Jazz and melodic minor

All the chords we will look at in this article are taken from the melodic minor harmony. Modern jazz uses melodic minor and its chords a lot. This article introduces you to three melodic minor chords used frequently in jazz by masters.

Working with these chord symbols, finding the notes and interval, deducting the chord – this process will make you more familiar with chord symbols and the considerations one makes when playing more involved chords.

The staff notation of each chord is given. Try finding the notes as an exercise with staff notation. The notes of treble clef and bass clef are given to the right. Click on the image for a larger view; save the image for future reference.

Sus 9

The 3rd and 7th notes are the most important notes for most chords. But in the case of Sus 9  chords, the characteristic notes are the 9, 4th and 6th notes.

Have a look at the figure given to the left. What are the notes? (try finding the notes as an exercise in staff notation)

On the bass clef (bottom set of staff lines), it is the same B note played in two octaves.
On the treble cleff (top set of staff lines), the notes are : C, E, G, B (bottom to top)

These notes form the B sus 9 chord :
Bsus 9 chord : B– root, C –  9 note, E – 4th note, G – 6th note

More details and examples at: chords for all the seven modes of the melodic minor.

Δ#5  – Lydian augmented

  • The term Lydian suggests that the chord or scale has the sharp 4th note.
  • Augmented refers to a raised fifth (sharp 5th).

The complete chord symbol for a Lydian augmented chord should be XΔ#4#5 

This chord appears as part of the melodic minor harmony – the chord for the third mode of melodic minor scale.

Mostly used in jazz kind of situations, the long chord symbol of XΔ#4#5 is shortened to XΔ#5  for simplicity. Also, the musician probably is already familiar with the chord and knows what she is expected to make out of the symbol and play.

This is an example of a chord symbol which does not indicate all the notes the chord may have.

Lydian augmented without the Lydian

Have a look at the chord to the left.

The notes are indicated along with their respective interval name when G is the root.

• We see that the chord has a major 3rd and major 7th (doubled on two octaves) which satisfies the ‘Δ’ part of the chord name.
• The chord has a sharp fifth note, hence satisfying the #5 part of the chord name.

But the chord does not have a sharp fourth or raised fourth note which a lydian chord should have.

The chord notes in the image satisfies the chord symbol GΔ#5. Though GΔ#5 will be called a Lydian dominant, it does not have a Lydian note in it. Mark Levine calls it GΔ#5 on pg.62 of his Jazz Theory Book .

This is an example of how chord names can be interpreted with freedom, especially in jazz improvisation context. The chord has to be understood in relation to the third mode of melodic minor, from where it is usually derived.

7 #11 – Lydian dominant

As the name suggests, the chord has a sharp 4th (lydian) and the notes major 3rd and minor 7th (dominant). This chord is usually derived from the 4th mode of the melodic minor.

Have a look at the notes to the left.
•Major 3rd and minor 7th notes in the chord satisfies the ‘dominant’ part of the chord name.
•#11th note satisfies the Lydian part of the chord name
•The major 2nd note is an additional note which can be added when the Lydian dominant chord is derived from and used with the 4th mode of the melodic minor scale.

The notes in the figure form the E7 #11 chord.

The chord symbol usage goes beyond just finding the intervals mentioned in the name. The chord symbol should remind one of the respective scale, giving one the freedom to add other notes which will sound fine, which are included in the mode from which the chord is derived.

Lydian dominant chord – almost a scale

Find the notes in the figure.

Bass clef : A (root) and G (minor 7th) notes an octave away
Treble clef : C (major 3rd), F(major 6th), B (major 2nd), D (#11th)
These notes form the A7 #11

• The #11th note satisfies the Lydian part of the chord.
• Major 3rd note with a minor 7th note is called the       ‘dominant’. Both those intervals are present in the chord
• Major 2nd note is present as with the first example
• Major 6th note is present in the chord

There are 6 notes in the chord. These notes form the notes of the 4th mode of the melodic minor scale. Add a fifth to the notes and you have the full scale of seven notes.

Here the chord symbol usage has gone to the extend of the chord symbol representing almost the scale from which it was derived.

Chord symbols, freedom and choice

We saw in the case of Sus 9, how one decides which notes are important to keep the sound of the chord or the scale. It is not enough to follow just maths, but one has to feel and take musical decisions based on how the final outcome should be.

We saw how chord symbols can become more of pointers or suggestions than strict representations of which notes to be played. How it gives freedom to the musician if she knows what musical ideas the chord symbol is pointing to. A chord symbols starts becoming a handle towards the scale, its mode and the kind of music.

More about chords and mastering them at The Chord Code

How can these ideas be used when harmonizing Indian ragas? –
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