, because two of the three notes are part of the following key chord Gmaj7!
    Plus, the third note (not belonging to the key chord – the d#) resolves to the fifth of the key chord just a half tone below.
    So at the bottomline, the Bmaj triad represents a half tone approach to the key.

    Fortunately, the d# occurs only for short time as a kind of chromatic note, so it’s disharmonic sound produces this type of “tension” which is acceptable.

    Thanks again, I always appeciate your ideas! And step by step my playing can improve a bit.
    Best regards, Torsten

    • Pete says:

      Hi Torsten. When I said that the B major retains a harmonic “identity”, I’m talking about the triad itself with no relation to the underlying chords being played. In other words, when we hear B-D#-F# played, we recognize it as something familiar that we’ve heard before and as a listener we can wrap our ears around it. That’s the “identity” that Im referring to…a simple and familiar major triad. What makes this technique so interesting is that something as simple as a basic major triad can serve such a complex purpose with careful placement.

      • David G. says:

        Hello Pete. When you say “…I’m talking about the triad itself with no relation to the underlying chords being played…” B triad (or B7) has too much relation with D7 I would say. Just in the key of Gmaj, B7 is the dominant of the minor relative Em who is the most common substitute of Gmaj7, but to say something else, B7, D7, F7 and Ab7 are substitutes because of the diminished family. I wouldn’t consider B triad over D7 superimposition but it’s true that every triad has strong sound by themself and could sound like two different things at the same time. Hey! try F# triad over D7 going to Gmaj7. Please tell me what you think! Kind regards

        • Pete says:

          David,

          We were talking in terms of how a listener responds to the sound of the B major triad. Of course what you said is true…a B major triad can certainly be related to a D (or D7) from an analytical standpoint, but not so much from a listening standpoint. When someone hears the B – D# – F# sequence being played in this line, chances are if you ask them what’s going on there, they’re likely going to identify that sound as a major triad. They wouldn’t say that they’re just hearing the 13th, b9th, and 3rd being played on top of each other. Obviously if you’re a trained improviser and you’re very familiar with this concept, then you can start hearing those notes as just upper structure tensions.

  • Kevin Sanmoestam says:

    He Prof. Peter, I would like to thank you for this great lesson. It has given me a new perspective how to approach a II-V-I progression. For me it’s kind of a advanced lesson/knowledge of modal playing or with other words tweaking with scales.

    Greetings from Suriname, South-America

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Kevin. The concept/sound may be advanced but the application is simple…those are the best kinds of techniques in my book.

  • marceff says:

    Hello Prof, I do appreciate your lesson but still I do not see the sense of it. IOW, I am talking about harmonic rules which I am agree are there just for brake them, but to do it we should start from there. So, you changed D7 to Bmaj (D-F#-A-C to B-D#-F#-A) in a Gmaj key. The intruder in this case is D# which doesn’t belong to Gmaj key. Why (which criteria) did you choose a chord that includes D#? Wouldn’t it be also possible F#m7(5nat) or Am7dim(Gb) or Amaj7dim?
    Thank you

    • note says:

      Thanks Marceff!
      I was doing this lesson and couldn’t understand why the dissonant D# was accepted. It still is not 100% clear to me, but good to see I wasn’t the only one catching the D#

      Thanks again.

    • Pete says:

      Marceff,

      There’s a sensible explanation for this concept but before I explain it, I think it’s worth mentioning a sort of “golden rule” when it comes to this stuff…if it sounds good, play it. If you like this sound, don’t let any technical nonsense keep you from using it. As for the explanation…you said that I “changed” D7 to B major. Nothing is being changed here at all. This concept wouldn’t work without the rhythm section playing a sting D7 sound. The B major triad being played WITH the D7 is what makes this work.

      As for a technical explanation, think of it this way…all I’m doing here is playing a D13b9, which is a sound that I love and notice to be occurring often in the music I listen to. A b9 is a very typical tension to add to a dominant chord and the 13 is just an artistic choice that also sounds nice on a dominant chord. In terms of technical theory talk, that’s all this is…period. I’m just organizing the notes in an interesting way and they happen to spell a major triad. The other arpeggio subs are just an easy way to access a mental map while playing.

      • Yuri says:

        Very well explained, Pete!

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