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JAZZ THEORY (BeBop Drills)

The Jazz Sub-Dominant Chord - II-7

Throughout the centuries musicians have organized harmonic changes into three basic categories. Chords of rest and resolution are called tonic chords, and the Imaj7 chord we have been studying functions this way in Bebop. Chords of tension are chords which create harmonic momentum through dissonance and placement within a progression, and are called dominant chords. The chord we will examine here falls into the middle ground, which identifies chords of movement as sub-dominant.

Bebopís principle sub-dominant chord is the II-7, the minor seventh chord built from the second degree of a major scale. The example we will use is C-7, II-7 in the key of Bb major. In many cases the extensions of a chord must be altered to fit the function of the chord with 'allowable' tensions. II-7 allows us to extend naturally through the key. The chord tones C - Eb - G - Bb extend to the tensions D - F - A [9 - 11 - 13], all diatonic to Bb.

To perform the drills, first fix the tonal center of the chord [not the key] is your consciousness by playing or singing the root (C in our example). Those who can should continue to sound the root for the duration of the drill for that chord. Next find the lowest possible chord tone or tension and ascend, as in 1-b3-5-b7-9-11-13-1 etc. (C - Eb - G - Bb - D - F - A - C - etc., for C-7). *Remember that chord formulas are in comparison to parallel major scales, so even though the chord C-7 is II-7 in Bb major, the analysis, or chord formula, is in comparison to a C major scale.* Once you have reached the highest point possible, descend in the reverse order to your starting point. Then find the chord tone or tension in between the first two notes you played, and ascend and descend in the same fashion. Play each minor seventh chord this way through the cycle of fifths [C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, F#, B, E, A, D, G]. String players should do this exercise one string at a time, piano players use two hands in octaves.

Some confusion surrounds the relationship between chords and scales, in regards to modes. Many would be tempted to name the scale applied to C-7 a C Dorian scale, a mode relative to Bb major. In Bebop the difference is critical, for modes are scales with different tonal centers than their parent scales, which means our C-7 chord would become a I-7 chord in C Dorian, and would be a chord of resolution, not movement. Bebop uses the system of functional harmony discussed above exclusively, and looks for overall tonal centers, not temporary ones. To learn to play in the Bop sound, we must hear the chord tones and tensions in relation to the root of the chord, but we must hear the effect of the chord in the key to which it will eventually resolve. As always, use your ears and happy drilling! [top]
- Frank Singer ©2002

I originally learned these concepts from Charlie Banacos, private instructor.



The Language of BeBop
The Use of Tensions 1
The Use of Tensions 2 
The Use of Tensions 3 
The Jazz Sub-Dominant Chord - II-7 
The Jazz Dominant Chord - V7  
The II-7 V7 Progression - II V series  
The Key of the Moment  
"Watch out for those chromatics!"    
Ear Training  


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