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Author Topic: The 7th(#11) Chord  (Read 1373 times)

Offline rspindy

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The 7th(#11) Chord
« on: February 21, 2008, 08:35:55 PM »
I was recently sent an e-mail about uses of the 7th chord with (#11).  This is a chord that I have been meaning to explore.  Well it took me a while to get back on line to reply (I don't have internet access at home), but, in this frigid snowy Indy weather, I sat at home thinking about it.  It was either explore the 7(#11) or do laundry, and the exploration won  ::)

Anyway, it may be more than anyone ever wanted to know, but I thought that I'd post it just in case it may be of help to someone.  Unfortunately, not everything lines up between consecutive lines like they do in my word document, but it shouldn't be too out of kilter.

So, here goes:

Tension (#11)

I’m glad that you asked that question.  It is actually a chord that I’ve been thinking about needing to look into more.  From time to time it has been the perfect chord, but the situations that are ideal for it seem to be few and far between.  It seems that the few times it occurs while I’m playing I think about exploring it further but then get caught up in something else and forget about it until the next time.  You have given me the opportunity and impetus to explore it further.

The (#11) is a great chord with a great sound, but in my explorations through different jazz charts I have discovered that it is used sparingly and seemingly in rather specific situations.  This is understandable because its unique sound, if overused, could become overbearing, like too much spice in the stew.

There are two chords with which (#11) can be used:  The Major 7th chord and the Dominant 7th chord.  It is not used on minor 7th, half-diminished (min7b5), or on diminished 7th.  It is ambiguous on the minor 7th since it contains the same notes as a dominant 7th with #5 and b9, and it is the same as the b5 of the min7b5 and diminished 7th.

The Major 7th(#11) [I use M to indicate major 7th – M7(#11)] is built on the chord members ~[1, 3, 5, 7, 9, #11, 13].  The ~13 can generally be freely added.  A CM(#11) contains [C, E, G, B, D, F#, A].  If we put these in alphabetical order we get [G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G, (A)], which looks curiously like the G major scale.  This chord naturally occurs on scale step 4 [I use ^ to indicate scale step – thus ^4 = scale step 4].  Its scale for improvising is the G major scale played from C-C [C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C] or Lydian mode.  It works as a final chord, particularly for a “wistful” mood.

It is also available in many situations where a IV chord is used.  It is used quite a bit in Bossa Nova, often with the IVx7(#11) borrowed from the minor in place of IVM7(#11) – the two seem to be somewhat interchangeable.  In these cases, it is usually indicated to harmonize a melody that lies on the (#11).

In an analgous way, it can probably be used in blues in place of the IVx7 commonly used. 

There is also an M7#5 (or augmented triad with major 7th).  The available tensions are ~[9, #11].  The 13 is not available for reasons that will have to be addressed later.  Its scale is the “Lydian Augmented” scale ^[1 2 3 #4 #5 6 7 1’].  C:[C D E F# G# A B C]

Beyond that, I haven’t explored this much yet since the Dominant 7th(#11) is more fun.  I’ll get back to you on this one.

So for now, let’s focus on the dominant 7th(#11) [I use “x” when indicating a dominant 7th].

With the x7 chord, there are four situations that include the (#11).  Each one works in different situations and are based on different scales.

The x7(#11)  --  the available tensions include unaltered ~[5, 9, 13] as well as ~#11.  This is the one that we will explore at the moment since it is the most basic of the altered tensions.  From here, you will be able to explore the other three types.  In doing so, you may find that if you alter one tension, you may need to alter others.  For example b9 and #9 only occur with #11, not natural 11.

The x7#5 – the available tensions are ~[9, #11 (or #4)].  (13 not available).  Its scale is the whole-tone scale:  ^[1 2 3 #4 #5 b7 1’].  C:[C D E F# G# Bb C]

The x7(b9) – the available tensions are ~[b9, #9, #11, 13].  Its scale is the half-whole diminished scale:  ^[1 b2 #2 3 #4 5 6 b7 1’].  C:[C Db D# E F# G A Bb C]

The x7#5(#9), sometimes referred to as the x7(alt) [“alt” means altered because everything that can be altered is] – the available tensions are ~[b9, #9, #11. b13].  It’s scale is the diminished whole-tone or altered scale:  ^[1 b2 #2 3 #4 #5 b7 1’].  C:[C Db D# E F# G# Bb C]

The “x7(#11) is built on the chord members ~[1, 3, 5, b7, 9, #11,13]  The ~13 can be freely added. (I use the “~” to indicate a chord member -- ~9 is the 9th of a chord, this and the “^” for scale step is to keep things a little clearer at times).  Notice that ~[9, 13] are not altered (no #9, b9, or b13).  If we translate that to a Cx(#11), its members are [C, E, G, Bb, D, F#, A].  If we rearrange the members in alphabetical order we get [G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F#, (G)] or a G melodic minor scale.  This is the scale used to improvise on this chord, played from C – C [C, D, E, F#, G, A, Bb, C] and is usually called the Lydian Dominant or Lydian b7 scale (though it is sometimes referred to as the Mixolydian #4 scale – Jazz nomenclature is as improvised as its melodies, it seems.)

The (#11) is also the same note as a b5.  So an x7b5 is similar to (but tamer than) the x7(#11)
Voicing this chord to maintain its characteristic sound is a little tricky, particularly on a keyboard and more so if you have small hands.  It likes to be spread out.  This is mainly true if you are using it for solo work.  If you are using it in a group with a bass player then you can leave out the root.

Voicings can also exclude either the  ~3, and ~5, though generally I would include one or the other or the character becomes different.  It will sound more like a poly chord (two distinct chords played at the same time, such as DM over C7).

You may be surprised that the ~3 is not absolutely necessary, but there is enough other stuff going on that it is barely noticeable and since it does not go with the minor or diminished family, there is no doubt aurally.

Voicings other than these are certainly possible, some create more of a cluster (we have 6 or seven notes of a scale going when placed close together creates a tone-cluster), and these have there uses.  Though they may contain the notes of the x7(#11), they do not have the character or function.

Here are some basic voicings to harmonize each member as melody.  I will do it in LH / RH format with both numbers of the chord members as well as a Cx7(#11):

1   b7  /  9  #11  (13)  1
C  Bb  / D   F#     A   C

1  5   9   / #11  b7  3
C G  Bb /  F#  Bb  E

1  b7  /  9  (3)  #11  b7
C  Bb /  D (E)   F#  Bb

1   (5)   b7 / 3  #11  13  9
C  (G)  Bb/ E   F#   A   D

1   10  / b7  9  #11
C   E /  Bb  D   F#  (This is like a Bb aug in the RH)
(Note:  The 10 = the 3rd an octave higher.  This creates a bit of a stretch and is easier for those containing both white keys or both black keys than a black key and a white key.  Here is an alternative for Black to White or white to black.)

1  (5)  /10  b7  9  #11
C  (G)/ E  Bb  D   F#

1  b7  /  3   13  9  #11
C  Bb /  E   A  D   F#

1  (3)  5  b7  /   b7  9  #11 13
C (E) G  Bb  / (Bb)  D  F#   A 
(This is like a D major triad over a C7 or the Major triad a step above the root of the chord.)

The following two voicings show a problem that can occur when bring voices from the lower 7th chord above the tensions.  Generally, you want to avoid the interval of a minor 9th (an octave plus a m2) between two notes of the chord if one is not the root.  These occur whenever there is a major 7th between two members of a chord.  When inverted, it will create a minor 2nd and if the notes are separated by an octave becomes a minor 9th.  It is a very harsh sound and therefore difficult to use and control.  The problem is that the lower note of the interval wants to try to be the root, in conflict with the actual root. This does not mean that they are wrong or unusable.  There are times when that harshness may be desired. 

In the following voicings, the ~[#11 to 5] and the ~[13 to b7] create minor 9ths.  The first is unavoidable without altering the ~11 (in which case we no longer have a (#11) chord) of altering the ~5 (in which case we are altering the melody, if using it in solo work).  In this case, just remember that if the melody is the ~5 of  a chord, the (#11) is probably not the best choice 

The second can be taken care of by not using the ~13, which is not required.

1  (5)  b7  /  #11  13  9  5
C (G) Bb /    F#   A  D G

1   5  / 13  9  #11  b7
C  G /  A  D   F#  Bb   
(Note: the 3rd is not absolutely necessary.  The left hand should be an octave lower so that there is a 9th between the G and A.  If the 3rd is desired then it can be played as a 10th with or without the 5(G) -- LH:  1 (5)  10/13 9 #11 b7

The first use of the x7(#11) is as a Tritone Substitute for a chord with a diatonic root (the chord’s root is member of the scale of the key.  The tritone substitute is the chord that lies a diminished 5 / augmented 4 away.  There are many uses for this, but one important one is at the cadence point (the punctuation at the end of a phrase.)  Generally (but not always) the Tritone Substitute is of dominant 7th type.

Probably the most important cadence used is the progression II V I.  The II in the phrase may be a II m7, a II m7b5, or a II x7 and can contain any of the possible tensions available to each of those types of chords.  The I can be either major or minor.  Rhythmically it will frequently occur as:

   | II - - - | V - - - | I - - - ||  Or II - V - | I - - - ||
C: D          G         C                D   G    C

The tritone substitute for II is bVI;  In C, the D (whatever) is replaced by an Ab (something).  If we look closely at these chords we will find the (#11) of the bVI (our Abx7(#11)) is the root of our II (D --)

Here is an Abx7(#11)     ~[Ab, C, Eb, Gb, Bb, D, F]
Here is a Dm7          ~[D, F, A, C]
Here is a Dm7b5       ~[D, F, Ab, C]
A Dx7(b9)         ~[D, F#, A, C, Eb]
Notice, the members of the Dm7b5 and Dx7(b9) (except A) are in the Abx7(#11).

And A Dx7#5(b9, #9, #11)   ~[D, F#, A#, C, Eb, E#, G#]  (Commonly called “Alt” or “altered” chord.  Translate sharps to flats and we have [D, Gb, Bb, C, Eb, F, Ab].  They’re the same chord!!  Of course the Dx7 had to go wild and turn into a bad boy to do it.

Because of the high degree of tension, this chord substitutes better for a II chord than for the penultimate V chord before the I because it needs some time to resolve.  A bIIx(#11) to  I (Dbx7(#11) to CM7, Cm7, CminMaj7) can sound pale and weak because the tensions are removed too quickly.

We can use this chord to harmonize any of the chord tones that are in the melody (which will be tones that a II can harmonize).  It is particularly useful if the melody is the root of the II chord since that is the (#11) of the substitute. 

In Cmaj, we have a potential melody of  ^[C, D, or F]  possibly F#(Gb) if the II is x7

In Cmin, we have a potential melody of  ^[C,D, Eb, F, Ab, Bb] (considering all minor modes.)

Here are some possible substitutions for the above cadences.

       | II    -     -    -    | V   -   -   - | I - - - ||  Or II        -        V    -    | I - - - ||
C: D                       G               C                D                 G           C

   |bVIx(#11) - - - | V(b9) - - - | I - - - ||  Or bVIx(#11) - V(b9) - | I - - - ||
C:Abx7(#11)          Gx7(b9)     C                Abx7(#11)  Gx7(b9) C

Note: the I chord may be major or minor (M7, M9, M(#11), m7, m9, mM7).  You can experiment with the tensions on the V chord.

Here is the above progression voiced with the (#11) in the melody, which to me is the most characteristic sound.

bVIx(#11)   1     b7  /  3  13  9    #11
Abx7(#11)   Ab  Gb    C   F  Bb    D

Vx(b9, b13)   1    b7  /  5   b9   3   b13
Gx7(b9, b13)   G    F  /   D  Ab  B   Eb

Im(9)      1    b7 /  b3  5   b7   9
Cm(9)      C   Bb   Eb  G  Bb   D

Also try in place of  the Vx and Im:

Vx(13)      1    b7  /  5   9   3   13
Gx7(13)   G    F  /   D  A  B   E

IM(13)      1    7  /  3  5  13   9
Cm9      C   B  / E  G  A   D

You can then try starting with each of the x7(#11) voicings and see how they lead to the Vx and I, using different tensions and alterations on the Vx.

You will want to try either keeping common notes between two chords or moving step-wise.  Sometimes, you will want to move step-wise if there is a choice between common tone and step.  When such choices arise consider that you want to move from active tone to active tone, or active tone to passive tone, not passive tone to active.  For example, the (#11) is active in the bVIx(#11), in the Vx it is the ~5, which is passive (and non-essential).  On the other hand the ~5 of VIx(#11) is a passive, non-essential note but becomes the active (b9) of the Vx.  The problem lies in the fact since we have already heard it in the previous chord in the same place, it doesn’t gain any momentum (on a piano, it has already begun to die away.)  Also, altered chord tones and tensions are more active than un-altered – ~[b9, #9, #11, b13] are more active then ~[9, 11, 13], and of course ~[#5, b5] are more active than ~5, which isn’t even necessary.

The second use as a Tritone Substitute is as a passing chord between two chords a P5 or m3, or M3 apart apart.  It isn’t really substituting as much as being interpolated between the two harmonies.  In the above cadential use, the x7(#11) occurred in a strong position.  This usage places it in a weak position.  This may or may not occur at a cadence point.

Using this creates a half-step movement to the second chord.

      | II    -     -    -    | V   -   -   - | etc.
C: D                       G                       

   |II      -     bVIx(#11)      -        | V(b9) - - - | etc.
C:D            Abx7(#11)                 Gx7(b9)

The II may be any of its available qualities.   This is particularly good from I to IV, particularly on a held note that is the ~3 of the I chord, which becomes the M7 of the IV chord.
       |IM   -    bVx(#11)    -    | IVM   -   -   -  | etc.
C: CM7      Gbx7(#11)        FM7

Two chords a Minor 3rd apart.

This occurs whenever we pass from I to VI (C to A in C major), particularly when VI is dominant.  We can often interpolate the chord one-half step above the second chord:  I   bVIIx  VIx – in C:  C Bbx Ax.  The x7(#11) is called for if the melody is on the ~3 of the I chord, which is the (#11) of the x7(#11).  It is also possible if the melody is on ~[1 or 5] since the ~1 of I is the ~9 of bVIIx  and ~5 of I is ~13 of bVIIx.

       | I      -      -       -     |  VIx  -  -  -  | etc.
   C:  C                              Ax7

       | I  -  bVIIx(#11)  -  |  VIx  -  -  - | etc.
   C:  C     Bbx7(#11)        Ax7

This one is easy to achieve since the I chord is the upper work of bVII(#11) (in C:  CM = ~[9, #11, 13] of Bbx7(#11).

We have x7(#11) in strong position in cadences, weak position as a passing tritone substitute.  There is one other place where I like to use this chord.  This one occurs at the climax of a song.  Not every song has a climax that fills the conditions necessary, which is probably good or it would get terribly overused, but when it does occur it is exciting.  What makes it so good for a climax is its lush tensions.

The characteristics of the situation in which this use may work (not all situations that seem like candidates are equally successful) is when the climax occurs in the next to last phrase or in the first half of the last phrase of the piece.  The climax should be a long note, usually the longest higher note of the piece (if not the highest).  The length is important since part of the reason is to create the expectation (and hope) that some resolution is at hand, but you want the listener to wait for a moment (“Shave and a hair cut, two ----“ stopping on the V7 and not playing the I).

Second, the melody will not be on the ^1 or Tonic of the key of the piece (in C, it won’t be on C).  The most common notes that I have found in this situation are either the ^3 of the key or ^6 of the key.  [Note: I am not talking about chord members here, but the scale of the key of the entire piece.]  So far, I have found these situations involving either a IIx7 or a VIx7 chord.  With the IIx7, the melodies have either been on ^3 (the ~9 of a II chord) or ^2 (which is the ~1 or root of the II chord).

With the VIx7, I have found it on the ^6 (which is the ~1 or root of the VI chord).  There may be other situations that will work, but these or so far the ones that I have found.

In the case of the IIx7 at the climax:

Melody                             ^3 ------------------
| Progression leading to  | IM  - - - | IIx - - - || (IIIm)  next phrase
C:                                      CM7        Dx7        (Em)

Melody                            ^3 -------------------------  (this situation is less likely)
Melody                                                      ^2
| Progression leading to  | IIIm  -   VIm  -   | IIx - - - || next phrase
C:                                      Em7      Am7       Dx7

[Examples in Jazz include the standards “I Remember You” and “Here’s That Rainy Day”]

Here, you simply need to use a IIx(#11) in place of the indicated IIx.

In the case of VIx7 at the climax.  I’ve included the IVM because that is the situation that I have found so far.  Also, the VI will most like lead to a IIm:

Melody                                                                   ^6
| Progression leading to  | (IVM) - - - | IIIm  - - - | VIx - - - || (IIm) - - next phrase
C:                                       FM7           Em7           Ax7           Dm

[In the standard Jazz repertoire, it occurs in Cole Porter’s - “You’d Be So Easy to Love”.  I have found that it will work with the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign.” The tune name is “Duke Street” (it is used for several hymns).]

In this case you need to consider a tritone substitution.  I find that VI(#11), though possible, is less than satisfactory here.  The tritone substitute for VI is bIII and the melody becomes it’s (#11)!  This gives us the possibility of the most characteristic voicing.  This changes the progression as follows:

Melody                                                                   ^6
| Progression leading to  | (IVM) - - - | IIIm  - - - | bIIIx(#11) - - - || (IIm) - - next phrase
C:                                       FM7           Em7           Ebx7(#11)           Dm

Notice how it keeps a nice half-step bass movement going through the cadence into the beginning of the next phrase, creating forward momentum to lead to the end of the piece.

As you have noticed, I have only given one hymn example for this climactic use.  It should be possible in more contemporary gospel melodies or hymns that have a more “popular” character.  I haven’t looked hard enough to find others, though I know there will be several more.  As I said earlier, the situation for this usage is not as common, but that is a good thing so that we don’t wear the sound out.

I hope that this has been helpful to you.  It may be more than you ever wanted to know so I apologize for the length.  I have enjoyed exploring the possibilities more thoroughly.

As always, remember music is an art.  None of what I have said should be taken as inviolable rules.  You may find situations where a voicing or a usage that I (or may taste at this time) have “discouraged” or that I haven’t even discovered.  Also, my viewpoint has been more from the angle of a contemporary tonal jazz style – modal jazz and other non-jazz styles will have other usages.  There may be times that a voicing of [1 #11 5 7 3 13], a rather harsh sound, will convey the mood required (Stephen Sondheim often uses such voicings to great effect.)

Also, dynamics, stress, and duration play an important role – a clashy sound when played loud may be ethereal when played gently.  Also, a momentary clash in passing is of little consequence (Beethoven had no problem with this and Bach even shows such instances.)

Another situation is if you are playing in a group, because of the different “tonal planes” of each part – the different timbres and ranges, many things that might clash on the piano may not when spread between different parts.  Consider a Dixieland Band with everyone improvising at the same time.  No one can know for sure exactly what notes another is going to play, but the different tone colors simply make for excitement, not cacophony.

If you have any questions please let me know.

Offline musallio

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Re: The 7th(#11) Chord
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2008, 08:08:05 PM »
 :o :o :o

I have to print this out & read it again & again & again  & apply & read again :o

U'r a maestro rspindy.
Thanks for all this stuff.
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Offline rspindy

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Re: The 7th(#11) Chord
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2008, 11:27:15 AM »
I just noticed that the quotation marks and a couple of other symbols didn't translate from my original word document.  I'll see if I can get it translated into a pure character based version that will work.
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