88-90 Altered Chord Licks

Altered Chord Licks

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Altered Chord Licks For Dominant 7th Chords

You can play pretty much any note on a dominant 7th chord if you know how to control the melodic material.

The altered chord licks presented this week make good use of various scale and arpeggio approaches which will hopefully inspire you to create your own licks and melodies. Dominant 7th chords are great sounds on which to improvise as you can experiment with so many different flavours of sound.

Whether vamping on a dominant 7th chord for an extended period of time and building the tension, playing on a dominant 7th chord within a chord progression to create tension within a musical line, or inserting dominant chord sounds of your own when they aren't actually being played... there is a whole world of sonic possibilities to be explored with dominant 7th chords.

What Is An Altered Chord?

An altered chord is a dominant 7th chord with added notes to create more tension. A dominant 7th chord contains the root, 3rd, 5th and b7th. The dominant 7th chord is an unstable, or tense sound on its own, although the tension can be increased by:

  • Raising or lowering the 5th.
  • Adding a b9th
  • Adding a #9th

You can combine as many of these variations as you like. These modifications can be applied to any dominant 7th chord. An example would be to transform a G13 chord into a G13b9.

Before you start transforming every dominant 7th chord that you encounter into an altered chord, you need to know where you can apply this idea. The most common use of altered chords is when the dominant 7th chord is functioning as the v7 of the chord that follows.

Please don't transform every dominant 7th chord into an altered chord at your next gig and send me a "but Paul, these altered chords sound terrible!" message.

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Altered Chord Sequence Guitar Lick

This lick uses a 5-note sequence taken from the Ab melodic minor scale. The melodic minor scale has many uses and this lick could be used over many different chord types. As this week's batch of licks is all about altered chords, the lick is being played over an altered G7 chord harmony.

Be sure to analyse the 5-note sequence and apply this pattern to other scale types. This is a very useful sequence to have in your repertoire.

Triad Pair Over E7 Guitar Lick

The two major triads used in this lick could be thought of as coming from a diminished scale.

As with all of these altered chord lick ideas, you will generally need to resolve the idea to a more consonant sound. Altered chords create tension and that tension needs to be resolved, otherwise, chaos resides.

Dm7 And E7 Arpeggios Guitar Lick

This lick uses two arpeggios and it is self-resolving. Unlike the previous two licks, this example could be played over a static E7 chord.

The lick could also be played over an E7 chord which is functioning as the v7 chord of Am, so this is a multi-functional lick.

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Want to recognise the sound of altered chords and melodies by ear? My free ear training course will allow you to easily recognise the sound of all the building blocks that make up any chord type.
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