Dominant Chord - Jazz Harmony

Dominant Chord

Part 4: Altered – Mixolydian b13 b9

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 b13th AND b9th what?!

This heavy and dark dominant color has 2-note difference when compared to the straight-ahead mixo: the 6th (13) AND the 9th (2) degrees are flat. It sounds sort of “arabic” and middle-eastern or even oriental. It’s often called Harmonic Minor of Destination (HMD) or even Phrygian Dominant.

As we already know, the dominant is usually built on the fifth degree of a scale. In the present case, the scale/chord must be built on the fifth degree of the harmonic minor scale.

C harmonic minor scale contains the same notes as G mixolydian b9 b13 scale:

Dominant Chord

In brief: By playing the C harmonic minor (C D Eb F G Ab B) but starting on G (G Ab B C D Eb F), we get that infamous G mixolydian b13 b9 (or “Harmonic minor of Destination”) sound ! See the “destination” is C harmonic minor because G7(b9 b13) is the dominant that creates tension and resolves back to it.

We sometimes call it “Phrygian Dominant” because it has the characteristic of a phrygian mode (the flat 9) and it’s a dominant chord / sound. Simple enough?

A Closer Look

If we go in a bit deeper and take the mixolydian b13 b9 scale apart and build it back we’ll find…

The scales degrees1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7

Dominant Chord

(as compared to a G major scale, the A is flat, the E is flat and the F natural… thus we use “flat 2”, “flat 6” and “flat 7” to qualify those tones)

Vertical chord tones1 3 5 b7 b9 11 b13 

Dominant Chord

Notice how the Eb and Ab alterations are b6 = b13 and b2 = b9. It’s still the same thing!

Learning Mixolydian b13 b9

Use practice suggestions on the introduction page to learn the basic mixolydian b9 b13 dominant chord sound. And here’s some more stuff to think about.

On the Guitar, in Positions:

Attempt to learn harmonic minor in positions and start on the fifth degree. Positions are awkward in harmonic minor as there’s no set recurring “motif”, you always have to cut corners somewhere. For example, G mixolydian b9 b13 comes from C harmonic minor, so here’s G mixolydian b13 b9 based on the “52” position of C harmonic minor scale:

Dominant Chord

No arpeggios here. It’s yours to explore. With more and more alterations, you could just play the regular “1 3 5 b7” arp… and add notes on top (b9, 11, b13) to outline the characteristic notes of the chord/scale. The b13 and b9 are unique to that chord. Choosing “chord defining” notes is a great way of outlining different chord types when playing those “modified arpeggios”. (See previous articles.)

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 “harmonic minor of destination” 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. So, simply read this diagonal playing article and find your own way(s). If you read this far into Part 4, you know what you should be doing. 😉

Applying Mixolydian b13 b9

In jazz music, the greatest opportunity to use that sound is when resolving to a minor chord. You can aim to use V(b13 b9) when playing on minor II-V’s. That’ll keep ya busy for a while!

Outside of the minor II-V’s, you could also learn to apply this Mixo b13 b9 sound on “regular” major II-V-I on the V chord. It’s a little dramatic, but oh-so-spicy for jazz. Everyone does it! The sound projected is almost like “minor to major”, because you’ll be “aiming” at the harmonic minor of destination then supllying a proper resolution to major. The flat 9 is your friend, that’s for sure.

And lastly, it’s a good idea to play on this dominant chord sound when vamping or over a drone. See how it sounds when it’s “static”. You can take your time and hear all the tensions within. One last note: I find that this Mixo b13 b9 sound is less specific and more “generic”. There’s not one person, one era or specific tunes that I can think of that are idiomatic of that sound: I simply find it everywhere I look for it!

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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