Lesson 7: On some basic chord substitution

Once more, a deluge of great info pouring from Master to student. Yesterday’s big takeaway was this: there are two basic ways to look at chord substitution:

  1. Vertical
  2. Linear

While thinking vertically, I am concerned with the chord I am playing now. In other words, I substitute a chord for the one that I have at a given moment. Example – a ii, V, I in C gives me Dm7 | G7 |Cmaj7. I could do direct substitutions and change them all the Dom 7ths, i.e. D7 | G7 |C7. Not wonderful to my ears, but you get the idea.

While thinking in a linear fashion, I am looking ahead to the next chord and doing a substitution based on that. For example, for my Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 progression, if I am currently on Dm7, looking ahead to my next chord, I see a G7. In this case, I will perform a substitution of an approach chord prior to the G7 which I choose to be Ab7. So, in the first bar I might play 3 beats of Dm7, then substitute Ab7 for the 4th beat before landing on my G7 on beat 1 of measure 2. Geddit? 

The difference here is that normally, in a vertical scenario, I wouldn’t sub an Ab7 for a Dm7 chord – it doesn’t make much harmonic sense and the chords don’t share tones, but since my next chord is G7, I can sub it for the Dm7 since the Ab7 is acting as a lead into my G7.

This is a basic type of substitution. The rule here is this:

Any chord can be preceded by a chord a half step away provided that it is of the same type, or dominant.

Again, for my Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 progression, this then means I can go the whole hog and end up with something like Dm7 Ab7 | G7 Dbmaj7 | Cmaj7. Note my subbed Ab7 in the last beat of measure 1 and my Dbmaj7 leading to my Cmaj7 in the last beat of measure 2.

Applying this to my Autumn Leaves progression of Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 | Bbmin7b5 | E7 | Amin7 | A7 might give me something like: Dm7 Ab7 | G7 Dbmaj7 | Cmaj7 F#maj7 | Fmaj7 Cmin7b5 | Bbmin7b5 F7 | E7 A#min7 | Amin7 | A7.

Note I’m only approaching from above. Master says these tend to work better though from below is also valid.

An additional benefit of this concept comes when I am soloing and constructing lines. If the basic comp below stays at Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 with no substitutions going on, I can still think in terms of the substitutions to build my solo and step outside of the key for a while, e.g. over measure one I can play some Dm7 stuff and then do a bit of Ab7 noodling (maybe play the arpeggio) in the same measure before resolving to G7 in measure 2. This creates some tension which can be used to keep the music interesting.

On that last point, Master told me this, which I need to chew on some more, which is, in Jazz at least, the chord names provide a framework that is kind of flexible – just because the chart says Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 doesn’t mean that that is what might be played by the musicians at any given time. If we take a vertical slice through, we may find the bassist playing the root, but we may also find the guitarist or pianist playing some chord substitution or line outside that leads to resolve later on. Thus, the chord framework is more of a concept than a ‘you must play these chords here’ and provide a kind of roadmap of where the musicians should roughly go towards, i.e. the resolutions. Where they go in-between is up to them (provided it’s musical) and provides, where appropriate, that interesting tension.

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5 Responses to “Lesson 7: On some basic chord substitution”

  1. […] Original post: Lesson 7: On some basic chord substitution […]

  2. […] some basic chord substitutions Lesson 7: On some basic chord substitution Gitbuddy’s Guitar Blog __________________ World’s most fabulous guitar blog: https://gitbuddy.wordpress.com […]

  3. […] Admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThis creates some tension which can be used to keep the music interesting. On that last point, Master told me this, which I need to chew on some more, which is, in Jazz at least, the chord names provide a framework that is kind of … […]

  4. Michael Rodriguez Says:

    Fantastically AWESOME!!!!This was very informative. Many thanks. Let’s just say that this is the night I was officially born to Jazz.

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