Watch the Chord Embellishments online guitar lesson by Fareed Haque from Solo Guitar Handbook
There are 5 basic families of chords (If this theory is new to you, I'd recommend visiting, or revisiting, my Jazz Comping Survival Guide
, to get a better handle on the chords and voicings you need to make these arrangements sound cool):
Major family: Built from 1, 3, 5 of a major scale. Add 6, 7, or 9 (same as 2), 11, #11 (same as 4, #4, or b5), or 13 (same as 6). Some names are Maj6, Maj7, Maj9, Maj7#11, Maj(add2) , Maj6/9, Maj9/13. For the most part, just add in whatever you can, but make sure you have the 3 and usually one other extension - 3/6 or 3/7, or 3/6 and 9, etc.
Minor family: Built from 1, b3, 5 of a major scale. Add 6 (sometimes b6), or b7 (sometimes maj7), 9 (same as 2), 11 or 13 (same as 6). Some names are min6, min7, min(maj7), min9, min6/9, min11, min9/13. Again, the only important thing is that you have the minor third and one extension, and if there's no bass player, add in either the root or fifth. Keep the chords thinner...fewer notes tend to sound clearer and actually fatter than too many notes...your poor guitar has to work harder to vibrate and push out 6 notes than 3, so each note sounds fatter in a chord with fewer notes. Be gentle on your geetar, folks!
Dominant family: Built from 1, 3, 5 and b7 of a major scale. Here you almost always need to include the 3rd and 7th. We usually call 3 and 7 the guide tones
, sometimes called color tones.
I don't like calling these color tones because they're not really adding the color to the chord, as much as say the 9, 11, and 13 are...the 3 and 7 are guide tones because they guide us through the essential elements of a jazz chord progression. You can all kinds of stuff here, but most common are 9, 11, and 13, as well as #11 (same as b5), b9, or #9, b13 (same as) #5.
Half-diminished family: Built from 1, b3, b5, and b7 of a major scale. Often called minor 7b5 (m7b5), though in my opinion this is incorrect. Symbol for 1/2 dim is usually Ø. CØ7, DØ9, etc. Add in the 9, 11, sometimes 13...
Diminished family: Built from 1, b3, b5, and bb7 (same as 6th) of a major scale. Often incorrectly called a diminished 6th chord, the diminished 7th chord is a very important sound especially for solo
guitar playing. Really
long story, really
short: A diminished 7th chord is a just a dominant 7th chord with a b9 instead of a root. This can get confusing fast, so just trust me here. Notice, if you haven't already, that a diminished chord is made up of all
m3rd intervals. So, a D°7 is spelled D, F, Ab, Cbb (same as a B). Since all the notes are the same interval apart, anyone can be the root (or 3rd or 5th or 7th). So: D°7 = F°7 = Ab°7 = B°7. Got it? All four diminished chords here are spelled D, F, Ab and B (or Cbb)
So, now it gets weird, but cool: It turns out
that a dominant 7 b9 chord creates a little diminished chord inside it. So:
Bb7b9 is spelled Bb-D-F-Ab-B
Db7b9 is spelled Db-F-Ab-B-D
E7b9 is spelled E-G#-B-D-F
G7b9 is spelled G-B-D-F-Ab
So, all the 3, 5, b7 and b9 of all four chord all spell the same diminished chord! Ack!
My brain is gonna explode!
So, the nice thing here, as that if you see a Bb7 chord you can play any one or even all 4 diminished chords over the top and it'll sound cool. Even with all this, you can still add in any note 1 whole step higher than a chord tone (these are notes from the diminished scale). For D°7, add in 2nd (9th) - E, 4th - G, b6 -Bb or maj7 - C#. So, for example: Instead of G7b9 you could play D°7 to F°7 to Ab°7 to B°7 and it would all be G7b9! Easy and fun, once you get used to it.