Dominant Chord - Jazz Harmony

Dominant Chord

Part 3: Slightly Altered – Mixolydian #11

The dominant chord provides movement in tonal music: its tendency to resolve (aka “to go somewhere else”) is very strong. It has an even stronger harmonic pull when the seventh is added on top of it.

The dominant seventh is used most of the time in jazz music. If you look at sheet music or in fakebooks, dominant seventh chords have “just a number” so to speak : they’re identified with “7” (or “7th”), “9”, “7(b9)”, “13” or “13(b9)” and “dom7” and so on.

In this series we will look into the most common colors for the dominant chord. I like to approach them by their respective sound, starting with the most consonant and moving towards more alterations of the basic sound

Please note: All examples will use a G dominant chord throughout this article series. I chose this key because it resolves back to a C (which the basic key of reference … or “the people’s key” as a good friend likes to call it!) Good old C major.

Jump to a page:

Dominant Chords Introduction
Dominants Part 1: The Basic Sound – Mixolydian
Dominants Part 2: Mixolydian with a flat 13th
Dominants Part 3: Mixolydian with a sharp 11th
Dominants Part 4: Mixolydian with a flat 13th and a flat 9th
Dominants Part 5: Super Locrian (aka altered scale aka Dim Whole-Tone)

Mixo #11th what?!

This crunchier dominant color, often called Lydian Dominant, is slightly altered when compared to the straight-ahead mixo: the 4th degree (i.e. the 11th) is sharp. It sounds like it “tickles” a little bit… and it is definitely Thelonious Monk-ish.

As we already know, the dominant is usually built on the fifth degree of a scale. Here’s it’s simply not: the mixolydian #11 mode (scale) is built on the FOURTH degree of the melodic minor scale.

D melodic minor scale contains the same notes as G mixolydian #11 scale:

Dominant Chord

In brief: By playing the D melodic minor (D E F G A B C#) but starting on G (G A B C# D E F), we get that infamous G mixolydian #11 (or Lydian Dominant) sound! We call it “Lydian Dominant” because it has the characteristic of a lydian mode (sharp eleven) and it’s a dominant chord/sound (flat seven).

Not so bad, right?

A Closer Look

If we go in a bit deeper and take the mixolydian #11 scale apart and build it back we’ll find…

The scales degrees1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7

Dominant Chord

As compared to a G major scale, the C is sharp and the F natural… thus we use “sharp 4” and “flat 7” to qualify those tones.

Vertical chord tones1 3 5 b7 9 #11 13 

Dominant Chord

Notice how C# can be called a #4 or a #11… it’s the same thing!

Learning Mixolydian #11

Use practice suggestions on the introduction page to learn the basic mixolydian #11 dominant chord sound. And here’s some more stuff to think about.

On the Guitar, in Positions:

Take any of the seven positions of melodic minor and start on the fourth degree; it’s that simple again! For example, G mixolydian #11 comes from D melodic minor… so here’s G mixolydian #11 based on the “54” position of D melodic minor scale:

Dominant Chord

Notice I didn’t use a regular “1 3 5 b7” arp… Here I used an arpeggio that outlines the characteristic notes of the chord: 1, 3, #4 and b7. The #4th is unique to that chord… not the 5th. Choosing “chord defining” notes is a great way of outlining different chord types.

You can, of course, also practice arpeggios that go up to the 9th, the #11th and the 13th etc. and some inversions (and/or all of the above mixed-up!) And all of that in many positions.

On the Guitar, Diagonally:

This is much more subjective, it depends on the player and situation. There are many ways in which I would play that dominant chord mixolydian #11 scale and arpeggio. On two octaves diagonally, on three octaves diagonally (with finger slides when necessary). I would also find fingerings that are partly in position and partly in diagonal that work well for me.

I won’t give any real demonstration here. I’ve given plenty of examples on this website already. Simply read this diagonal playing article and find your own way(s). So, once again, the fingerings for diagonal playing are not “set in stone”: a few useful sets of fingerings exist. Practice arpeggios that go up to the 9th and above with your own favorite fingerings.

Applying Mixolydian #11 (Contexts)

In jazz music, we hear this sound in many different context. On the top of my head, I’m thinking of a few examples…

1- When the harmony goes to IV7 … it’s a dominant chord built on the fourth and sounds like Mixo #11. You hear “I major” right before (I’m thinking of the tune “On a Clear Day”). Sometimes, it’s clearly Mixo #11 if you have a “I minor” chord followed by IV dominant.

2- When ending a tonic minor tune on IV. Often, the chord is dom7th(#11). You’re in the key of A minor throughout the song and suddenly the last chord is … D7(#11). Sounds super modern and cool.

3- As part of a “backdoor progression”. It’s more natural to play Bb7(#11) to C. Without the #11, you get an Eb note. See “What is a Backdoor?” in the “No non-sense guides …”

4- In general, when it’s a non-resolving dominant chord.

Misspelling #11 for b5

Our friend, the #11 (or #4) sound is often misspelled “b5” on lead sheets. Remember that the #4 and b5 are enharmonic equivalents (C# = Db, the same exact note) but they have different functions:

On a dominant #11, there IS a 5th (and it’s natural)

…on a dominant b5, there IS NO natural 5th. This is the “rule” of nomenclature.

This was either by mistake (or ignorance) but it is widespread in fakebooks. Whenever you see a dom7(b5), ask yourself if the real intent of the composer was to hear a Lydian Dominant. Sometimes, it easy to find out, sometimes not.

In fact the whole “fun” of the Mixo #11 lies in the crunch happening (a major second interval mind you) between the 3rd and the #11. It tickles your bones a little bit, you know?! It’s a “blue note” that’s already part of the chord instead of being added.

So, how to apply?

While keeping the practice suggestions from the introductory page, I would suggest that you try to find instances where the music sort of dictates that type of sound. Start with my list above to find example. The improvise lots on it to get the sound in your ears.

Another suggestion is to learn a few Thelonious Monk tunes, he really made the dominant #11 sound stand out in his writing (see the tunes “Played Twice”, “Pannonica”, “Round Midnight”, “Straight no Chaser”, “I Mean You”)… In fact, a great thing to do is to get a bunch of Monk’s recording and get the Thelonious Monk Fakebook. Learn the tunes you like. (-:

Thelonious Monk Fake Book

Have Fun!

Jump to a page:

Dominant Chords Introduction
Dominants Part 1: The Basic Sound – Mixolydian
Dominants Part 2: Mixolydian with a flat 13th
Dominants Part 3: Mixolydian with a sharp 11th
Dominants Part 4: Mixolydian with a flat 13th and a flat 9th
Dominants Part 5: Super Locrian (aka altered scale aka Dim Whole-Tone)

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