The Improvising Clarinetist: Chapter 4-Diatonic Seventh Chords

The Improvising Clarinetist: Chapter 4-Diatonic Seventh Chords

Once you have become intimately familiar with Major and Minor Triads through your work with the material in Chapter Three, it is now time to turn your attention to Four Note Chords, or Seventh Chords as we refer to them in music theory.  Wikipedia defines and discusses Seventh Chords here……  This Wikipedia entry on Seventh Chords is a bit long and technical in nature, and if you don’t understand it all do not worry about that.  I would suggest referring back to it periodically after working with the material in this chapter to see if it becomes more clear to you after some additional chord work and experience.  

Here is a crucial idea to understand about musical tonalities:

In any key or tonality, a series of chords can be derived or formed off each scale degree… this example we are looking at the Major Seventh Chords that are diatonic to or derived from the key of C Major.

5a. Diatonic Maj7ths


What’s important to notice here is the progression of the chords formed off each scale degree and their respective QUALIITIES, i.e Major Seventh Chords, Minor Seventh Chords, the Dominant Seventh Chord off scale degree five and in this case, a Minor Seven Flat Five Chord off scale degree seven, that result from building these  seventh chords off each scale degree.  For example, off the first scale degree, the note C, we find a  C Major 7 chord, and off the second scale degree, the note D, we have a D Minor 7 chord.  Look carefully at the succession of chords built off each scale degree and you will find Major Seven chords formed off the first and fourth scale degrees, Minor Seventh chords formed off scale degrees two, three and six, and a Minor 7 Flat Five chord formed off scale degree seven.  It is important to note that this progression of formed chords is the same in every major key.

As in Chapter Three I have designed some basic exercises that are a very simple introduction to Seventh Chord study.  As before these will allow the player to gain some technical facility with Diatonic Sevenths and, if you listen carefully while you practice this material, you will begin to hear major and minor tonalities in a way far different than before when you were just playing a scale.  So the added benefit of getting familiar with this material is that you will begin to expand your awareness of these basic tonalities, and eventually you should be able to integrate more of these shapes and ideas into your improvisations.  You must practice these exercises with an acute mental awareness of the sound of the tonality you are outlining, and a specific sense of what tonality you are working with and what notes the tonality contains.

The following PDF is a pretty standard way of learning Diatonic Seventh Chords.  Notice the setting is in 3/4 time and that we have the F tonality again with Major merging directly into Minor.  Apply this idea to all 24 tonalities and you will begin to unlock the various fingering issues that can stump less experienced clarinetists and acclimate your ear to this new tonality setting.  This standard exercise will take you a long way toward developing a surety of technique and an understanding of the instrument, and do wonders for expanding your awareness of Major and Minor tonalities.   

5b. Diatonic Sevenths:Clarinet


Again, as I stated in Chapter Three, there are many more ways to work with seventh chords.  Continue to experiment with these ideas, and expand your practicing to integrate the things we have covered so far—scales, triads and seventh chords in all 12 major and jazz melodic minor tonalities.  You are now beginning to develop command of an ever expanding jazz vocabulary that will serve you well in your improvisational quest in the future.  One thing that sets true jazz improvisers apart from most classical musicians is their understanding of the relationship of scales to chords, and how to apply this information for use over chord progressions when improvising.  This ability to apply harmony on the fly to an ever evolving series of moving chords is what jazz improvising is all about, at least in the “inside” jazz tradition of improvisation.  Our goal is to build a foundation in jazz harmony that you can draw on “in the moment”, and my hope is that you will become very well equipped to handle most any musical situation that you will encounter going forward.  So get to work on this material and make it yours in a very personal way, and be prepared to step into a world of improvisation that will transform your musicianship and allow you to improvise freely and effortlessly in ways you’ve never imagined……

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