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Synth Sense

Article from Making Music, September 1986

Thirteenths and onwards. Intervals? We gorrem flat. We gorrem sharp.

Lucky for some, Andy Honeybone reaches the big thirteen in his chord searches, and gets flattened.

WHAT WITH the Royal Wedding, the Commonwealth Games and the centenary of Liszt's death all at the same time it's not surprising that I inadvertently told a small fib last month. While researching this month's piece (you didn't think it was all divine inspiration did you?) I came across the flattened thirteenth which was a new one on me. Anyway, let me share it with you along with the other compoundly altered dominant sevenths before elaborating the final two classes of chord.

Last time we got well into the many modifications feasible to dominant seventh chords but we considered each change in isolation. It's possible to 'mix and match' these changes as much as we like but I'll introduce some personal favourites to start off. How about a sharp ninth with a sharp eleventh? In fact, how about A7 (#9)(#11). Although this hieroglyph may look as much to do with music as a bar code would appear to literature, it means a really juicy chord. Spelling out the shape from bottom to top (this is a two hander with a large stretch in the right) we have A (root), G (seventh), C sharp (third), G (seventh), B sharp/C natural (sharp ninth) and D sharp (sharp eleven). Lots of tension there with a nicely poised feel. Note that the straight eleventh version of the above (D rather than D sharp) sounds a dreadful mess.

Having newly discovered this flat thirteen, let's see it in combination with sharp and flat ninths. Again a big right hand stretch but playable in the example key: E flat (#9)(b13) — E flat (root) in the left with G (third), D flat (seventh), F sharp (sharp ninth) and C flat (flat thirteenth). Now I know why I hadn't heard of flat thirteenths, I'd been playing them for years thinking that they were augmented fifths.

The next is an inversion of the last chord which is much easier to play: bass note E flat, right hand G, C flat, D flat and F sharp. It has the same flavour but because the C flat isn't at the top of the chord I reckon it qualifies as a sharp nine with an added augmented fifth.

The partnership of a flat ninth and a flat thirteenth was one that I'd not been aware of although I'm sure I'd heard one before at the hands of Bill Evans. It resolves nicely to a major ninth so here it is: left hand G (root), right hand F (seventh), A flat (flat ninth), B (third) and E flat (flat thirteenth). The description of the E flat as a flat thirteenth rather than an augmented fifth is defendable on the basis that it is supported by the ninth — the same reasoning that was used to differentiate between flattened fifths and sharp elevenths last month.

Further permutations include the flat ninth-sharp eleventh: C, E, B flat, D flat and F sharp, the flattened fifth-flat ninth: F, A, C flat, E flat and G flat and others like the eleventh-augmented fifth which to my way of thinking are less than useful.

The final two classes of chord in this series are those of the diminished and the half diminished. It must be said that they are the musical equivalent of names like Herbert and Maud, that is, they aren't too popular these days. The diminished chord is characterised by the presence of the intervals of a minor third and a diminished fifth: B dim — B (root), D (minor third) and F (diminished fifth). More commonplace is the diminished seventh which is the previous example plus G sharp. Now, the intriguing thing is that the G sharp is in fact the sixth not the seventh. Allegedly, the chord was termed a diminished seventh in the days before the sixth was a recognised entity. It was implied that the seventh was also flattened (along with the third and fifth) and a flattened minor seventh is a sixth.

There are only three diminished seventh 'shapes' to remember and allowable additions take the form of a further similar shape beginning one tone higher than the top note of the lower chord. The example given above is equally B dim7, D dim7, F dim7 or G sharp dim7 — depending on the bass note chosen. In other words the same shape can be termed the diminished seventh of any of its component notes. As there are 12 chromatic tones and four are contained within the chord, it stands to reason that there are only two other shapes required to cover every diminished seventh that you could need.

And the additions? Play the above example in the left hand and then B flat diminished seventh (B flat, D flat, F flat and G) with the right. The resulting chord is of the type that occurs in film sound tracks when someone's throwing a wobbler and the picture goes wavy while violence ensues (not to be confused with the 'going back in time' whole-tone scale thing).

From low to high the example chord has been embellished with a major seventh, a major ninth, a perfect eleventh and (wait for it) a flat thirteenth. In less extended versions the diminished seventh has its place in blues and gospel as a transitionary chord. Finally, what description of the chord could miss out its use at the piano when accompanying silent films. A series of chromatically ascending diminished sevenths played tremolo style instantly conjures the heroine (with an 'e') tied to the rails in front of an advancing train.

The term 'half diminished' seems none too distant from 'half baked' but the logic of the name stems from a chord construction which may be thought of as being half way between minor and diminished. This final class of chord is also known as a leading tone seventh or, more functionally, as a minor seventh flattened fifth. The qualifying intervals for this chord are minor third, diminished fifth and minor seventh B min 7(-5): B (root), D (minor third), F (diminished fifth) and A (minor seventh) only a semitone different from the diminished seventh.

The chord crops up in many jazz 'standards' alternated with dominant sevenths in circle of fifths patterns which we'll look at later. A useful extension to the half diminished is the ninth (add C sharp to the last example). Try it at the keyboard and see how slickly it moves to E7(b9)(b13).

Which brings me back to the Royal Couple. Set your synthesiser for pipe organ full ranks and try this half diminished A min 7(-5): left hand A and octave below, right hand G, A, C and E flat — the opening chord to the Wedding March!

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Making Music - Sep 1986

Feature by Andy Honeybone

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> Doing That Digital Thing

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