The Improvising Clarinetist: Chapter Six-Extended Chords

The Improvising Clarinetist: Chapter Six-Extended Chords

Chapter 6-Extended Chords

We are now far enough along in our technical work to move forward into some Extended Chord studies.  If you recall from Chapter 4 we began to investigate Seventh Chords.  At that point we were working with four note chords that were comprised of the root, third, fifth and seventh.  We looked at Major and Melodic Minor, and took a comprehensive approach to all the chords in these tonalities via the Diatonic Seventh Chord Exercises.  Now we will begin to work on extending the chord above the seventh, to include the 9, 11 or sharp 11, and 13th.

Wikipedia has an entry for Extended Chords here……

(Again do not be intimidated by this long and technical entry, give it a quick read and move on to the rest of this blog post.)

Here is what I find important to note from this Extended Chord Wiki entry….In music, extended chords are tertian (built from thirds) or triads with notes extended, or added, beyond the seventh. Ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords are Extended Chords. The thirteenth is the farthest extension diatonically possible as, by that point, all seven tonal degrees are represented within the chord.” 

Also found in this entry, which is of particular interest to us, is this passage….

“Jazz from the 1930s onward, Jazz Fusion from the 1970s and onward, and Funk all use Extended Chords as a key part of their sound. In these genres, chords often include added ninths, elevenths and thirteenths and altered variants, such as flat ninths, sharp ninths, sharp elevenths and flat thirteenths.”

Wikipedia also has a very organized and well written entry regarding fully extended chords, typically referred to as Thirteenth Chords…..

Here is the part I regard as relevant to our discussion here…..A thirteenth chord is the stacking of six (major or minor) thirds, the last being above the 11th of an eleventh chord. Thus a thirteenth chord is built from thirds, contains the interval of a thirteenth, and is a fully Extended Chord if it includes the ninth and/or the eleventh. The jazzy thirteenth is a very versatile chord and is used in many genres.”

So far we have examined Major and Minor tonalities, and their respective Diatonic Seventh Chords…….So now to build on that foundation, we can start to imagine and hear chords that are denser and wider top to bottom.  A ninth chord consists of the Root, third, fifth, seventh and ninth…… a C Major Nine chord, or C Maj9 in chord symbols, is then spelled out in root position (from the bottom up to the top that is), C,E,G,B, D.

When we start to have a look at Extended Chords in the various Minor tonalities we will notice that there can be variations and different types of minor chords that exist, depending on which type of Minor scale we are using to build our chords from.  For example, diatonic minor chords culled from Melodic Minor yield a slightly different set of Extended Chords than a set culled from Dorian Minor or Harmonic Minor.

We are finally ready to begin a discussion of THE most important chord in Western Harmony……The Dominant Chord!  We can now begin to understand its significance and try to understand what its value is to harmony.  We shall begin with the Wikipedia entry on Dominant Seventh chords, and then see how extending the Dominant Seventh up to the 13th becomes possible and how some interesting chord tones can be added to the basic Dominant Seventh Chord to intensify its texture and color.

The Dominant Seventh chord is written with a letter and a number, for instance C7, which is read as “C Seven.”  When you see C9, that is C7 chord with the 9th added, in this case a D on top of the root of C, the third of E, the fifth of G and the minor 7, Bb.  If you refer back to the Diatonic Sevenths in chapter four, you will find that the Dominant Seventh chord occurs only on scale degree five.  This dominant chord is the defining chord of any key……so in F major, C7 or C9 is the the dominant chord that typically resolves back to the tonic chord of F.  Notice the Dominant Seventh or Ninth chord only occurs on scale degree five……so when you see that chord symbol, you know it is the fifth chord of the key that it represents.  D7 would be the dominant of G major, etc.  You may extend the chord upwards to include the 11th, which would be C11…….again, notice this chord is “diatonic” to F major, not C major, and the Bb is borrowed from F major:

The fully extended chord above is a C13 chord, in this case adding an F for the eleventh and an A for the 13th.  If you were to stack one more third on top of the 13th you would return to the C, repeating the root of the chord.  So the 13th is the farthest that we can practically extend chords.  Look carefully at this  and you will see that this C13th chord displays all seven tones of the F major scale, not in scalar form but in the form of stacked thirds.

It is common practice in jazz harmony to alter some of the upper notes of certain chords. It is a common practice to alter the 11th on a Major Chord, so we have something called a Major 7, 9 or 13 Sharp Eleven chord.  You would commonly see this notated in chord symbols as CMaj7#11, CMaj9#11 or CMaj13#11.  Note this is “diatonic” to the key of G Major, not C Major, and the chord actually borrows the F# from G Major…….the prettier, more consonant sound that the Sharp Eleven makes is the reason for its use.  The notes of a C Major Sharp Eleven chord, from root position on up, are C, E, G, B, D, F Sharp.  If we then add an A on top of that we get our C Major 13 Sharp Eleven chord, again usually written as CMaj13#11…….. In all cases the F is converted into an F#.  This is done to avoid the half step “clash” that occurs with the F and the E, or the 4th scale degree and the third which are a half step apart.

The following two exercises will begin to get you hearing and playing Extended Chord Arpeggios.  Once you have a sense of how these are laid out, again the idea is to practice these without having to look at the printed page.  The first, the Extended Chord Routine, takes you first through Major 13 Sharp 11 Chords, or in chord symbol terms, Maj13(#11).  The Routine then continues through Minor 13 chords with a Major Seven, in chords symbols Min13(Maj7), which is pulled right out of the Melodic Minor tonality, and is often referred to as Tonic Minor.  The Routine then takes you through Dominant 13 Sharp 11 chords, symbolized with the letter, and the number 13—i.e. F13(#11).  I consider these three fully extended Thirteenth Chords to be essential for the beginning improviser; with practice  they will certainly help you to develop a much more sophisticated harmonic sound in your improvisations.  It is quite common to find improvisers exploiting the upper extensions of chords in jazz.

7a. Extended Chord Routine

The next PDF, the Extended 13th Chord Routine, is an arpeggio exercise that builds upon the three basic thirteenth chords we just examined.

7b. Extended 13th Chord Routine:Clarinet

The next PDF is a composition of mine that I wrote to emphasize the Extended Chord structures of the Sharp Eleven Chord in a melodic context.  You will see that the melody, while based on a 12 Bar Blues progression, uses the fifth, minor seventh, ninth, sharp eleven and thirteenth of the opening chord to define its initial melodic motive.  Hence the title of the work, Sharp Eleven Blues!  That structural motive is then repeated over the IV chord, in this case Bb7(#11).  The first twenty four bars define the sound of the Dominant Seven Sharp Eleven chord very clearly.  By the way, in this composition there then follows some free counterpoint that uses some Triad Pair ideas before returning to the original motivic material.  We will discuss Triad Pairs in a future chapter, but for now let’s just say that they are a useful compositional tool that are very handy for the improviser as well, which can naturally incorporate some upper extension ideas depending on your choice of triads, and add substantial intervallic interest to your improvised or composed lines.

7c. Sharp Eleven Blues

Writing a composition or line over a chord progression is a great way to dissect and apply harmonic and melodic material that you are digesting.  I highly recommend you do this sort of thing as a regular adjunct to your instrument practice.  It takes time, patience and careful consideration to come up with something that sounds good to yourself, but playing and using these ideas in a broader context is just the thing you need to do to integrate the various sounds and instrumental tactile sensations into your playing.  Live with these ideas and sounds for a while, experiment liberally with them, and make them an ongoing part of your musical vocabulary. Ultimately Extended Chords will give you more colorful harmonic textures and make your improvising more sophisticated and interesting to the listener.

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