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Using Extended Guitar Chords in a Progression

Question by Mark
(Philippines)

I'm currently learning to play extended chords (9ths, 11ths, 13th chords) and added tone chords (add6, add9).

How do I use extended and added tone chords in a progression so that it fits exactly and sounds pleasant to the ears?

I also want to learn more about jazz, hope you'll answer my questions. Thank you and more power fretjam.com :)

A More Practical Way to Learn Chord Extensions

Great question. So great, in fact, it's prompted a particularly in depth answer! Take your time with this as there's weeks, if not months worth of learning on this page... if you're ready to explore this musical avenue.

A lot of sites will provide charts that show you how the intervals of each chord in a key stack up. That's fine, but there's a far more practical way to visualize the natural extensions of each chord in a key that will also give you the "scaffolding" to build the appropriate chords and blocks of harmony on the fretboard.

Call it "killing two birds with one stone" (a rather dark metaphor, but gets the point across!)...

First, make sure you're confident with assigning a number to each chord in a key. For this example, we're using C major as our key...

C major chord scale

Now take a listen to this chord progression, which uses natural extensions for each chord. I'll then show you where I got these extended chord forms...

C major key progression with extended chords

Click to hear

If at any time you feel lost, refer to my extended chord theory lesson for a primer.

Diatonic Chord Extensions

Rather than me show you individual chord charts, I'm going to instead show you patterns that contain all the natural chord voicings (triads, 7ths, extended and added) for each chord in a key.

By using these patterns, you'll be able to see how blocks of harmony exist within a scale (C major in this case). This way of visualizing harmony will become invaluable when you start to explore concepts such as voice leading (more on that another time!).

You'll also notice I've included the related mode names for each chord pattern. Ignore these if you're not sure about modes yet, but if you do know about modes, it will help tie together your knowledge of modes and their related chords.

Take your time with this and explore these patterns using the examples I give you.

I (Ionian): 1 - 2(9) - 3 - 4(11) - 5 - 6(13) - 7

Triad: 1 3 5 (major)

7th: 1 3 5 7 (major 7th)

Key extensions: 9, 13

C major I extended chord pattern

So from our I chord patterns, we can build chords such as added 6th (e.g. Cadd6/Cadd13 - 1 3 5 6/13), added 9th (Cadd9 - 1 3 5 9), major 9th (Cmaj9 - 1 3 5 7 9) and major 13th (Cmaj13 - 1 3 5 7 9 13).

Note that it's fine (and more economical) to leave out the 5th and even the root (when the bass has it covered) to help you finger the most important tones of an extended chord. So for a maj13 chord, for example, we'd only need 3 7 9 and 13 to create the voicing. That kind of upper structure comping is especially useful in jazz.

Some examples to get you started...

C major extended chords

ii (Dorian): 1 - 2(9) - b3 - 4(11) - 5 - 6(13) - b7

Triad: 1 b3 5 (minor)

7th: 1 b3 5 b7 (minor 7th)

Key extensions: 9, 11, 13

D minor ii extended chord pattern

From our ii chord patterns we can build chords such as minor 6th (e.g. Dm6 - 1 b3 5 6) minor 9th (Dm9 - 1 b3 5 b7 9), minor added 9th (Dmadd9 - 1 b3 5 9), minor 11th (Dm11 - 1 b3 5 b7 11) and minor 13th (Dm13 - 1 b3 5 b7 9 13)

Dm extended chords

iii (Phrygian): 1 - b2(b9) - b3 - 4(11) - 5 - b6(b13) - b7

Triad: 1 b3 5 (minor)

7th: 1 b3 5 b7 (minor 7th)

Key extensions: 11, b13

E minor iii extended chord pattern

While the b9 and b13 are part of the iii chord's natural harmony, the b9 is a very dissonant tone against minor chords. In jazz you'll often hear the b13 used above a minor 7th (e.g. Em7b13 - 1 b3 b7 b13). The most common extension to the iii chord, however, is to add the 11th, giving us a minor 11th chord (m11 - 1 b3 5 b7 11 - omit the 5th).

Em extended chords

IV (Lydian): 1 - 2(9) - 3 - #4(#11) - 5 - 6(13) - 7

Triad: 1 3 5 (major)

7th: 1 3 5 7 (major 7th)

Key extensions: 9, #11, 13

F major IV extended chord pattern

From lydian harmony we can build chords such as maj7#11 (e.g. Fmaj7#11 - 1 3 5 7 #11) often called the "lydian chord" in jazz. But other natural extensions of the IV chord are shared with Ionian, such as major 9th (Fmaj9 - 1 3 5 7 9), added 6th (Fadd6 - 1 3 5 6) and added 9th (Fadd9 - 1 3 5 9).

F major extended chords

V (Mixolydian): 1 - 2(9) - 3 - 4(11) - 5 - 6(13) - b7

Triad: 1 3 5 (major)

7th: 1 3 5 b7 (dominant 7th)

Key extensions: 9, 11, 13

G major V extended chord pattern

The natural dominant scale. So above the 7th we can build chords such as dominant 9th (e.g. G9 - 1 3 5 b7 9), dominant 13th (G13 - 1 3 5 b7 9 13 - again we can omit the root and 5th for these larger stacks). We can also make use of the 11th in the form of a dominant 11th chord, where the 3rd and 5th are typically omitted (G11 - 1 b7 9 11).

G major extended chords

vi (Aeolian): 1 - 2(9) - b3 - 4(11) - 5 - b6(b13) - b7

Triad: 1 b3 5 (minor)

7th: 1 b3 5 b7 (minor 7th)

Key extensions: 9, 11

A minor vi extended chord pattern

The vi chord (also the tonic for natural minor keys) can be naturally extended to chords such as minor 9th (e.g. Am9 - 1 b3 5 b7 9), minor added 9th (Amadd9 - 1 3 5 9) and minor 11th (Am11 - 1 b3 5 b7 11). The b13 is a natural extension, but dissonant - it wants to resolve to the 5th.

A minor extended chords

We'll leave out the vii chord (Locrian) for now because its function is rather ambiguous and therefore not used often.

Making a Progression Out of Extended Chords

The beauty of starting out with this diatonic scale is that you can pick out chords from the scale almost at random, with their natural extensions, and it will all fit together harmoniously. A great way to get your feet wet with jazz comping.

Here's the example from earlier again...

C major key progression with extended chords

Click to hear

Every single note in those chords is part of the C major scale. This is what we call diatonic harmony, because everything is contained within a single parent scale (C major in this case). Try playing C major or C major pentatonic over that progression and you'll instantly hear the connection - in fact, it'll be hard to hit a "wrong" note.

For natural (diatonic) minor keys, your tonic is the vi (6) chord of that same above scale - all the same extensions apply to the related chord positions 1-7, but instead of resolving our progression to I, we're resolving it to vi.

Moving Outside of Diatonic Chord Extensions

Now, in jazz (and other styles), it's common to stray outside of diatonic harmony, meaning we can use extensions that wouldn't be considered "natural" for that chord.

For example, instead of the ii chord as Dm11, we might instead use D13.

Cmaj9 / Am9 / D13 ...

Essentially, we're "borrowing" Mixolydian harmony for that modified II chord.

So once you're confident with building chord extensions from these patterns, try using them in different positions. Another example would be to use Lydian extensions (e.g. #11) in the I (tonic) position. Dmaj9 would become Dmaj9#11.

Experiment, first with the chords in their natural positions and then try them in different positions.

You're not limited to the major scale for building harmony. You can also use scales such as melodic and harmonic minor, which have their own modes and harmonic possibilities.

For example, the dominant #11 (e.g. G7#11) chord is built from lydian dominant harmony - the 4th mode of melodic minor. It's often used as an alternative to Mixolydian in the V position.

Plenty to work on (though it should be fun and hugely rewarding!). Any questions, use the comments link below. Cheers.

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Few suggestions
By: Mark

The information is very useful. I will learn a lot. Thanks for answering my questions. But please provide fingerings for different voicing of extended and altered chords, that will be a great help. thanks a lot fretjam.com! :)

Synonyms Chords
By: Anonymous

While i'm playing chords, i learned something: other inverted chords is synonyms to different voicing of another chords. for example:
* Cmaj13/E is the same as E7sus4
* Dm9/F is the same as Fmaj7
* Am9/C is the same as Cmaj7
* Dm9/C is the same as F/C
* Dm13/F is the same as Fmaj7#11
* Gadd6/E is the same as Emin7
This is making me confused in experimenting chord shapes and inversion. I found out that inverted chords would otherwise form new chords. although it affects the general sound. I'm still confused. I think i need proper simplification and explanation about this topic. Jazz use a lot of this chords.It's a very complicated topic. A Help from this site would be a great help! :)

Re: Synonyms Chords
By: Mike

Firstly, remember that when playing with bass accompaniment, you won't need to play the bass of the chord. In fact you only really need to play the 3rd, 7th and any extensions of the chord to make the voicing.

Secondly, when the intention of using an inversion/altered bass chord is to create a different chord altogether, think of it as just a way of using a chord shape for more than one chord, so there are overall fewer chord shapes to learn.

So "slash chords" such as Dm9/F, for example, simply means if you want to play Fmaj7, you could play Dm9 over an F bass. The Dm9 shape now has two functions - Dm9 (with D bass) and Fmaj7 (with F bass).

Notice how chords such as Dm9/F, Dm13/F and Am9/C all use a relative major bass. Take out the numbers and just focus on the root and bass...

D/F - F is the relative major root of D.

A/C - C is the relative major root of A.

Also, for Gadd6/E...

G/E - E is the relative minor root of G.

So trying playing around with these relative major/minor positions with your extended voicings. Use the low E string as the starting point for your bass (or tune it down to your desired bass note).

As for other bass positions, such as with your Cmaj13/E example, look at the interval of the bass (E) in relation to the root of the chord (C) and try to replicate it in other positions.

E is a major 3rd from C.

So using the same formula, we could create a D7sus4 voicing by playing... Bbmaj13 over D.

Here's another example. To get an Em6/9 chord, play A13/E (A13 over an E bass).

Again, look at the relationship between the notes E and A and move it up or down the fretboard to create this same chord in different positions...

G13/D, F13/C, Eb13/Bb, C#13/G# etc.

The beauty of guitar is that once we find a nice sounding chord, scale, arp, lick, whatever... we can simply move the relationship of notes to any fret and get a lower/higher sounding version of it for use in other keys.

I'll definitely be covering inversions and altered bass chords. It is an advanced concept, but it can be simplified by using formulas like those demonstrated above.

For now... hope that helps.

additional questions
By: Anonymous

What if, the whole band is playing FM7 and i'm playing a Dm9 chord. I know they are different chords. but would it be compatible? my purpose is to create a different flavor. Also, I notice in the lesson about extended chords that their are certain extension for a chord degree. For example the key extension in Ionian mode uses 9 and 13 extensions. but 11(4) was also exist in the scale pattern. would it be dissonant or compatible if i use 11th chords on Ionian mode? my question is not focusing on Ionian mode only but also other modes as well. thanks for help! :)

Re: additional questions
By: Mike

By playing Dm9 (D F A C E) over Fmaj7 (F A C E) you'll be adding the note D (the 6th/13th) to Fmaj7. It's just another voicing or (practically speaking) shape for harmonizing Fmaj7.

So yes it would, in theory, be compatible.

Don't think so much about what notes are being added/changed. Just focus on the visual relationship between bass notes I referred to in my last comment. And of course, try it out and let your ears teach you.

Re: using the 11th in the I (tonic) position... I made an exception here because the 4th/11th sounds unresolved in this position, and tends to weaken the natural function of the tonic chord (which is to be resolved).

So it's not typically used, although it is more common to play a suspended chord (replacing the 3rd with the 4th of the scale and usually omitting the 7th) in the 1 position and then resolve it to a regular major chord voicing.

For example: 1 4 5 9 (11) 13

To fully understand WHY the 11th is rarely used in extensions of the tonic chord in major keys, you need to play it and hear it for yourself.

That doesn't mean it's "wrong" to use it, it just doesn't thrill a lot of musicians/composers enough to use it.

As mentioned further down in the lesson, it's actually more common to use the #11 as an extension in the tonic position, which implies lydian (IV) harmony. Outside jazz this might curl a few ears!

But I say challenge the listener ;)

Creating arrangement by using extended chords
By: Anonymous

As i said earlier, my focus is not about ionian mode only. How about other modes? Does the key extension works also for chord resolution? Anyway, your answers to my questions is a great help because i'm mostly self-taught. I don't have enough technical knowledge about extended chords. Pop and church music (which i always play) is mostly major/minor tonalities. (which extended chords is rare). However i'm intrested in jazz, blues, ragtime and rock as well as other genre. I want to learn also slash chords.

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