Progression: Music Theory 103 – Extended Chords and Voicings

- Posted July 3rd, 2017 by

Hey dudes and dudettes,

Tuberz here with my third installment in the series of articles centered around the understanding and application of music theory. Last month (and not too long ago either!) we covered harmonic progressions and chord functions and how we can use these to create tension and movement in our music. This month we’ll be looking at building on that a bit further with extended chords. Use these to spice up your chord progressions and make them sound a bit more lush and full, and potentially with more movement!

Let’s jam.

I’m all ready to do a music theory. I have my manuscript, my pen, and my Game Boy

This is the part where I summarise the last article

Before we get onto extended chord voicings, we need to understand what our major and minor chords are a bit more. They can be summarised in two different ways. In terms of scale degrees (remember that thing we covered in the first article?), and in terms of intervals. In root position (more on this later) major and minor chords follow what I call the ‘1-3-5 Principle” where the notes fall on the third and fifth interval after the ‘root’ of the chord. For example: C major, is CEG. C is the root note of C major. The C major scale has no sharps or flats, so we get C D E F G A B C. If C is our 1, then D is our 2, E is our 3 so on so forth. The 1-3-5 finds C (1), E (3), and G (5). This would also work for if we’re building an F major chord in a progression in the key of C major. Since our scale is C D E F G A B C, we have the same notes, but our new point of reference (the 1) has shifted. The F is now the 1, so the G is 2, A is 3, and so on so forth.

This is purely one way of constructing chords. RED = C major GREEN = F major (in the key of C major)

What if we want to play an F minor in C major? (more on why this is super cool/dope/rad/killer later). The naturally occurring notes in C major don’t allow for an F minor chord. In this case, we can look at the intervallic relationship. The intervals of these are as follows:

Major – 047
Minor – 037
Diminished – 036
Augmented – 048
Suspended – 057

Now we end up with an F minor chord! Luckily for us, we can just build arps using 037 to do this for us!

But I want S P I C Y chords! Give me cool stuff

On top of having major, minor, diminished etc. chords, we have extended chords. These chords are called extended because they use additional notes. A minor or major chord uses three notes, but a seventh chord generally uses four, and a ninth chord generally uses five. Believe me when I say this, because this will be hard to believe at first.

Seventh chords are ridiculously easy.

Honestly. They are. We have a few different kinds of seventh chords, which I’ll briefly list and then I’ll explain how to use them. Your seventh chords are as follows: Dominant Seven (major-minor seven), Minor Seven, Major Seven, Minor-major Seven, Diminished Seven, Half Diminished Seven.

That should cover them. Yes, there are six. Yes, they are still totally easy.

A seventh chord is characterised by the seventh note, but what is the seventh note you ask? What if I phrase it a different way that potentially makes significantly more sense. 1-3-5-7. Yes. It’s that easy. Just like we built our chords on our scale from the 1-3-5, we can just add the 7 and we get a seventh chord. Easy right? For example: in C major (C D E F G A B C) we want to build a naturally occurring seventh chord on E. E is our 1, so we just number the notes accordingly and we end up with E (1), G (3), B (5), D (7). I’ll spoil the mystery for you. EGBD is a minor 7 chord. E minor 7 to be precise. This seems like a good time to explain intervals.

Intervals

No, this is not a scheduled break from the article. Intervals are in fact, the distance between two notes. Our major scale will always have the same intervals. Our minor chords are always built up of the same intervals. Intervals are the underpinning of most harmony. These intervals always occur in this order: I’ll accompany it with a chromatic scale underneath to best explain it.

P1 – m2 – M2 – m3 – M3 – P4 – d5 – P5 – m6 – M6 – m7 – M7 – P1
C  –  C# –  D  –  D#  – E  –   F  –  F# – G  –  G#  –  A  – A#  – B   –  C

Key: m = minor, M = major, P = perfect, d = diminished

So, the note a minor third (m3) above C is a D# (or Eb as both D# and Eb occur between D and E). A perfect fifth (P5) above C is G, and a minor seventh (m7) above C is a Bb (A#). A good way to help you out with intervals is to use this app. It will make your life a lot easier.

Back to seventh chords.

Now that we know our intervals, we can learn our seventh chords easier. The main intervallic difference that we need to understand is in our seventh (as in the seventh note). Minor seven (m7) and Major seven (M7). A minor seven chord is built from a minor chord with a minor seventh interval on the top. Easy right? For example: the chord A minor is A (1), C (3), E (5). We just have to add a Minor seventh (m7) interval on the top. It’s a G, so we end up with ACEG. An A minor 7 chord.

Set your arps to 0 3 7 10 (or A) friends! Notice how the A is right next to the G when taken up an octave?

This chord creates more of an interesting harmonic atmosphere because we no longer have just big intervals between notes (ie. all the notes in major or minor chords are at least a third away from each other). With the addition of the G in A minor 7, we now have the close interval of G and A. The notes are directly next to each other, and because of this add a bit of tension and add some unique flavour to the music. The major seven chord is built by adding a major seventh interval onto a major chord. This honestly seems too good to be true right? It can’t possibly be this easy. So if we were to try and build a D Major 7 we would end up with D (1), F# (3), A (5), C# (7). Noticing that the crunchy nature of the C# next to the D gives it a really unique character.

0 4 7 11 (B) will give you a nice wide soaring major 7 chord!

The last seventh chord that I want to cover today is called the Dominant Seven (major-minor seven). It has a very specific function within music and should be handled with care. You may remember from last week’s article that I covered chords and their particular functions in a key. The V chord was the dominant, and that is no different here. The chord that will most usually become a Dominant Seven chord is in fact… the dominant. Sick. Cohesive. So, in the key of C major our dominant (the V) is G major. This means that we will end up with a G7 (dominant sevens are written without any other suffix or prefix. G7, D7, F#7 etc.). A Dominant seven is a major chord with… and hold onto your tail bones for this one guys… a minor seven! C-C-C-Combo Breaker. It’s the only seventh chord thus far that doesn’t match! Let’s see how G7 is built.

Arp settings: 0 4 7 10 (A). This’ll give you that Dominant Seven goodness

Now you may notice that we’re essentially stacking chords on top of each other. A minor 7 is just a C major on top of an A bass. D major 7 is just an F# minor over the top of a D bass. What about G7? B-D-F builds a weird chord. It’s called the diminished chord and it sounds weird and was banned in the Christian church for a long time because it would ‘summon the devil’ according to some sources. I totally want to summon the devil so I’m definitely gonna use lots of Dominant Seven chords. The Dominant Seven chord is unstable because of the inclusion of the diminished chord and therefore wants to shift and become another chord (remember how we talked about dominant chords wanting to become tonic chords?). We can prepare a tonic chord I (C major) with our Dominant Seven chord V7 (G7).

I hope this has served as a good introduction to extended chord voicings, and we’ll look into some more of this later on. If there are any particular questions you have, or clarifications that you need, don’t be afraid to reach out as I’m always happy to help! You can reach me at tuberzmcgee *at* gmail *dot* com or message me on Twitter, or send a carrier pigeon or something. 

Alright, this is me signing off. Have a great day! Happy analyzing!

Love,
Tuberz
xoxo

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