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Synth Sense

Lots of chords, including the diminished fifth modified dominant seventh.

Interval king Andy Honeybone goes for bigger and bigger numbers in the search for finger stretching chordal thingies.

THE STORY of everyday country folk continues with an exhaustive/exhausting survey of chord types beyond the major, minor and minor seventh divisions so explicitly expounded last month.

Dominant sevenths I promised, and that's where I'll start but first, recap time for those unfortunate enough to have encountered the 'empty rack' at their music store last month. A dominant seventh is a category of chord distinguished by the presence of a major third and a minor seventh. The chord is major in tone colour but not classification — major chords contain only major or perfect intervals. The chord symbol F7 indicates a dominant seventh chord comprising the major third (F-A) and the minor seventh (F-E flat). There is another note present in the chord (C — a perfect fifth) which is neither here nor there in terms of coarse labelling but is the starting point for a series of modifications to the basic chord.

F7 (+5)

As you may remember, a perfect interval may be augmented or diminished by a semitone shift on either side. Let's deal with the augmented fifth first as in the F7+ chord. The plus sign without any number following is generally taken to mean 'augmented fifth'. Strictly, the interval to which the modification occurs should follow the sign and the whole extension should be enclosed in brackets ie F7(+5). Abbreviated or not the chord is constructed F, A, C sharp, E flat and has a restless quality which leaves you in no doubt as to where it is pushing in terms of resolution.

Western music can be thought of as patterns created from the building and release of tension. This occurs at two levels: an overall level of form where a piece may grow to a climax and then subside or, at a lower level where we are concerned with injecting movement into the piece by chord to chord transitions. The process of moving from a tense chord to a chord which is calm and collected is the process of resolution. Dominant seventh chords possess a tension which may be attributed to the presence of the minor seventh itself.

Consider the progression G7 to C — a dominant seventh chord followed by a major — elementary tension and release. A look at the chord build up gives clues to the mechanism. The dominant seventh chord G,B,D,F resolves to the major G,C,E by the minor seventh falling by a semitone to become the new major third and the major third (B) rising by one semitone to become the new root. We can conclude that tension is created by the inclusion of notes which are one semitone distant from those found in the chord to which we want to resolve.

F7 (-5)

Back to our F7(+5) which is aching fit-to-bust to resolve to a straight B flat. The augmented fifth (C sharp) rises to the new major third (D7 as the dominant seventh (E flat) falls to the same note. The major third (A) climbs up to form the new root. From this you can see that by modifying the basic dominent seventh we have increased its resolving magnetism. Two notes now home in on the new major third.

What goes up must come down so let's consider the diminished fifth modified dominant seventh. More popularity known as a flattened or flatted fifth, the chord is infamous for its association with the Bebop movement in modem jazz. It is certainly less syrupy than the augmented seventh and is less powerful in its resolving properties (the two semitonal shifts home in on the new root).

F7 (b9) Fbass

The dominant seventh chord may be extended by the addition of a major ninth, a perfect eleventh and a major thirteenth. I'll take them one at a time. The ninth is an interval that can be added to each of the chord classifications without changing their character. It adds a little extra interest without getting in the way but the fireworks start when we raise or lower the ninth by a half tone. The number '9' following a chord symbol letter indicates that a minor seventh and major ninth are added to the basic triad. Modifications to the ninth are indicated in the same way as for the fifth ie F7(-9) also F7(b9).

The flat nine chord is another added tension job with the interval itself resolving to the fifth of the new chord. Very Quincy Jones big production ballard-ish but really rather sweet. Leaving out the root, the chord is the same 'shape' as a diminished seventh and so you shouldn't have too much trouble getting your mits 'round it. Try F, A, C, E flat, G flat — the top four notes are the chord of A diminished seventh — two for the price of one.

F7 (#9) Fbass

One of the best extended chords to translate to the guitar has been the sharp ninth much used by Hendrix. The tension in this chord comes from the inclusion of both major and minor elements and hence its applicability to blues playing. Sticking to this month's key, here's F7 (#9): F bass, A, E flat, G sharp. Let me leave discussing the resolving properties of this chord until thirteenths have been covered.

The eleventh is a chord that crops up time after time in modern soul and funk, usually in the notational guide of something like E flat (F bass). Whether this is a true eleventh or a ninth with a suspended fourth is a question you can pose yourself as you drift to sleep each night. The eleventh may be sharpened to add a deal of piquancy. Note that a sharpened eleventh is not the same as a flattened fifth even though the note in question is the same. The difference is that the sharpened eleventh is supported by a ninth present in the chord.

F13 Fbass

And so to the thirteenth which fortunately, as I'm running out of space, as an interval is not open to modification. The chord achieves tension through combining minor seventh and major sixth elements. The chord symbol F13 indicates the presence of a minor seventh, major ninth and major thirteenth in addition to the simple triad. Now for the resolution bit I mentioned further back. The right hand 'shape' of a thirteenth is identical to that of a sharp ninth: F7 (#9) F bass, A, E flat, G sharp — B13 B bass, A, D sharp, G sharp. Of the two chord types, the sharp nine is the more tense hence resolution to a thirteenth is just a complete chromatic parallel slide downward. The clever bit is that the bass note moves down by a fifth ie F7 (#9) A, E flat, G sharp resolves to B flat 13 A flat, D, F. An example of this type of chromatic resolution best known to you is the Parkinson theme by Harry Stoneham.

So that's dominant seventh chords is their role as tension centres. There are some nice chords involving combinations of modified intervals but they'll have to wait 'till next time for the last two chord classifications.

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Chord of the Month

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What It All Means

Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.


Making Music - Aug 1986

Feature by Andy Honeybone

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