Advanced Jazz Guitar: Dominant Diminished & Liquid Harmony

Jun 02, 2020



 Alright jazz guitarists...


Today we're looking at two really worthwhile topics:


1 - Liquid Harmony

2 - The Dominant Diminished Relationship



I wrote a short, 2-measure idea for you that combines both topics applied to a basic V7 -> I6 chord progression. Then I moved that progression through the entire circle of 5ths so you could try it in all 12 major keys. You can download the PDF below.

Let me briefly explain what each of these two topics means, and then I'll analyze what's happening in the exercise.



This is a name I use anytime I'm attempting to create harmony in a way that does not simply involve playing this chord voicing, then the next chord voicing, then the next chord voicing, and on, and on, and on...

That type of chord grip jumping definitely has it's place, and it can be really important to learn and powerful to use. But let's be honest, sometimes it just gets old and boring and tiresome. Listen to the legends of harmony - going back all the way to Bach and Mozart and evolving all the way up to Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, and Jacob Collier - and you're going to hear individual voices moving around inside of each chord and moving to connect one chord to the next. With composers like Bach and Mozart you can actually listen to their chamber music where each voice is literally a different instrument playing a melodic idea, and together those different instruments combine to create harmony that is moving. As we begin trying to control multiple voices on one instrument (like a piano or a guitar) this can become more challenging to hear and control. But still possible, and gorgeous!

Here's a visual way of seeing what liquid harmony looks like when applied to moving from one 3-note chord voicing to another vs simply jumping from one 3-note chord voicing to another.




This relationship is about the similarities between a 7b9 chord and a diminished chord, and how we can mix and match them interchangeably. 

If we take a G7 chord (G - B - D - F) and we elevate the G note up to an Ab (Ab - B - D - F), we now have a rootless G7b9 chord. These pitches also spell out an Abº7 (Ab - Cb - Ebb - Gbb). 

*Ab is the b9 of G7 and the root of Abº7. B is the 3rd of G7 and Cb (enharmonically the same as B) is the b3 of Abº7. D is the 5th of G7 and Ebb (enharmonically the same as D) is the b5 of Abº7. F is the b7 of G7 and Gbb (enharmonically the same as F) is the dim7 of Abº7.

What this means is that Abº7, and all of its inversions (Abº7, Bº7, Dº7, and Fº7) can all be used as a G7b9. Each one of these four diminished chords contain the same four notes (Ab, B, D, and F). Which means that each of these diminished chords gives us the b9, 3, 5, and b7 of a G7b9. 

*Technically these four diminished chords are not named correctly. Just as I wrote out the pitches on the clef up above as Ab - Cb - Ebb - Gbb, these diminished chords should technically be named as such. However, to make it easier to read and think about on the fretboard, it's much easier to use the enharmonic spelling to classify each diminished chord.




Okay go ahead and click the image to grab your copy of the free PDF of this exercise moving through all 12 keys in the circle in 5ths. That way you can not only play the idea, you can also follow along my analysis of the liquid harmony example and jot down any notes on the paper that you want to use to help you wrap your mind, your ears, your eyes, and your fingers around.

The riff itself is simply two measures long. It's one measure of a dominant chord followed by one measure of a major tonic chord. The first thing worth noticing is that it doesn't start on G7 or even G7b9. It starts on a G7sus chord. This is a dominant chord with a raised 3rd. Instead of G-B-D-F, it's actually G-C-D-F.

For those of you already working n The Melodic Triads Approach, you might want to make note that I would think of that chord as our sus13 tonality. I would treat it as a C major triad over a G7sus shell voicing. But that's a different conversation. 

What IS worth noting right now is that we can create a little bit of extra movement simply by starting on a G7sus chord and "resolving" it down to a more basic G7 chord. Not everything that sounds complicated and advanced needs to be theoretically complex or overly-intellectualized. This movement from sus -> major is hundreds of years old. You can simply play a chord grip voicing for G7sus and then resolve to a chord grip voicing for G7, and that will create a little bit more movement within the V7 chord if that's all that's written in the real book. However you'll notice I'm using a little bit more movement than just that.

First, I broke apart the G7sus chord. I play the top voice (often thought of as the melody note when arranging chord-melody) first, then hold that note out as I drop down and hit the G bass note. Then on beat 2 I fill in the inner voices, F and C - the b7 and the 4. 

That means that even though we begin implying this chord on the downbeat of the measure, we don't clearly express it until beat 2. This is enough to help us break away from the block of ice like chord voicings we're attempting to melt down. Top (or melodic) voice, then bass voice, then inner voices. We're slowly offering this chord out in segments and letting all of these notes ring out so the ear can hear them working together. Then the liquid harmony begins.

Once we play the b7 and 4 (F and C) on beat 2, the b7 (F note) begins walking up chromatically. There are currently four voices being heard. The top (melodic) voice is voice one, the lower "bass" voice is voice 4. So our third voice is moving. This is a fantastic example of inner voice movement. When a note hidden in the middle of the chord is moving. Look back up above at the visualization graphic of liquid harmony. This is what I was attempting to depict. This note walks up chromatically to the Bb note that happens on beat 3, and when we land on that Bb note, we harmonize it with a D note below it and a B note above. This could be seen as three notes of a Dº7 voicing and/or as three notes of a rootless G7b9 voicing. It's both. This liquid harmony not only offers our ear some inner voice movement, but when we harmonize the final note of the chromatic line, we also get a new chord voicing that gives us the movement of the G7sus (with the natural 4) down to the basic G7 sound (with the 4 having resolved down to the 3rd). 

And then what do we see next?

Here we see our classic V7 -> I resolution. But again, we're using liquid harmony to express it. We see the Dº7 (or the rootless G7b9) right on the beat 3. Here the single-voice movement has shifted to the top voice - something we see far more often in guitar arranged chord melody then the previously used inner voice movement. We move the B note melodically up to the C note. Then it moves up again melodically to the D note on beat 4, but not we've harmonized it with another three-note voicing. This could be viewed as three notes from another diminished chord (like the bottom three notes of Fº7) or as another three-note snippet of a rootless G7b9 chord. Again, they're the same. And from the D note in the melody, it walks up chromatically to E which initiates our resolution to the tonic chord, C6. 

One thing worth paying close attention to here is that despite that we're playing diminished voicings or using a 7b9 chord, we're NOT melodically relying on the half-whole or whole-half diminished scale here at all (also called the octatonic scale sometimes). That's not part of this picture. There are three instances of melodic movement happening between these chords. To get us from the G7sus chord to the G7b9 between beats 1 and 3, we're using a chromatic scale that connects the F note up to the Bb. Moving through beat three, we hit a C natural note melodically. If we were relying on the diminished scale here, that would have been a C# note. And moving through beat four to take us to the C6 chord in the next measure we hit a D# note. This not is also not in the diminished scale. It comes as a simple chromatic passing tone. So really, all of the melodic movement at work in this liquid harmony is either coming from chromatic movement or basic C major scale diatonic movement... even when it's happening within the G7b9 / Abº7 sound. One way to explain this is to look at the 6th diminished scale from the always-brilliant Barry Harris.

Another way is to consider the "imaginary piano player" I'm always talking about in The Melodic Triads Approach. The left hand controls the harmonic structure (7b9) and the right hand controls the melodic structure (C major). They don't ALWAYS have to agree with each other or follow the same rules at every moment. They can, and we should learn how to do that. But harmony and melody do function differently and move differently. They're eternally interlocked and reliant on each other, but it can create a beautiful effect when they separate momentarily and then come back together. Remember how I mentioned earlier that for the G7sus I would think of this as a C major triad over a G7sus shell voicing in Melodic Triads? So effectively this would be G7sus -> G7b9 -> C6 in the left hand and Cmajor the entire time in the right hand.

But again, melodic triads are a WHOLE different conversation that I'm not going to get into today in this post.

For now, I hope you dig this idea and get some use out of it! Please add your name to my newsletter so I can give you a heads up when new blog posts and courses get released and check out below how you can help support my ability to continue offering the highest quality online jazz education for free.
As always... Happy Practicing!



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