Using Extensions

Question by Anonymous

Hi Marc-Andre,

In the lesson on this page: and first video…

The first progression, I , vi, ii, V in CMaj, it looks like you start on a CMaj9 rather then a CMaj7, I can’t figure out the second chord or the third chord, but they don’t look (or sound) like Am7 or Dm7 and the G7 looks different from what I’ve seen before as well.

What are these chords? And if they are substitutions, it would be really helpful to know what chords they are and why they work. I’m trying very hard to learn, but this confuses me.

Thank you so much for your lessons – much appreciated!


M-A’s Answer:

Hello John,

This is quite a nice question and I’m honestly surprised there’s nothing answering it throughout the website. I guess there’s a first to everything! (-:

So, the answer, in short: there’s no substitutions happening there. What I’m playing still sounds (yes) like Cmaj7-Am7-Dm7-G7. I’m not using “stock shapes” most of the time, but the basic chord-tones remain the same.

… so why isn’t that considered like substitutions?

If I had played a totally different chord, say play a Gb7(#11) instead of C major 7, then that’s a sub.

But if I’m playing Cmaj9 instead of Cmaj7, it’s still very “inside”… so NOT a substitution. The sounds you may not be used to are extensions. See this jazz guitar extensions finder page.

Here’s why it works:

In jazz, harmonic instruments are allowed to use appropriate extensions on virtually any chord. You will seldom hear truly experienced improvisers and accompanists play a C-E-G-B voicing when the chart says C major 7. Such guitarists / pianists / vibraphonists know how a C6/9 or a Cmaj13 sounds and use it accordingly.

Now, you may be thinking : “So you mean that what I’m learning is useless, and I should learn all chord shapes all over again?” Well, not really.

I strongly believe that jazz guitar knowledge kind of “piles up” on your basic foundation. You learn basic shapes first, then inversions and techniques for adding more extensions. You may also learn about voice leading, counterpoint and contemporary harmony… and finally, you find yourself having a wide array of tools at your disposal to accompany (others or yourself in improvisation). You can make more mature choices and simply add to the natural beauty of a song’s chord progression.

In short, by equipping yourself with more harmonic knowledge, you find more creative ways of dealing with a simple I-VI-II-V. Beginners will find this progression boring… I think it’s fantastic and I can play on it for hours (as you can see in the video).

There’s also a crucial aspect to my comping that you may not be necessarily used to hearing when you’re practicing: melody. Since I’m not using “stock shapes”, I’m accompanying by thinking of the highest not of my voicing (whatever note this might be) and then using a chord underneath to harmonize it.

So, basically I’m comping on the progression with a long tone melody and add spice with chord chunks… and interesting rhythms (hopefully). I try to make one chord go into the next one seamlessly most of the time also.

This is an approach I got from Ted Greene, Ed Bickert and other guys. It was also first introduced to me by Gary Schwartz, a local player / teacher and a good friend of mine.

So, all of the above being said and done, what can you do about it? I prepared a PDF for you. It’s only about a page of possible C major chord shapes, extensions and inversions. Just a little “sampler”…

I did NOT notate rhythms, as this would be the subject of an entire book. Simply take the voicings you like, play around with them and make it swing.

There exist systematic ways of adding extensions and finding inversions and I cannot cover this in a single article… the best way to go about is playing actually written (or recorded) examples of all of this stuff.

So, I strongly recommend you get books such as the Barry Galbraith ( volume 3 , green color), The Chord Khancepts book, the Randy Vincent Books and perhaps Ted Greene’s Modern Chord Progressions for further reading and study.

I hope this helps,

Please, let me know if you have any questions (by email or by commenting on this thread here at the bottom of the page…)

Marc-Andre Seguin

PDF: Exploring C major Jazz Guitar Voicings

Old Comments for Using Extensions

Nov 30, 2011
by: Marc-Andre Seguin (admin)

Hey John,

Thanks for the nice feedback.

I just thought of (yet another) something that you check out : I created a video called “Turn Your Chords Into Chord Melody”

I discuss separating the melody note from the rest of the chord (like I was saying “harmonizing the top note” within the chord progression).

I hope this can add a little to my rambling answer. (-:

Nov 30, 2011
Merci beaucoup!
by: John

Tres bon Marc-Andre! What a great explanation and response.

Much gratitude to you for sharing so much.

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