When learning how to play jazz guitar, one of the most common chords and chordal colors that jazz guitarists explore in their practice routines is the Dominant 7th family of chords.
One of the great things about Dominant 7th chords is that there is a plethora of alterations that you can apply to them in both a comping and improvisational context.
With options varying from one note, such as 7b9 or 7#11, to several notes, 7b9#11 or 7#9#5, to the all-out altered sound, 7(b9,#9,b5,#5), 7th chords provide countless combinations of alterations for you to explore as a jazz guitarist.
Because of the variety of alterations available to you, it can sometimes seem overwhelming when it comes time to practice and apply these options to 7th chords in a practical situation.
One of the best ways to organize your thoughts on this subject is to simplify things in the practice room, focus on one alteration at a time and really get it under your fingers and in your ears before moving on to the next alteration on your list.
In this article, we will be looking at one easy and fun way to alter any Dominant 7th chords by making it into a 7b9 sound using a diminished arpeggio based off of the third of the chord.
If this sounds complex right now, don’t worry, we’ll walk through it together below as we check out how the diminished arpeggio relates to the 7th chord, how you can practice it over a ii-V-I progression and how you can apply it to licks and phrases in your own improvisations.
If you want to learn more about jazz guitar arpeggios, including common ways to finger them on the guitar, please check out the Jazz Guitar Arpeggios Resource Page on my website.
Got a question or comment about this lesson? Visit the 7b9 Arpeggios for Jazz Guitar thread in the MWG Forum.
The first thing we will check out is the R-3-5-b7 arpeggio for a G7 chord, which you can see below.
You can apply this fingering to any tonic by moving it around the neck, but for the purposes of this lesson we’ll stick with G7 as the basis for our explorations of the 7b9 sound.
As you practice this arpeggio, if you aren’t already familiar with it, keep track of the chord tones that you are playing.
Know where the roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths are as you play up and down the arpeggio.
This knowledge will come in handy as we alter this fingering in the next section to produce a 7b9 sound.
In order to make a 7th chord a 7b9 chord on the guitar, all we have to do is alter 2 notes in the arpeggio we just learned.
Keeping the lowest note in place to have one root in the chord, you will then raise the 2nd and 3rd tonic notes, G in this case, by one fret in order to change them from being a root to being a b9 interval against the tonic.
Notice how the chord retains its Dominant 7th sound, but that there is a bit of added tension now that you have added in the b9 interval on the 4th and 1st strings.
The b9 interval can be used to create added tension in your lines over a 7th chord, that you can either resolve while still on that 7th chord, or resolve it over the next chord in the progression.
As well, if you look at the notes of the new arpeggio starting on the 3rd of G and stopping on the b9, you will see that it forms a Bdim7 arpeggio.
Because of this, you can use that as a reference when applying this concept to other chords and musical situations.
The rule that you just learned is:
“Any time you want to alter a 7th chord with a 7b9 sound, play a dim7 arpeggio starting on the 3rd of that chord.”
That’s it. Pretty easy to remember and to apply to your own playing in many different situations.
As an exercise, try putting on a G7 vamp using Band in a Box or recording yourself playing the chords, then improvise over the vamp switching between the G7 and G7b9 arpeggios to see how each sounds over the harmony as well as next to each other in your improvisation.
You can use this formula to turn and 7th arpeggio you know into a 7b9 sound.
Just keep the lowest note as a root, then raise any other tonic notes in the arpeggio by one fret and you’ve transformed that shape from a 7 to 7b9 sound.
Click to download the Audio File for this example.
Now that you have worked on an isolated 7b9 sound, you can take it to common progressions such as ii-V-I-VI.
In this example, you can see how I used the Dm7 (iim7) arpeggio to connect to the 3rd of G7b9.
Then I used the b9 of G7b9 (V7b9) to connect to the fifth of Cmaj7.
Finally using the 7th of Cmaj7 (Imaj7) to connect to the b9 of A7b9 (VI7b9).
This type of half-step movement is called voice leading, which is in its simplest form the use of small intervals to move from one chord to the next.
Click to view a video lesson on voice leading for jazz guitar.
Feel free to take this exercise into different positions of the neck, into different keys and finally into tunes that you know or are working on.
Mike Stern is a huge fan of practicing chord tones like this over chord progressions, and though you might not hear it in his playing on the surface, this understanding of chord tones is the foundation of a lot of what Mike plays in his solos.
Click to download the Audio File for this example.
With the arpeggio under your fingers and after checking out the chord tone exercise above, you’re ready to take this concept out and give it a try during an improvised solo.
This last example is a little lick I put together using the 7b9 sound over the G7 and A7 chords in the ii-V-I-VI progression in C major.
After checking this lick out, try coming up with your own lines using this concept, and then try and put it into one of your solos on the fly.
The 7b9 alteration is a cool sound and an important one for any jazz guitarist to check out. It’s a fun and relatively easy way to bring color and tension to your Dominant 7th soloing ideas, without learning any new concepts, you simply alter an arpeggio you already know to produce this sound.
What do you think about adding b9 intervals to your 7th chord soloing ideas? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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