A guide to help you become a better student of the resophonic guitar

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chords--Part 3: The Transition Chords

Welcome | Contents

I'll wrap up my discussion of chords in this third section on transition chords:
  • Dominant 7th
  • Dominant 9th
  • Diminished
And, as a special bonus, I will discuss that tricky little chord in the scale that I have refused to discuss up to now.

The transition chords have an inherent tension in them--they're nice to listen to, but in general you don't want to hang on them for long periods of time (yes, yes, I know the blues players will disagree, especially about the dominant 7th). For example, if you're barreling along in a jam on G and the leader changes to a G7, wake up! You're probably a half-measure from changing chords.

Dominant 7th

The most common transition chord is the dominant 7th--the one people mean when they say "the seventh." Here is its pattern in the Nashville numbering system:

1, 3, 5, b7

The pattern starts with the major chord of the root note and adds a flatted 7.

So a G7 is G, B, D, F.  (Remember from my chapter on color chords that G, B, D, F#--the major plus the 7th note in the scale-- is called "G major 7"). When people say just "G seven" they are referring to the G dominant 7th.

On the Dobro, you can play the dominant 7 by fretting the first string three frets higher than the barred version of the chord.

Here is a simple G7:

G B D G B D
O O O O O 3

The following is another version that is great for doing a vibrato (playing two notes rapidly and alternately) on the 1st and 2nd string:

G B D G B D
x x x x 3 3

This pattern works for any chord. Let's say you are playing in C and are about to change chords and you want to get a C7 (C, E, G, Bb) in before you do.

Start on C:
G B D G B D
5 5 5 5 5 5

Then do a tremolo on the first and second string while you bar them on the eighth fret:
G B D G B D
x x x x 8 8

Here, the money notes are the G and Bb. And they are the only ones you need to play. Either the other players or the listener's sense memory will provide the other notes.

 

Dominant 9th

Any of the family of dominant chords is made by adding the number of the chord to a dominant 7th. So the pattern for a dominant 9 is this:

1, 3, 5, b7, 9

To play a complete G9 you would play G, B, D, F, A. 

When playing a dominant 9 you will have to pick a sequence of notes and it really helps to make sure you include the flatted 7. I often do this by playing the root chord, then play the b7 and then slide up to the 9. So to play a G9, I play the root chord, then play the first string on the third fret (F) and then slide it up to the seventh fret (A).

My absolute favorite use of a dominant 9th is as a substitution for a dominant 7, and I play it by dropping the 2nd and 3rd strings down two frets. 

Let's use the C chord transition again as our example. C9 would be C, E, G, Bb, D (the C7 plus the 9 note).

Let's say you are playing in C and are about to change chords and you want to get a C9 in before you do.

Start on C:
G B D G B D
5 5 5 5 5 5


Then do a tremolo on the third and second string while you bar them on the third fret:
G B D G B D
x x x 3 3 x

In this case the two money notes are Bb and D.

Try it and you'll recognize it right away. It's a more mellow transition that the dominant 7 would be, and it works beautifully in ballads and gospel songs.


The Diminished

I'm stretching it a bit to call a diminished a transition chord, but it does have a lot of tension and you surely would not want to play it for any length of time, Here is its pattern in Nashville notation:

1, b3, b5

It is the root note plus a flatted third and a flatted fifth.

Here is a classic use of it in bluegrass to end a song on a D chord. The second chord is a D dim, using the the b3 (F) and b5 (Ab):

G B D G B D
x x 7 x 7 x

G B D G B D
x x 6 x 6 x

G B D G B D
x x 5 x 5 x

G B D G B D
7 x 7 x x x 

That same run can be played going up to transition into a D.



Here are the opening chords to Panhandle Rag that build around a D6 rather that a straight D:


G B D G B D
x 7 7 x 0 x

G B D G B D
x 6 6 x 0 x

G B D G B D
x 5 5 x 0 x



The Chord of Whom I Do Not Speak--and a Fiddler Named Throckmorton

 
Remember this graphic?





 













Well now we can speak of the asterisked chord: It is an F# diminished. 

But I've got a big problem with it!

The first six chords have a particular beauty and closure about them. The three major chords are the tonic (G), dominant (D), and sub-dominant (C) chords. The three minor chords are their respective relative minors.

Then we get that darn F# diminished! What's with that? It's like meeting the folks in a jam: The banjo guy says, "I'm Fred," the mandolin player says, "I'm Skip," the guitar player says, "I'm Jack," and then the fiddler says, "I'm Throckmorton." What the...??!! How did he end up with the others?

And that's the problem I have with the F# diminished here--it just doesn't seem to belong. Have you EVER played a song in G where an F# diminished showed up? I haven't. But the other six chords are mainstays for G progressions.

I've fretted (no pun intended) over this for a while, and I think I've resolved it, at least for me. That seventh chord is a D7 without the root D. A seventh is the 1 3 5 b7 and in the case of D the 3, 5, and flatted 7 would be F#, A, C--exactly what we have in an F# diminished. That would make more sense, except now I have the problem of where did the lost root note go? That's a problem I pondered for a long time.

Then my tech writer background kicked in and I solved it! Think of these seven chords as a seven-page document in a word processor. The first six are in Portrait and the pages are three strings wide. That's plenty wide enough because major and minor chords are properly rendered with three notes. 1, 3, 5 or a 1, b3, 5.

But what if the last page is supposed to be in Landscape? That would make the page four strings wide and--lo and behold--look what we now see if we go into Landscape view: D, F#, A, C  our D7. We were missing the root because it takes four notes to properly render a dominant 7th and we were looking at just the last three! Now it's as if that fiddler named Throckmorton winks at me and adds, "But my friends call me Buddy."

I'm sure the purists will take me to task for this, just as I'm sure Throckmorton's mother thinks it's a perfectly lovely name. But for me the world makes sense again.

3 comments:

  1. The sequence of chords in the diagram shows a chord named after each note of the Gmaj scale. The asterisked chord falls into line as an F#dim, but breaks the pattern as a D7.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I beg to differ. The diminished cord is a very strong tension cord used in jazz all the time. Especially in its 4 now version: i.e. c, eb, gb, a..
    Diminished 7 chord. Ingenious because there are only 3 of them (the fourth iteration being simply an inversion of the first one) and only 3 attendant scales. Play with that a little for a blown mind experience!

    ReplyDelete