nondiatonic common chord progressions
The following ideas simply look at each of the 7 diatonic chords created within the major tonality and examine the common ways in which they are altered with non diatonic pitches as found within the popular styles of American music. So in one sense, we are comparing how the 7 different white keys of the piano are influenced by the 5 different black keys, or as termed in this text, 7 / 5 / 12. In all of the important styles of American music, pitches are borrowed from other keys to flavor the chosen key center. Of course, these borrowed pitches could also be viewed as the non diatonic blue notes of the chosen key center. It is just two ways to theoretically view the what commonly happens in the music. Your choice. The idea to keep in mind is that the best sources for chord progressions for each of us, whether diatonic or not, is from the literature that we each dig to listen to and play, or the ones we generate from our own imaginations. So, the following discussion examines the more conventional non diatonic alterations to each of the 7 degrees of the major scale.
The One chord. Possibly the most common alteration of the tonic / One chord in the major tonality is to alter the chord to a more bluesier coloring. We can do this any number of ways but the easiest way initially is to simply lower the diatonic major seventh by half step to a minor seventh. Thus, our tonic type chord becomes a dominant type chord. Let's create a chart and spell out the pitches of these important chordal colors. Example 1.
|tonic / One chord||
|C major seventh||
|C dominant seventh||
In the above process, we can simply "borrow" the pitch Bb from the key of F major or, just think of Bb as one of the blue notes of C major. Here is the sound comparing the chordal colors of the above chart. Example 1a.
|C major seventh ( C maj 7 )||C dominant seventh ( C 7 )|
Needless to say, this simply alteration can dramatically effect the overall color or tonal environment of the music. We find this non-diatonic tonic alteration all the time in blues, rock, jazz etc., while the key center is still termed C major. Experiment with the above substitution in tunes you know and see what happens. Are you cool with spelling out the pitches of various chords? Click spelling chords for a review of this easy and essential process. Other blues chords? Of course, click here to go there.
A second common non diatonic pitch added to tonic colors is the b5 / #11 pitch, which of course are the same pitch eh? Just an octave apart n'est pas? As the blue note b5, we usually find tonic harmony morphed into a dominant chord, as just done with the blues adjustment. As the #11, we can enter into the polytonal world, as we stack up chord tones. Compare the following tonic possibilities. Example 1b.
|C major triad||C 7 b5||C maj 7 b5||C maj 9 #11|
So, are these non diatonic tonic colors used in folk music? No. Rock? No. Pop? Well, a bit yes. Rap / hip hop? No. Blues? Yes, sometimes. Jazz? But of course, these are mainly jazz colors.
The Two chord. Upon the second degree of the major scale, the most common non-diatonic alteration is to simply morph the diatonic minor seven chord into a dominant seventh type chord. We achieve this change in color by simply raising the third of the minor triad by half step, creating a major triad. Here is a chart spelling out the chords. Example 2.
|D minor seventh||
|D dominant seventh||
Here we essentially borrow the F# from the key of G major, one click clockwise on the cycle of fifths. Compare the sound of the two colors. Example 2a.
|D minor seventh ( D min 7 )||D dominant seventh ( D 7 )|
In the major tonality, this alteration to the Two chord is commonly known among players as a secondary dominant chord / "Five of Five" harmonic situation. A cycling of dominant type chords, the D 7 chord is the Five chord of the Five chord ( G 7 ) of the tonic key ( C major ). Dig that verbiage? Example 2b.
|C major 7||D 7||D min 7||V 7 ( G 7 )|
We hear this non-diatonic alteration all the time in many of the styles of American music. It is especially common in many cool Bossa Nova tunes from the 60's. Check out the A.C. Jobim classic jazz standard The Girl From Impanema for starters perhaps. And if you dig this tune, Mr. Jobim has created many other important songs for the inspired creative artist in the Bossa Nova genre. Explore. Other common non-diatonic alterations to Two? How about the using the half diminished color on the second scale degree in the major tonality? Click and go there if your curious.
The Three chord. A common non-diatonic alteration to the diatonic Three chord is pretty much exactly the same as how we just altered the Two chord. We simply morph the diatonic minor seventh chord type to dominant, creating a Five of Six harmonic idea. Here is a chart spelling out the chords. Example 3.
|E minor seventh||
|E dominant seventh||
Here we essentially borrow the G# from the key of A major. Compare the sound of the two colors. Example 3a.
|E minor seventh ( E min 7 )||E dominant seventh ( E 7 )|
Here we use the altered Three chord to enhance the motion from the tonic major tonality to the relative minor Six. Example 3b.
|One||III7 ( V7 of vi )||vi min 7||V 7|
This major "III 7" was a "bread and butter" chord around the turn of the century into the late 20's or so, has a kinda "old timey" feel. Check out the jazz standard All Of Me.
The Four chord. The Four chord, so structurally similar to the tonic, is non diatonically altered in a similar manner. The first non-diatonic treatment concerning Four is to simply "bluesify" the chord as we did with the tonic / One chord. This involves reducing the seventh by half step from a major seventh to the dominant seventh. Lets spell the chords and compare. Example 4.
|F major seventh||
|F dominant seventh||
In the above process, we simply "borrow" the pitch Eb from the key of Bb major. Here is the sound of the above chart. Example 4a.
|IV maj 7
/ F major seventh
( F maj 7 )
|IV 7 / F
( F 7 )
We hear this all the time in blues playing of all varieties. Generally speaking, if the One chord or tonic is altered towards the blues coloring, good chance the Four chord will follow suit. Example 4b.
|I 7||IV 7||I 7||IV 7|
Pretty basic huh? A second non-diatonic alteration to the chord built on the fourth degree of the major scale is to morph the chord into the minor tonality. We find this cool combination of colors in some tremendously passionate musical moments. Lets spell the chords and compare. Example 4c.
|F major seventh ( I maj 7 )||
|F minor seventh ( ii min 7 )||
From diatonic major seventh built on Four we lower both the third and seventh degree by half step to create the minor seventh chordal color. Known as the minor Four chord in the major tonality, when used within the body of a composition, we generally move the non-diatonic minor Four stepwise up or down using the the diatonic pitches of the key center of the composition. For example, moving the minor Four upward by step to the dominant Five chord then resolving to the tonic. Example 4d.
|F minor 7||G 7||C major 7||
The classic Rogers and Hart ballad, "My Funny Valentine", uses this simple harmonic motion to create a very dramatic musical moment. If you are an aspiring jazzer, begin learning this tune.
Moving in the other direction, we occasionally find the minor Four chord moving down by half step to the diatonic minor Three, setting up the common Three / Six / Two / Five or cycle of fourths cadential motion to the tonic. Example 4e.
|IV maj 7 iv - 7||iii - 7 vi 7||ii - 7 V 7||I maj 7|
John Coltrane uses a similar minor Four to Three motion as above in his exciting post bop classic "Moments Notice."
Another fairly common placement of the non-diatonic minor Four chord finds this distinctive coloring used at the ending of a song, especially in gospel and blues based tunes. Example 4f, thinking the last few bars of a gospel tune. Example 4f.
|C major||F min 7||C major||
Sound vaguely familiar? Try tagging one of your blues songs with this kind of an ending, perhaps using a hold or fermata over each of the chords, giving the soloist a chance to stretch out a bit on each of the two colors. If nothing else, it is a bit different eh? Oh, with this non-diatonic idea perhaps being a bit outside the general scheme of things, always good to let everyone else in the group know its going to happen, to avoid the train wrecking of the arrangement. Is it all about communication?
The Five chord. The Five chord, with it's diatonic tritone within the dominant chord type, perhaps enjoys the greatest potential for non-diatonic re-coloring without losing it's basic functioning abilities. The myriad of different upper structure possibilities, coupled with basic inversion and voice leading possibilities, creates a vast array of non diatonic dominant colors for the creative artist. Lets discuss two common ways to non-diatonically alter the basic color of the dominant seventh chord by extending it's arpeggio up to it's diatonic ninth degree, then create some potentially essential non-diatonic variations of this important chord type. Here is a chart spelling out the letter names of the three dominant ninth possibilities, two of which will be examined below. Thinking tonic C major, our dominant chord is built upon the fifth degree of the C major scale, the pitch G. Example 5.
We can see in the above chart the all of our dominant ninth chords are based on the same major triad and dominant seventh coloring. The non-diatonic alterations are simply the basic half step adjustments to this ninth chord degree. Let's examine each and hear what they sound like. Example 5a.
|G 7||G 9||G 7b9||G 7 #9|
The G 7 and G 9 chord are common in most of the American styles. The V 7b9 is a very common color in many jazz standards. The V 7#9 mainly invokes a blues coloring. Here we use the V 7b9 in the Two / Five / One cadential motion. Example 5b.
A second common non diatonic color used with the Five chord is with it's 5th degree, which simply moves by half step, creating new colors. Here is a chart spelling out the pitches. Example 5b.
Here is the sound of these chords. Example 5c.
|G 7||G 7b5||G 7#5||G 9 #11|
The b5 / #5 alterations are mosty jazz colors with the #5 sound associated with the minor tonality. Example 5d.
|D min 7b5||G 7#5||C minor||
The G 9 #11 chord simply moves the b5 pitch Db up one octave, creating a cool polytonal jazz color. For dominant harmony for more ideas on the V 7 chord.
The Six chord. Perhaps the most common non-diatonic alteration to the diatonic minor Six chord in the major tonality is to simply morph it's minor triad to major. This is the same process we did above with the diatonic chords built on Two and Three. To morph a minor triad to major, we simply raise the third by half step.The results of which change the minor seven chord type to a dominant seventh type. Here is a chart depicting this process. Example 6.
|A minor seventh||
|A dominant seventh||
Easy enough eh? Compare the sounds of these two important colors. Example 6a.
( A min 7 / ii min 7 )
( A 7 / V 7 )
Hearing this distinction between these two types of chords? Potentially a very important ability for the emerging artist. So where do we commonly find this non-diatonic chordal color? Pretty much in the same place as it's diatonic cousin. Here is a common cadential motion using this non-diatonic coloring of the Six chord. Example 6b.
|One ( C maj 7 )||VI 7 ( A 7 )||ii - 7 ( D - 7 )||V 7 ( G 7 )|
Sound familiar? We hear this all the time in most of the popular styles of American music. We could view this non-diatonic Six chord as "Five of Two" and simply reconfigure the above components into an important turnaround for the blues and jazz artist. Here the altered Six chord is used to set up motion to the Two chord, which allows us to start our phrase with a different sense of tonal gravity. Example 6c.
|ii - 7 ( D - 7 )||V 7 ( G 7 )||I ( C maj 7 )||VI 7 ( A 7 )|
Combining select elements of these two ideas helps evolve the ever popular Three / Six / Two / Five / One chord progression. Kidding aside, this Three / Six / Two / Five / One motion is traditionally one powerful and important component on the palette that many great American artists have held. Here is this cool motion in action. Example 6d.
|iii - 7 VI 7||ii - 7 V 7||I maj 7||
Here the slight change in using Three instead of One in the comparing the music from above? I gave it away by using the term "slight" huh? Well, if they sound similar, they must share some of the same pitches eh? Here is a chart to compare their pitches. Example 6e.
|One / C major seventh||
|Three / E minor seventh||
Three out of four pitches matches these to chords pretty close eh? Is it all a matter of perspective in how we choose to subtly shape the tonal gravity of our musical creations? The closeness of our components as described above creates the subtle hues of colors so essential in fine tuning our artistic statements. This Three / Six / Two / Five motion, while being an important structural component within many great songs, is also a very common introduction when improvising an arrangement on the bandstand.
Can we apply the b9 / diminished color to the Six chord? Of course we can. We encounter this quite frequently in the jazz literature. Lets add the b9 in a similar manner as discussed above in regard to non-diatonic alterations of the Five chord, to both of the dominant chords in the above chord progression. Example 6f.
|iii - 7 VI 7b9||ii - 7 V 7b9||I maj 7||
Another common non-diatonic alteration to the diatonic chord built on the sixth degree of the major scale is to color the chord wholetone or augmented. Hip to these terms? Perhaps the sound is more familiar than the terms? Example 6g.
|I ( C major 7 )||VI 7+5 (A7+5)||ii - 7 (D -7 )||V 7 ( G 7 )|
Know this chord progression? The fifth degree of the Six chord is simply augmented by half step. Lets compare the pitches of the non-diatonic dominant colored Six chord and it's close relative, the VI 7+ 5 chord we just used in example 6g. Example 6h.
|Six / A 7||
|Six / A 7+ 5||
From the above chart, we can see how the fifth of the chord is "augmented" by half step to create this distinctive color. Blues and jazz players love this color as it is equally distinctive and effective in both the major and minor tonalities. So why would we apply the term whole tone to this whole coloring? Perhaps click wholetone scale to begin your explorations?
The Seven chord. In examining the Seven chord for non-diatonic alterations, none of the morphing we did with any of the chord degrees above really applies to Seven. You mean there is no alterations to this important component? You're kidding right? I thought we could do anything in this text? I don't like where this is going... Well rest assured, we can and will morph the Seven chord, just not in any one of the ways we did above, not just one of the ways... but all of the ways? How? Well, in regards to possible non-diatonic Seven chord alterations, we most commonly find this "leading tone" harmony being non-diatonically altered to identically resemble the tonic color, or whatever chord for that matter, with which it is being used. So, instead of "morphing" a color into another, we simply "mirror" a chord from another. Ever hear of the half step lead in?
In this type of chordal motion, we simply morph the passing chord to identically resemble the target chord and "slide" by half step, i.e., chromatically, from either a half step above or below, thus it's handle, "half step lead in." Found in almost all of the American styles, jazz and many times blues players really love and rely on this artistic technique, as it can reinforce and accelerate the tonal gravity between the chords, oftentimes helping to create the swing thing to music which this "half step lead in" technique is being applied. Lets explore this potentially important concept and technique.
Using the cool and common Two / Five / One harmonic cadential motion, lets apply the half step lead in technique and insert a non-diatonic Seven chord just before the tonic, our target chord in the following idea. Example 7.
|ii - 7||V7 VII maj7||I maj 7||%|
Dig the sound of this? Is this technique new for you? If so, God bless and welcome to a potentially positively expanded consciousness. Lets spell the Seven and tonic chords used above and compare their pitches. Here is a handy chart to visualize our theoretical musings and perusals. Example 7a.
|Seven / B major 7||
|tonic / C major 7||
Wow, no two pitches are alike, but all are a half step below their target pitches, this is a rather intense chromatic alteration of the diatonic domain, how can this half step motion sound so hip and smooth? Well, the theory goes out the window again and the magic generated by the player takes over. Part of the magic of the half step lead in is that it "blurs" the tonality ever so momentarily, well usually anyway, and by doing so, we really don't lose our sense tonal direction but gain in tonal momentum towards the target chord. Oftentimes adding this simple source of momentum is what gets the music "off the ground" so to speak, in getting the music to swing. This tonal "momentum" is also referred to as forward motion. Is talking about this musical magic like "dancing about architecture?" Probably.
Can we work this half step magic with the blues / dominant seventh colors as well? Absolutely. Same idea as above but in the blues environment, half step lead in to the tonic One chord. Example 7b.
|I 7 ( C 7 )||IV7 VII 7||I 7 ( C 7 )||F 7|
Can we apply this motion to other chords that are not Seven and tonic? Of course, but you knew that right? Any chord, anytime, any where, either direction. Is there any place in American music where the half step lead in does not work? Well, in the styles of folk and pop / hard rock, this mirroring of chord quality is not all too common. In the blues and jazz world, tis a very common occurrence indeed.
Another cool color associated with non-diatonic alterations to the Seven chord is termed quartile harmony. As the name implies, the chords are built in fourths instead of the more common tertian structure, or chords built in thirds. Using a planing or parallel motion of quartile chords is a cool "closer" for jazz and blues arrangements. Lets combine both varieties of chord construction, tertian and quartile, and create a common Two / Five / One chord progression. In the following idea, we approach the tonic from above. Example 7d.
|ii - 7||V7 bII maj 6/9||I maj 6/9||C major triad|
Nice shift in color eh? The quartile or 6 / 9 chords are very bright indeed. Guitarists tend to love these chords not only for there brightness but for there easily playable shapes and important voicing possibilities.
So, again the idea that perhaps the best source for chord progressions, diatonic or not, is in the music we love to listen too, play and share with others, n'est pas? Then as we get comfortable with the tune, perhaps to gradually alter the colors of the chords and melody using non diatonic pitches, or as termed above, the "other 5 pitches."
|common chord progressions / minor tonality|
|common chord progressions / major tonality|
|common chord vamps|
|common chord cadences|
|chord substitution concepts|
|adding the 7th|
|modern chord progressions|
|blues chord substitutions|
|cycle of fourths / chord progressions|
|spelling chords / color tones|
|American music styles|
|songs / form in music|
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