Voice Leading and Dominant Chords

Voice Leading and Dominant Chords

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Lyman Lipke here, again. Today we’re going to be looking at a few dominant chords that pair well with the minor 7 chords we looked at last time. If you need a reminder on what those chords are and how they can be used, feel free to refer to my last post. If you feel comfortable with those chords, we can move on.

Now, the reason we’re looking at dominant chords today, is so we can contextualize them in a ii-V-I. In my post “Easy Chord Voicings for Jazz Guitar” we looked at the ii-V-I-VI, which is pretty much the same thing, we’re just disregarding that VI chord, which turns us back around to the ii chord. Let’s go a little bit more in depth with the ii-V-I.

Here are the notes in each chord in root position in the key of F:
F  Bb E
D  G C
Bb E  A
G  C F

Now, if we were to play those chords, as written in root position, they wouldn’t sound too coherent. We need voice leading.

“Voice leading is the linear progression of individual melodic lines and their interaction with one another to create harmonies, typically in accordance with the principles of common-practice harmony and counterpoint.” -Wikipedia, I think.

My takeaway from that, is when we’re playing chords, we’re trying to move the necessary voices as efficiently as possible in a melodic way.

To put this in to context, let’s disregard all the roots and 5ths, and we the notes that define the harmonic quality.

F  Bb E

Bb E  A

Now, if we simply swap the position of the E and Bb in C7 we get:

F > E—-E

Bb–Bb > A  

The F in Gm7 resolves down to E, creating an unstable interval called a tritone with the Bb, then the Bb resolves down to A, creating a nice perfect 5th, and brings us back home to our F chord. Those close movements between the notes that define the harmony are what we’re looking for. With that in mind, let’s learn some chord voicings. These are dominant chords that play well and voice lead nicely with our drop 2 minor 7 voicings we learned a couple weeks ago.

This one has quite a bit of movement. Our dominant chord here contains E and Bb, the 3rd and 7th of C, along with the #9 and the #5, built 3 b7 #9 #5. I chose those alterations only because those voices are a nice bridge between Gm7 and Fmaj9.

Every single note changes for each voice in this example, but there’s not too much physical movement, as far as the left hand is concerned. And the first and last voicings are the same shape. If you’re wondering why this is considered an F chord rather than Am7, refer to my last post. I touch on that a little bit there. Our dominant chord is built b7 1 3 13.

For the next example, I used some contrary motion. Having one of the inner voices move downwards, while the top voice moves upwards. Our dominant chord here is built from b7 3 5 #9. The major chord here is much like a Dm7 (which is the same as F6, refer to last article), but we change the D note on top to an E note, which gives us a drop 2 Fmaj7 voicing, or a Dm9 voicing.

Our last example is just a straight diminished chord. The nice thing about diminished chords is that they’re symmetrical. They’re built by stacking minor 3rds, and if you move the entire voicing up or down a minor 3rd (read 3 frets) they will contain the same notes. Our dominant voicing here is built b9 5 b7 3. If you can find a 3 5 b7 or b9 of any dominant chord, you can build any diminished chord from that note to get a rootless 7b9 chord.

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This is a relevant meme format right?

One more example I wanted to touch on is this one. Our dominant chord is a rootless C9 voicing. It’s built 3 b7 9 5. This four note chord has the same notes as Gm6 (built 6 b3 b7 1) as well as Em7b5 (built 1 b5 b7 b3). This is just one example, but each drop 2 minor 7 voicing has corresponding minor 6 chord. This can be found by finding the voice that contains the b7 in the chord, and moving it down one half step. Your extra credit assignment is to find all of the corresponding minor 6 chords on your own.

If you complete that extra credit assignment, we have tons of options to play ii-V-I progressions. Even without bonus example, we have enough to sound relatively fresh over a tune. Or at least like you know more than two voicings for each “jazz” chord. Next time, we’ll finally take a look at some lines, using the scales and the notes. Happy practicing.

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