This is a dump of random music theory notes for my personal study.
Chords[edit | edit source]
Chord symbols[edit | edit source]
|Major||M, Maj, △||Cmaj9 (C E G B D)|
|Minor||m, Min, -||Cmin9 (C E♭ G B♭ D)|
|Dominant 7th||7, dom7||C9 (C E G B♭ D)|
|Half-Dimished||m7♭5, ø||Cm7♭5 (C E♭ G♭ B♭)|
|Diminished||dim, °, °7||Cdim7 (C E♭ G♭ B♭♭)|
|Augmented||aug, +, 7♯5||Caug7 (C E G♯ B♭)|
|Suspended Chords||sus||Replaces the 3rd.
|Add Chords||add||Cadd2 (C D E G), Cadd9 (C E G D)|
|6th chords||6||C6 (C E G A)|
|11th chords||11||May include 9 or not.|
|13th chords||13||Usually 9th played below 13th|
Diminished chords[edit | edit source]
Symbol mnemonic: Remember that the diminished chord is denoted using the circle symbol. Slice it in half (ø) to get half diminished.
A diminished chord is using a stack of minor thirds. It's the chord that gets you 4 chords for the price of one because a diminished chord in one key is also the same for 3 other keys. For example, C°7 (C E♭ G♭ B♭♭) is the same as E♭°7 G♭°7 and A°7.
All 12 keys can fall into one of these three unique diminished chords:
|Equivalent Diminished Chords||Notes in this chord|
|1st||2nd||3rd||4th||Based on 1st chord||Simplified notes|
|C°7||E♭°7||G♭°7||A°7||C E♭ G♭ B♭♭||C E♭ G♭ A|
|D♭°7||F♭°7||A♭♭°7||C♭♭||D♭ F♭ A♭♭ C♭♭||D♭, E, G, B♭|
|D°7||F°7||A♭°7||C♭°7||D F A♭ C♭||D F A♭ B|
Chord voicings[edit | edit source]
Rules of thumb:
- Don't repeat notes
- Root, 3rd, 7th are voiced in the lower register. Bass notes carry more weight and these notes are most important to a chord
- Give melody space. The melody should be a minor 3rd or greater away from chords to avoid muddying it.
- Play the chord in an inversion such that the top note is the same as the melody.
Shell voicing[edit | edit source]
A 3 note voicing with just the root, 3rd, and 7th. Root note should always be at the bottom of the chord (can be played with left hand). The 3rd and 7th can be swapped.
Examples of a C7 in a shell voicing in 2 different positions: (1 7 3; 1 3 7)
Open voicing[edit | edit source]
A 4 note voicings using the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. Rather than playing the chord in the specific order of 1 3 5 7 (i.e. a closed voicing), we may play it with notes out of order in a wider range across both hands.
Examples of a CMaj7 in an open voicing in 3 different positions: (1 5 3 7; 1 5 7 3; 1 7 5 3)
Rootless voicing[edit | edit source]
Popular in Jazz. Does not contain the root in the chord as it can be left to a bassist to play. Stacks of 3rds starting from the 3rd degree up to the 9th.
Examples of a CMaj7 in rootless voicing.
Quartal voicing[edit | edit source]
A quartal voicing is a type of chord voicing that is based on stacking 4ths above each note in the chord. This creates a different, more open and harmonically rich sound. It is also an ambiguous chord since it may match multiple different chords.
Quartal chords typically have 5 notes near the middle of the register, but it could also range from anything between 3 - 6 notes.
Example chord: E A D G C. (Could be C69, FMaj13, Am11, Dsus9, BbMaj13#11, depending on context). So What chord voicing is quartal chords but in the first inversion (A D G C E)
Here are some generic voicings.
|Example in C||Notes|
|C69||E A D G C||The root at the top|
|CMaj9||B E A D G||Get rid of the root and play a B with the 5th on top|
|Dm11||A D G C F||3rd on top|
|G9||B F A D G||Dominant voicing. Note B - F is a tritone (augmented 4th) and F - A is a major third (diminished 4th)|
|G13||F B E A D||Dominant voicing. Note F - B here is also a tritone (augmented 4th)|
E A D G C - C69. The root at the top
B E A D G - CMaj9. Get rid of the root and play a B with the 5th on top
A D G C F - Dm11. 3rd on top
Quartal ii-V-I is possible. Eg: Dm11 - G9 - CMaj9 (ADGCF BFADG BEADG) or Dm11 - G13 - C69 (ADGCF FBEAD EADGC)
Chord notes[edit | edit source]
Chord tones[edit | edit source]
Chord tones are the 1 and 5th notes of the chord.
Guide tones[edit | edit source]
Guide tones are notes in the chord that captures the 'essence' of the chord. The notes that are typically of interest are usually the 3rd, 7th, and extended keys 9th, 11th, and 13th. We use these guide tones to build smooth lines of notes rather than jumpy chords to complement the melody. The main melody should target one of these guide tones for it to sound coherent.
We focus on the 3rd and 7th here because if we progress our chord through the circle of fifths, then the 3rd and 7th guide tones will swap.
|Key||Major||Dom7||Minor/ø||Major 7, Dominant 7, Minor 7, Half-Diminished, and Diminished|
Notes past the 7th are also known as chord extensions.
Available tensions[edit | edit source]
Extended keys above the 7th that are not avoid notes are referred to as available tensions. These include the 9th, 11th, 13ths (which maps to the 2nd, 4th, 6th degree, but are played beyond the 7th in this context. Otherwise, if they're played below the 7th, they'd just be called add chords instead.)
Notes on the 9th chord:
Typically extensions are natural. So the 9th chord would typically be the natural 9 (or the 2nd degree but an octave higher) that's built on top of the existing chord (be it a dominant or major chord). Therefore:
- A dominant ninth is the combination of a dominant chord (with a minor seventh) and a major ninth.
- A major ninth chord (e.g., Cmaj9), as an extended chord, adds the major seventh along with the ninth to the major triad. Cmaj9 consists of C, E, G, B and D
Avoid notes[edit | edit source]
Avoid notes are notes that are one semitone above/below a chord tone. Eg. CMaj13 has C E G B D F A, but F is an avoid note because it's 1 semitone above the E.
When playing CMaj13, it's typical to skip the 11th (F) when playing the chord.
Avoid notes should be used to create dissonance which you can then resolve later.
Chord progressions[edit | edit source]
Some common chord progressions include:
I – vi – ii – V
I-IV and I-IV-V
|Keys: Am, Dm, Em, Gm, Cm||Keys: C F G Bb, Eb|
12 bar blues[edit | edit source]
C C C C F F C C G F C C
1-7-6-5 / i - VII - VI - V7[edit | edit source]
- Hit the road jack
- why don't you do right?
Circle of fifths[edit | edit source]
Chord progressions built on a partial circle of fifths.
Variants include partial circle of fifths such as:
- ii - V7 - I
- iii VI7 ii V7 I
My funny valentine[edit | edit source]
- Em/E Em/Eb Em/D Em/Db C7 B7 (repeat)
1-6-2-5 / I - VI7 - ii7 - V7[edit | edit source]
- I got rhythm
- Every jazz song
- I – vi – ii – V
1-6-4-5 / I - vi - IV - V[edit | edit source]
- Heart and soul
- I – vi – IV – V
1-5-6-4 / I - V - vi - IV[edit | edit source]
- four chord pop song
- I – IV – V – IV
- vi – IV – I – V
- I – IV – ii – V
- I – IV – I – V
- I – ii – iii – IV – V
- I – III – IV – iv
- i – V – i – iv
- vi – V – IV – III Andalusian Cadence
ii-V-I[edit | edit source]
Here is the ii-V-I chord progression in all 12 keys.
If you are practicing the ii-V-I over and over, you can try the ii-V-I-VI (eg. Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 A7) which nicely loops back on itself.
Tip: Replace the minor ii chord with a half diminished (ø) chord to get the minor variant of the ii-V-I progression. You may want to alter the V7 chord and flatten the 9th to make it sound better.
|Key||ii (supertonic)||V (dominant)||I (tonic)||Preview|
I-bVII-IV[edit | edit source]
Classic rock sound which comes from the Mixolydian mode.
I-IV-V[edit | edit source]
It’s impossible to navigate the world of Western music without bumping into this progression. It shows its face in rock, pop, country, Blues, classical, and jazz. It sounds incredibly pleasing to the ear, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more harmonically solid sequence of chords.
C major: C-F-G
D♭ major: D♭-G♭-A♭
D major: D-G-A
E♭ major: E♭-A♭-B♭
E major: E-A-B
F major: F-B♭-C
F♯ major: F♯-A♯-C
G major: G-C-D
A♭ major: A♭-D♭-E♭
A major: A-D-E
B♭ major: B♭-E♭-F
B major: B-E-F♯
I-V-vi-IV[edit | edit source]
C major: C-G-Am-F
D♭ major: D♭-A♭-B♭m-G♭
D major: D-A-Bm-G
E♭ major: E♭-B♭-Cm-Ab
E major: E-B-C♯m-A
F major: F-C-Dm-B♭
F♯ major: F♯-C♯-D♯m-B
G major: G-D-Em-C
A♭ major: A♭-E♭-Fm-D♭
A major: A-E-F♯m-D
B♭ major: B♭-F-Gm-E♭
B major: B-F♯-G♯m-E
Modes[edit | edit source]
At the most basic level, modes are basically just different types of scales. The most common and familiar mode would be the Ionian mode which is another name for the major scales.
Modes are classified into two types: major and minor.
Major modes[edit | edit source]
There are 7 major modes. These modes can be broken down further into 2 groups: The brighter modes a major 3rd and the darker modes that have a minor 3rd.
|#||Mode name(s)||Degrees||Steps||Chord Compatibility||Notes|
|1||Ionian||1 2 3 4 5 6 7||W W H W W W H||△, 6, △7, △9, 6/9, △13||Has major 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th.
Improv on any diatonic chord and major chords.
|2||Dorian||1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 ♭7||W H W W W H W||Min, m7, m9, m11, m6, m6/9||Stacks of perfect 5ths; no tritones
Has a minor 3rd and perfect 5th, major 6th. Improv over a minor-1 (i) and major-4 (IV) which suggests haunting, uncertain, longing or sadness.
|3||Phrygian||1 ♭2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7||H W W W H W W||Min, m7||Has a minor 3rd and perfect 5th.
Use ♭2 as a passing tone as it causes dissonance with root. Improv over the i-iv-♭II-i chord progression.
|4||Lydian||1 2 3 #4 5 6 7||W W W H W W H||△, 6, △7, △9, 6/9, △13||The mode with a sharp 4.
Has major 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th. Improv on 1-chord and 2-chord.
|5||Mixolydian||1 2 3 4 5 6 ♭7||W W H W W H W||7, 9, 13, sus4||The mode with the flat 7.
Has major 2nd, 3rd, 6th. The flat 7 makes it ideal for dominant chords. Improv with the mixolydian scale using I-♭VII-IV. 4th is an avoid note (clashes with 3) but can be used to create tension that resolves to the major of the 4th. Similar to Lydian Dominant (but with a natural 4)
|6||Aeolian||1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7||W H W W H W W||Min, m7, m9, m11||Natural minor scale
Has a minor 3rd and perfect 5th. Do not use chord voicings containing ♮6 (such as m13, m6) Improv with minor-1 (i) and minor 4 (iv) chord.
|7||Locrian||1 ♭2 ♭3 4 ♭5 ♭6 ♭7||H W W H W W W||dim (°) triad, ø7, m11, ø11.||Only mode to contain a diminished 5th.
Improv over ø7-bII-♭ii
Melodic minor modes[edit | edit source]
Melodic minor modes are built from the jazz melodic minor scale. Note that the melodic minor scale used here is the 'jazz' version where it's the same keys ascending as descending (ie. a major scale with a minor third). This is unlike the classical version where there's a flat 6 only when descending (the natural minor scale, which is a mode of the major scale).
Overview of each mode is given in the table below.
|1||Jazz melodic minor scale||1 2 b3 4 5 6 7||Play this mode when used over: minor chords, min/maj7 chords|
|1 b2 b3 4 5 6 b7||phrygian chord; substitutes dom chord
Play this mode when used over: Dom7+susb9
|1 2 3 #4 #5 6 7||#5, hence augmented
Play this mode over: Maj
Lydian b7, Overtone scale
|1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7||Like Mixolydian but with a #4.
Play this mode when used over: Dom7+#11
Mixolydian b13 scale, Hindu scale
|1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7||use altered scale or whole tone scale instead
Play this mode when used over: dominant 7b13 chords (this type of usage is rarer)
Locrian ♮2 scale, Aeolian b5
|1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7||Play this mode when used over: m7b5 (ø) chords|
Super Locrian scale, Locrian b4 scale, Diminished Wholetone
|1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 b7||Use On: dominant chords with altered tensions, also see The Altered Scale|
In the case of C minor: Note that you can improve using the associated mode over the listed chord.
|#||Mode name||Degrees||Notes with Cm||Chord||Notes|
|1||Jazz melodic minor scale||1 2 b3 4 5 6 7||C D Eb F G A B||CmMaj7||improv this scale over <- chord|
|2||Dorian b2||1 b2 b3 4 5 6 b7||D Eb F G A B C||Dm7+b9
|3||Lydian Augmented||1 2 #4 #5 6 7||Eb F G A B C D||EbMaj7#5|
|4||Lydian Dominant||1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7||F G A B C D Eb||F7#11|
|5||Mixolydian b6||1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7||G A B C D Eb F||G7b13
|Rare. Use the altered scale or whole-tone scale with these chords rather than melodic minor scale.|
|6||Half Diminished||1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7||A B C D Eb F G||Am7b5|
|7||Altered Scale||1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 b7||B C D Eb F G A||Bm7b5
B7alt (root - b4 - b7)
Tips[edit | edit source]
Hand grips[edit | edit source]
The notes here are from Oliver Prehn (NewJazz)'s video on improvisation on all 12 keys. The idea here is to familiarize yourself with using a 3 finger hand grip to play all the different modes in all 12 keys.
The 3 finger hand grip for the right hand is created with:
- Your thumb on the base key
- Your 2nd finger on the minor 3rd and
- Your 3rd finger on the perfect 4th
The idea is to use this hand grip to lessen the mental load on determining which keys belong to which scale/modes to help improvisation.
Here are the different types of scales that were covered.
|Pentatonic||The G pentatonic:
||A simple pentatonic scale can be achieved by repeating the 3 finger hand grip once per scale.
Note the second position is one whole step above the previous note.
||The dorian mode can be played with this 3 finger hand grip by following the same principle as the pentatonic scale above.
You will have to repeat this again one whole step up in order to hit all the keys in the dorian mode.
||Use the same fingerings for all other keys. For example, we can shift everything up by a half step to get D♭ dorian.|
|Lydian||C lydian mode:
||Lydian mode can be done using the same hand grip but with different base locations.|
|C lydian mode using 5 fingers:
||You can also use a 5 finger hand grip (which the video calls the 'triad based grip') with 3 different positions.|
||Use the exact same fingering for other keys.|
|Minor blues scale||G minor blues scale:
||Like the pentatonic scale, but inject a chromatic step in the middle.|
|Major blues scale||G major blues scale:
C major blues scale:
|Same hand grip, but different location.
Note that the major blues scale doesn't start on the tonic note. Instead, we shift it down by a minor third so that our 2nd finger hits the tonic note.
To play all the different modes, you'll use the exact same 3 finger hand grip at different bases.
|Mode/Type||Example in C||Notes|
|Ionian||C Ionian. Bases are: D, A, E, B (2, 6, 3, 7)
Degrees, sorted are: 2, 3, 6, 7. Similar to Mixolydian
|Dorian||C Dorian. Bases are: C, G, D, A (1, 5, 2, 6)
Degrees, sorted are: 1, 2, 5, 6. Similar to Aeolian
|Phrygian||C Phrygian. Bases are: B♭, F, C, G (7, 4, 1, 5)
Degrees, sorted are: 1, 4, 5, 7. Similar to Locrian
|Lydian||C Lydian. Bases are: A, E, B, F♯ (6, 3, 7, 4)
Degrees, sorted are: 3, 4, 6, 7
|Mixolydian||C Mixolydian. Bases are: G, D, A, E (5, 2, 6, 3)
Degrees, sorted are: 2, 3, 5, 6. Similar to Ionian
|Aeolian||C Aeolian. Bases are: F, C, G, D (4, 1, 6, 2)
Degrees, sorted are: 1, 2, 4, 6. Similar to Dorian
|Locrian||C Locrian. Bases are: E♭, B♭, F, C (3, 7, 4, 1)
Degrees, sorted are: 1, 3, 4, 7. Similar to Phrygian
The same thing can also be done using the 5 finger hand grip. The modes below are ordered such that it shares at least one common degree with the previous mode.
|Mode/Type||Example in C||Notes|
|Ionian||C Ionian. Bases are: C, G, D (1, 5, 2)
Degrees, sorted are: 1, 2, 5. Similar to Mixo, Lydian
|Mixolydian||C Mixolydian. Bases are: F, C, G (4, 1, 5)
Degrees, sorted are: 1, 4, 5. Similar to Dorian, Ionian
|Dorian||C Dorian. Bases are: B♭, F, C (7, 4, 1)
Degrees, sorted are: 1, 4, 7. Similar to Aeolian, Mixo
|Aeolian||C Aeolian. Bases are: E♭, B♭, F (3, 7, 4)
Degrees, sorted are: 3, 4, 7. Similar to Dorian, Phrygian
|Phrygian||C Phrygian. Bases are: A♭, E♭, B♭ (6, 3, 7)
Degrees, sorted are: 3, 6, 7. Similar to Locrian, Aeolian
|Locrian||C Locrian. Bases are: D♭, A♭, E♭ (2, 6, 3)
Degrees, sorted are: 2, 3, 6. Similar to Lydian, Phrygian
|Lydian||C Lydian. Bases are: G, D, A (5, 2, 6)
Degrees, sorted are: 2, 5, 6. Similar to Ionian, Locrian
Stepwise hand grip
|Mode/Type||Example in C||Notes|
|Ionian||Bases are D and A (2 and 6th)|
|Dorian||Bases are C and G (1st and 5th)|
|Aeolian||Bases are C and F (1 and 4th)|
|Phrygian||Bases are F and B♭ (4 and 7th)|
|Locrian||Bases are E♭ and B♭ (3 and 7th)|
|Mixolydian||Bases are D and G (2 and 5th)|
|Lydian||Bases are E and A (3 and 6th)|
Left hand grips?
When practicing, you can play just the tonic/root note as an octave.
For more complex chords, you may try using this hand grip where the spacings between the 4 notes are 3-1-4:
. When combined with any other cords using the 5 finger grip above, you could get some very complex chords. Some examples:
|Mode/Type||Example (play as a chord)|
|C Lydian Augmented|
|C Lydian Dominant|
|C Aeolian Major|
|C Half diminished|
Shell chords[edit | edit source]
- Drop some notes from the chord while keeping the essence of the chord.
- Especially on lower registers.
- Try to keep the 3rd and 7th or a defining note of the chord (eg. 13th if that's what you're playing)
- Use inversions as needed to avoid jumping chords
Practice pieces[edit | edit source]
Practice tips when learning a new piece, (from How to Play Jazz Piano - Beginner to Advanced)
- Left hand 7th chords at root position on beat 1 and holding for the bar.
- Left hand 7th chords at root position & second inversion to get a smoother voice leading
- Create rhythmic interest by alternating by playing left hand 7th chords at beats 1 + 4 (or whatever sounds good?) rather than on the beat.
- Create a varying rhythm by comping the left hand chords.
- Replace the 7th chords with a walking bassline on every beat on left hand while continuing to playing the melody
- Add 7th chords with the right hand in between the melody
- Like #3 or #4 above, but with rootless chords in the left hand in between the melody.
- Like #5 with a walking bass line on every beat, but play the melody and rootless chords in between the melody with right hand.
- Two handed chords in between the melody and walking bassline.
Fly me to the moon[edit | edit source]
|Guide Tones (3rd / 7th)||C G||F C||B F||E B||E B♭||A E||D A||G♯ D||C# G|
|Rootless Chord + 9||C E G B||F A C E||B D F A||E G B D||E G B♭ D||A C E G||D F A C#||G♯ B D F♯||C# E G B|
|Quartal & Open Voice (L/R)||A D / C E G||A D / F A C||G D / B D F|
Autumn Leaves[edit | edit source]
|Guide Tones (3rd / 7th)||E♭ B♭||A E♭||D A||G D||C G||F♯ C||B♭ F|
|Rootless Chord + 9||E♭ G B♭ D||E♭ G A D||D F A C||D F G B♭||C E♭ G B♭||C E♭ F♯ A||B♭ D F A|
|Quartal & Open Voice (L/R)||C F / B♭ E♭ G||C F / A E♭ G||G C / F B♭ D||D G / C F A||E♭ A / D G C||E♭ A / D F#C||G D B♭ / C F A|
Rhythm: Vary the rhythm of the melody to make it swing and more syncopated. Start and end the melody on the off beat. Try to delay notes by half a beat.
When improvising, use the walking bass notes on the left hand and improvise using a mix of both the B♭ major scale and G blues scale on the right hand.
See also[edit | edit source]
- https://muted.io/cheat-sheet/ - Super helpful cheat sheet for chords and circle of fifths