Mark Levine: The Jazz Theory Book

Jazz Theory

Chord Construction – Part 4
Diatonic Chords

On this page you’ll find chord construction for the structure that “lives” within three common scales: major, harmonic minor and melodic minor. Of course, each scale contains seven notes and hosts one chord on every degree… thus creating 21 chords on this jazz theory page.

If you don’t read music (“notes” on the staff) and if you’ve never encountered any music theory in the past, this is a good place to start. Go slow, read on and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

In the course of this jazz theory article series about chord construction, you’ll find music theory info about triads and seventh chords, how to add extensions, chord equivalents, diatonic chords and finally a neat theoretical process to understand what extensions are “allowed” on jazz chords.

My goal here is to have you realize that you already know thousands of chords. (that is, if you already play a little bit) Why? Well, since any single chord can be put to use in many different contexts, it’s not a matter of learning more chords… it’s only a matter of finding more USES for the ones you already know! (-:

Jump to a page:

Chord Construction 1: Triads and Sevenths
Chord Construction 2: Adding Extensions
Chord Construction 3: Equivalents
Chord Construction 4: Chords from three scales [You’re Here]

Addendum: The “Chord Extensions Finder” Technique

 

Generalities

  • Triad Types: harmonizing the major, melodic minor and harmonic minor scales in triads (3-note chords) will yeld the four triad types… Major, minor, diminished and augmented triads.
  • 7th Chord Types: harmonizing the three above scales up to the 7th (4-note chords) will yeld only 7 different *7th chord types*…
    Maj7, Min7, Dom7, Min7(b5), Maj7(#5), Dim7, Min(maj7)Which is to say that some of the possibilities we saw in the first intsallment of this jazz theory series actually exist… BUT NOT into our commonly used scales. *Only* 7 types of 7th chords are needed for this foundation.
  • Up to the 13th: To analyze them in regard to what MODES they produce (see scale construction articles) we will build the chords “up to the 13th” (1 3 5 7 9 11 13) just to see the true identity of each. At this point we will (sadly) have 21 completely independent and unique-sounding 13th chords.Don’t be scared! This all makes a lot of sense when you study chords, arpeggios and scales at the same time. It comes to be all the “same jazz theory” in your mind. (-:
  • We’ll harmonic everything in the key of C for simplicity and demonstration purposes.
  • If you’re unclear as to what these chord types mean, please go back to previous instalments of this jazz theory article series.

 

Chords From the Major Scale

Little Refresher: the major scale is C D E F G A B or in “formula,” simply 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.

Harmonization in triads: plain and simple! We have major triads on I, IV and V. Minor triads on ii, iii and vi. And ONE diminished triad on vii. In the key of C:

Jazz Theory: Diatonic Triads
Triads in C major Scale

 

In seventh chords: fairly easy once again. We have major7 on I, IV. Minor7 on ii, iii and vi. Dominant7 on V … and our exception once again, the min7(b5) (aka “half-diminished”) on vii. In the key of C:

Jazz Theory: Diatonic Chords in Major
7th Chords in C Major Scale

 

Major Scale: Chords “Up to the 13th”

PROCESS: In order to harmonize chords “up to the 13th” let’s discuss jazz theory nomenclature quickly. The problem is often “How am I going to NAME that chord?!” On this website, we’ll be sticking to an obvious and straight-forward guideline:

  • Write the basic triad name and add the highest non-altered extension degree (either 7, 9, 11 or 13) besides it. Then write all the altered notes (b5, b9, and so on) in between parenthesis besides the chord symbol.

Also, think about this: every chord harmonized up to the 13th contains seven notes and thus represents the entire scale… Each new chord contains the exact same seven notes BUT starts on a different root. So, in brief, every 13th chord conveys exactly one mode. More on this in jazz theory articles about scale construction…

Up to the 13th: Crazy jazz theory!

Jazz Theory: Diatonic 13th Chords in Major
13th Chords in C Major Scale

 

Examining the jazz theory behind each formula, chord-by-chord (by relating back to each chord’s own root):

  • C major 13: 1 3 5 7 9 11 13. Without any trouble makers. Contains NO alteration obviously. The “perfect” chord, so to speak. Ionian mode.
  • D minor 13: 1 b3 5 b7 9 11 13. The only alterations are the third and seventh to make it a minor quality and minor modality. Reflects the Dorian mode.
  • E minor 11 (b13, b9): 1 b3 5 b7 b9 11 b13. Minor quality, minor modality with both b9 and b13. This is the most gentle of the weird chords. It conveys the Phrygian mode.
  • F major 13 (#11): 1 3 5 7 9 #11 13. This is only one note away from the major scale. The #11 makes it sort of “airy” and “dreamy”. It’s the Lydian mode.
  • G13: 1 3 5 b7 9 11 13. This is the “perfect dominant” so to speak, no alteration. Pure Mixolydian mode.
  • Am11(b13): 1 b3 5 b7 9 11 b13. Easy to hear “modal” minor scale (also called the natural minor scale). Reflects Aeolian mode.
  • Bm11(b13, b9, b5): 1 b3 b5 b7 b9 11 b13. Three “ouch” alterations present; this is very close to being a completely altered chord (11th is the exception). Locrian mode.

To further understand 13th chords, please also see the modes explained on the “Scale Construction – Part 3” page…

 

Chords From the Melodic Minor Scale

Little Refresher: the melodic minor scale is C D Eb F G A B or in “formula,” simply 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7.

In triads: We have minor triads on i and ii. Major triads on IV and V. Diminished triads on vi and vii. AND the exception is an augmented triad on bIII. In the key of C:

Jazz Theory: Diatonic triads in melodic minor
Triads in C Melodic Minor Scale

 

In seventh chords: Interesting! Two dominant chords in a row (IV and V) and then two m7(b5) chords in a row (vi and vii). In the key of C:

Jazz Theory: Diatonic chords in melodic minor
7th Chords in C Melodic Minor Scale

 

Melodic Minor Scale: Chords “Up to the 13th”

Up to the 13th: Crazy jazz theory!

Jazz Theory: Diatonic 13th chords in melodic minor
13th Chords in C Melodic Minor Scale

 

Examining the jazz theory behind each formulas, chord-by-chord (by relating back to each chord’s own root):

  • C minor 13 (major 7): 1 b3 5 7 9 11 13. Only the third is flat. The “perfect” minor chord, so to speak. That’s melodic minor.
  • D minor 13 (b9): 1 b3 5 b7 b9 11 13. Another “not so bad” evil chord… only the b9 raises the eyebrows. Could be called Dorian with a flat 9.
  • Eb major 13 (#11 #5): 1 3 #5 7 9 #11 13. This has a very “hyper” sound for a chord because of the sharps. It’s sometimes referred to as Lydian Augmented.
  • F13 (#11): 1 3 5 b7 9 #11 13. Simply put, a “perfect” dominant with only one alteration. Sometimes called Lydian Dominant…
  • G11(b13): 1 3 5 b7 9 11 b13. Another very pure dominant with just one alteration. Often called Mixolydian flat 13…
  • Am11(b13, b5): 1 b3 b5 b7 9 11 b13. A chord often used in outlining the “II” chord in a minor II-V-I situation. Sometimes called Aeolian b13 OR Locrian with a natural 9th.
  • Bm7(b13,b11,b9,b5): 1 b3 b5 b7 b9 b11 b13. This is starting to look really bad. Most often used as a dominant and called “the altered scale”. Conveys the super Locrian mode.

To further understand 13th chords, please see also the modes explained on the “Scale Construction – Part 4” page…

 

Chords From the Harmonic Minor Scale

Little Refresher: the harmonic minor scale is C D Eb F G Ab B or in “formula,” simply 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7.

In triads: We have minor triads on i and iv. Major triads on V and bVI. Diminished triads on ii and vii and still the augmented triad on bIII. In the key of C:

Jazz Theory: Diatonic triads in harmonic minor
Triads in C Harmonic Minor Scale

 

In seventh chords: This is getting crazy because every chord is of a different type. Examine, study and reflect. In the key of C:

Jazz Theory: Diatonic chords in harmonic minor
7th Chords in C Harmonic Minor Scale

 

Harmonic Minor Scale: Chords “Up to the 13th”

Up to the 13th: Crazy jazz theory!

Jazz Theory: Diatonic 13th chords in harmonic minor
13th Chords in C Harmoinc Minor Scale

 

Examining the jazz theory behind each formula, chord-by-chord (by relating back to each chord’s own root):

  • C minor 11 (maj7)(b13): 1 b3 5 7 9 11 b13. Only the third and sixth are flat. That’s harmonic minor. Not often used as a chord.
  • D minor 13 (b9 b5): 1 b3 b5 b7 b9 11 13. Could be called “Dorian b9 b5” or even “Locrian Natural 13.” Doesn’t make much sense.
  • Eb major 13 (#5): 1 3 #5 7 9 11 13. The only chord in this scale that gets “LESS crazy” from the alterations. Often used (remember the last chord in “James Bond Theme”?)
  • Fm13 (#11): 1 b3 5 b7 9 #11 13. Hard to describe. Can be referred to as “Dorian #11” but doesn’t make much sense.
  • G11(b13 b9): 1 3 5 b7 b9 11 b13. Used all the time both as a chord and scale. “Harmonic Minor of Destination” or often called Mixolydian flat 13 flat 9…
  • Abmaj13(#11, #9): 1 3 5 7 #9 #11 13. Just the thought of a #9 on a major chord makes me shiver! Nevertheless, this is employed in jazz from the past 30 years. We could say “Lydian #9”
  • B WHAT?!?: 1 b3 b5 bb7 b9 b11 b13. This chord is hard to name because every note is altered AND the 7th is doubly altered! Thinking of the bb7 as a 6 (enharmonic relationship) we could call this Bm6(b13 b11 b9 b5) … but I don’t think there’s hope! (-:

To further understand 13th chords, please also see the modes explained on the “Scale Construction – Part 4” page…

 

Applications

That’s it for this installment of Jazz Theory: Chord Construction! Please do not worry if you cannot grasp everything at once. Learning jazz theory (and learning with your ears) is a lifelong endeavour. Simply make sure you come back here often. (-;

For now, see if you can play the basic 7th chords in drop-2 and drop-3 voicings in those three scales. You can also check out how to approach those “crazy jazz theory” 13ths “as complete arpgeggios” in this article and how to tame them down to be simple triads and seventh chord arpeggios in this article.

 

Jump to a page:

Chord Construction 1: Triads and Sevenths
Chord Construction 2: Adding Extensions
Chord Construction 3: Equivalents
Chord Construction 4: Chords from three scales [You’re Here]

Addendum: The “Chord Extensions Finder” Technique

2 thoughts on “Jazz Theory

  1. Thanks for the info. It’s great i am studying the book Jazz Harmony by Andy Jaffe. It mentions the Extensions of the chords of the Major scale and which extensions are dissonant tones in relation to the actual chord. For instance for the Major scale the first chord CM13 has a dissonant or avoid note which is the 11th. I am trying to find info that explains the avoid notes in the relative, melodic and harmonic minor. Would you happen to know where to find that or how to figure it out. Thanks so much. Vivian

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