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How to Compose Jazzy Chords with Easy Piano 1


C7(b9)(b13)!!!!

What’s this and why are you screaming jazz at me? The answer to that question, my friend, is simple.

Advanced harmony and complex chords are not as mystifying as you might think and we producers and audio engineers who are getting a little stuck writing music have the tools to understand what’s going on.

Who Really Uses That Chord?

Bruno Mars, Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Camila Cabello, Ariana Grande, Jason Derulo… and I think you are starting to get the idea.

This harmonic language is everywhere. You love it, I love it, and it’s time we get a piece of it too.

Alright, Tell Me What I Need To Know

The first step is to establish where to put this advanced chord. What you should look for is anywhere there is a V I relationship. This means finding a chord that is a fifth away from your destination. I will provide some example chord progressions to demonstrate what to look for.

Example 1:

 

Example 2:

 

In these examples, our chord we are focusing on is used as the V7 going to the main key we started in indicated by the red arrows. On a keyboard, for Example 1, the A from the A7(b9)(b13) is five notes away from the D in the Dm7. This means that A is the fifth of D and that is the relationship we are looking for.

Now Let’s Learn It

To play this on your keyboard, follow along with the diagrams below. The first one is a normal C7 and the one below that is a C7(b9)(b13).

Notice to get from the C7 (C E Bb) to our more advanced option, all we have to do is play a Db minor triad (Db E Ab) on top of our C7. Notice that Db is only a half step above C.

What this means for us is to form more advanced chords, all we have to do is stack easy triads that we are familiar with and can learn quickly.

Now Let’s Apply It

To reiterate, let’s think about a different key. Feel free to follow along with these steps on your keyboard.

  • If you were to want to go to a Gm (G Bb D) chord, first you have to establish what the V or fifth of G is. This means go up the keyboard to the fifth note which would be D.
  • From here we spell a D7. This would be D F# A C but we will leave out the A.
  • The last step to transform our basic D7 to a D7(b9)(b13), our advanced jazzy option. All we do is play a minor triad a half step above D. In this case it will be Eb- and the Eb minor triad would be spelled Eb F# Bb. 

Check out this diagram below to see if you formed it right.

Where To Go From Here

From our fancy chord D7(b9)(b13) we just made full of rich harmony, the next chord in the progression is simply any G chord. This could be G minor, G major, or a G with colorful alterations like the chord we are focusing on today.

The trick though is how do we make a logical progression that sounds smooth like Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic. To do this we must pay attention to voice leading.

While this sounds intimidating, this simply means finding the note from our G chord that is closest to that from the D7(b9)(b13).

Check out this diagram below as an example you can play on your keyboard. This example features our D7(b9)(b13) resolving to a G-9. While we will not dig into that chord today, give it a shot on your keyboard to hear what it sounds like. Also, play this short clip to hear what it should sound like.

 

Working This Into The Writing Process

I will provide some midi files including this example as well as the chord progressions from earlier. With these or by recording them with your midi controller, you can begin to incorporate advanced harmonies that will take your writing to the next level.

Chord Progression 1

Chord Progression 2

D7 b9 b13 to G-9

With these midi files, import them and try them out or pick them apart and work them into your existing music.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments below or email me at cjrhenmusic@gmail.com for more information or help understanding these concepts.

Also, feel free to leave suggestions about harmony or other writing techniques you would like to see me cover.

About Cj

Hi, I’m Cj Rhen and I am a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. You can find some of my work at cjrhenmusic.com or on sounds.com where I write and record high-end sax and horn loops for your music. Also, you can check out my live streams at twitch.tv/cjrhenmusic to see me writing music like this post live and ask questions and chat.


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At Audio Issues you’ll learn simple and practical audio production tips you can use right away to improve your music from your home recording studio.  Björgvin is the best-selling author of Step By Step Mixing and the founder of Audio Issues. He helps musicians and producers turn amateur demos into professionally produced records they can be proud to release.

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