What is an altered chord? Altered dominant scale? Is Super Locrian a superhero from ancient central Greece? What Indian ragas are related to them?

This article will help us better our understanding of intervals and chord naming through a unique chord used in western harmony.

Chords are shown as standard music notation. Notes in the notation are identified and given as well. We then regroup the notes to find which chord the notes represent. Which is the parent scale of the chord? How do the chord notes relate to the scale?

How did this scale and chord get the name 'altered'?

Chord name from its notes

The image shows the notation of a chord.

These are the chord notes from bottom to top:

  • A♭ – root
  • G♭ – minor 7th
  • C – major 3rd
  • E – ♭13th (♭6th note)
  • C♭ – #9th

What chord does these notes form? We will group the notes into identifiable clusters and name the chord based on that.

The dominant part

Major 3rd (C) and minor 7th (Gb) intervals along with the root A♭ forms the A♭7 chord.
This seventh chord is the 'dominant'  part of the name of the scale.

The altered part

  • The 6th has been altered (flattened) to ♭6 (notated as ♭13 in chords)
  • the 2nd has been altered (sharpened) to #9th

giving us the A♭7#9♭13 chord also known as the A♭7alt chord.

The A♭7alt chord is derived from the 7th mode of the A melodic minor scale.

7th mode of melodic minor scale – altered dominant scale

Notes of A melodic minor: A – B – C – D – E – F#(G♭) – G#(A♭) – A

7th mode of the A melodic minor scale:

The 7th mode of the melodic minor scale is called the altered dominant scale or the altered scale or the superlocrian (similar to the locrian mode of the major scale). The altered chord or altered dominant chord is derived from the altered dominant scale.

The dominant part of the scale

7th mode of A melodic minor: The major 3rd and minor 7th intervals along with the root gives us the dominant 7th chord.

The alterations of the scale

2nd (9th) Look at the table of notes and intervals of the 7th mode. There is a 9 note as well as a #9 note. The ninth position has been flattened and sharpened – altered both ways.

4th The 4th position has been sharpened> Sharpening is the only alteration possible for the 4th, since flattening the 4th would give a major 3rd interval.

6th The 6th has been flattened – the only alteration possible, since sharpening a 6th would give us a minor 7th.

The scale does not have a fifth note.

All possible alterations and hence the name

The scale has intervals that have been altered in all possible ways.

Other than the ‘core’ notes, all the other intervals have been altered in all possible ways.

The root, major 3rd and minor 7th cannot be changed, because then we would no more have the 7th dominant chord from the given root.

Since the scale positions have all the possible alterations to its interval positions while keeping the dominant part intact, the mode and the chord are referred to as the altered dominant.

More about chords and chord naming? The chord code.

One more example of altered chord

Notes from bottom to top:

  • C – root
  • E – major 3rd
  • B♭ – minor 7th
  • E♭ – #9th
  • A♭ – ♭13th (♭6th note)

C as the root along with the major 3rd and major 7th intervals gives the C dominant 7th chord (C7).

Two altered notes – #9th and ♭13th – added to the C7th chord gives us the C7alt chord (C altered dominant)

C altered dominant is part of the 7th mode of the C# melodic minor scale (same notes as D♭ melodic minor).

C# melodic minor scale: C# D# E F# G# A# B#(C) C#

has the same notes as

D♭ melodic minor scale: D♭ E♭ F♭ G♭ A♭ B♭ C D♭

C altered dominant scale is the 7th mode of D melodic minor (starts from the 7th note of D):

The altered notes: D♭(♭9), E♭(#9), G♭(#4), A♭(♭13)

#9 and ♭13 of the altered notes are used in the chord in this example.

A 6 note altered chord

Notes from bottom to top:

  • D – root
  • F# – major 3rd
  • C – minor 7th
  • F – #9th
  • B♭ – ♭13th
  • E♭ – ♭9th

The root D along with the major 3rd and minor 7th intervals forms the D7 chord. The #9, ♭13 and ♭9 notes added to the D7th chord gives the D7 alt or the D altered dominant chord.

This example chord has 6 notes. Almost a scale.

Include #4th (G#) to the chord notes and we have all the notes of the D altered dominant scale also known as the D super locrian scale.

D altered dominant scale is the 7 mode of D# melodic minor scale.

Indian Ragas and the Altered scale

First off, all complete ragas – Melakarta Ragas – have the fifth note, Pa. But the altered scale does not have the fifth, only a flat fifth. The ragas we find will have the notes of the altered scale + Pa.

Two. ♭9, #9 and major 3rd corresponds to the notes R1, R3 / G2 and G3. The raga notation system does not have a way for all the three to coexist. So we will find two ragas with the following note combinations each:

  1. R1, G2
  2. R1, G3

Namanarayani: S R1 G3 M2 P D1 N2 S' (has G3 – dominant part is intact. #9 not included)

Bhavapriya: S R1 G2 M2 P D1 N2 S' (has G2, the #9 note)

Kamavardhani and Shubhapanthuvarali

Change the N2 to N3 in Namanarayani to get Raga Kamavardhani. This means changing the minor 7th note to a major 7th. Major 7th chord along with altered notes except the #9th.

Similarly changing N2 to N3 in Bhavapriya gives Shubhapanthuvarali, the corresponding 'minor 3rd' raga of Kamavardhani.

Both Kamavardhani and Shubhapanthuvarali are prominent ragas of Indian music. Knowing how they relate to the Altered dominant scale and hence the melodic minor harmony, can be used while harmonizing and improvizing.

Check out The Chord Code if you would like to get independent with chords.

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