I'm trying to work my way through the Mark Levine Jazz Theory book but I'm scratching my head at the start of chapter 2 (Pg15). Maybe this book is too advanced for me and I need to pick something less Jazzy. A stave in the first example shows the notes F,Ab,Eb,G with the Chord F-7 written above it. I can't fit these notes into the chord, I would have expected to see F, Ab, C, Eb. In the next bar it names the chord as Bb7 with the notes below Bb,Ab,C,E,G. Again I would have expected to see Bb,D,F,Ab. Can somebody help and explain how or why these notes appear ?

  • 1
    You're correct about the basic spelling of those chords. It seems like there might be some additional context needed. Could you post images? The title of the chapter could shed some light as well.
    – Aaron
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 22:53
  • 1
    There are so many discrepancies in this book, I gave up on it. As an educational tome, it isn't. Try Bert Ligon instead.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 7:29

2 Answers 2


In a book on chords we might expect the labelled chord to be played exactly as the chord symbol indicates, but this book is more about how a musician may approach the basic chord chart and embellish upon it creatively. Essentially, when a musician playing in a jazz context sees a chord, they will very often put their own substitute voicing on top that has a few more of the interesting extensions in it. In the Mark Levine book, he is concerned with showing the underlying chord progression as it may appear in a Realbook or leadsheet, and displaying it alongside what a musician may actually play. The chord charts as written in jazz lead sheets are fairly rough simplifications, giving the improvising musician a good clue as to what that chord is 'doing' in the piece of music, and leaving the space open for them to extend it in a way that suits them, and suits the stylistic sensibilities of the current group they are playing in.

In the example fig 2-1, we are seeing a ii V I progression in Eb.

F, Ab, Eb, and G are the intervals 1, b3, b7, 9, a minor9 chord, a common extension of the minor7 chord in the ii position. The 5th is omitted, but it doesn't effect the naming of the chord, the 5th is very often the first to be omitted from a voicing as it serves no strong purpose in defining the FUNCTION of the chord (here, at least).

Bb, Ab, C, D (not E), G are the intervals 1, b7, 9, 3, 13. A dominant13 chord, again, a common extension of a standard dominant7 chord in the V position. Note, you can generally add any upper extensions below the 'highest' extension you get. Ie in a 13 you can happily add all the extensions up to the 13th, there are some caveats and rules to that but perhaps thats not for right now, you'l come to them in time!

Edit, looking again at the example I would agree with Pied Piper that actually the Bb's 13th (the G) is better thought of as a suspension, in this context, as it is part of the melodic line on top and quickly resolves to F within the second measure!

Musicians playing jazz (depending on their personal choice and sound) will generally extend most chords in one way or another to get a more interesting or complex sounding harmony. Mark Levine is showing the underlying changes (the chord symbols) in such a way that their function can be easily seen, alongside a transcription of how someone may choose to actually play them.

This may seem a little complex for the learner, but it's not so bad. The underlying quality of the chord will be held in it's 3rds and 7ths, generally.

1st, 3rd and 7th - some kind of major7

1st, b3rd and b7th - some kind of minor7

1st, 3rd and b7th - some kind of dominant7

The extensions, in the example you asked about, are chosen from the other notes available from the scale, Ebmaj in this case. The ii chord naturally has a natural 9 so it has been added, the V chord has a natural 9 and 13 in the key of Ebmajor so they too have been added. These extensions are said to be diatonic to the key, ie. they are the ones we would expect.

Worth noting, playing extensions that are NOT from the key is very common, in order to create tension or other effects. But this is something to look at later perhaps, and IIRC in this book Mark Levine introduces the learner to these extensions as they come up.

  • Thank you so much for your answer. It's made it a lot clearer but maybe I'm trying to run before i can walk with this book. Do you know of any other books I could try before the Levine book ?
    – Devalino
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 23:57
  • No worries! Hmm, it's a bit tricky as I tend to teach learners to a certain point in-classroom and then once they've got a good foundation I direct them off towards the various books, Mark Levine etc. once they are ready, making sure I warn against the pitfalls that some of these books have (including the Mark Levine one) and work with them with these new findings. Whats your instrument? I can have a look around for some good ones that stick to the fundamentals!
    – OwenM
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 0:22
  • I play guitar and it was an online guitar instructor, Tom Quayle that suggested buying the Mark Levine book in his course 'Jazz Harmony - Playing Changes'. The book tells you in the introduction that you don't need to be able to play piano but it's a struggle when the first set of examples it gives you (as you've now explained) have extensions and voicings I wasn't expecting. I'll try and stick with it for now and struggle through it, I might end up being a better pianist than guitarist. Thank you again for you're help.
    – Devalino
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 6:09
  • Ah I see! Yeah, the examples will be annoying to play on guitar. I'm bass but when reading this book I plodded through on piano, many of the voicings will not be playable on guitar anyway! This is a slightly contentious book, the scale for every chord approach is not the way the great jazz giants would have thought, but the book talks as if it's 'the only way'. Its good for a more modern sound though, I would just read and take bits from it as you go and not worry TOO much about the examples, maybe play on a keyboard if in doubt!
    – OwenM
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 14:17
  • I agree though, its a bit annoying when the first example chucks in a concept the author hasn't even thought to mention. The Bert Ligon books are suggested above, I haven't read it but had a look at it just now and it may well be a more concise alternative!
    – OwenM
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 14:21

enter image description hereIn the first bar the melody note is G, so this is really a Fm9 chord. Leaving out the fifth (C) doesn't change the quality of the chord.

In the second bar the notes are Bb, Ab, C, D (not E), G. The G is just a suspension from the previous bar and resolves to F. It's really a Bb9 chord.

  • So, in what's supposed to be an educational book, why does Levine frequently call the chords by inaccurate names, with no text explanations to help the sort of people who would try to use a book such as this to expand their playing? As I read the book, I made notes of so many places that lacked relevant information - I can't recommend this book enough - to leave on the shelf!
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 8:02
  • @Tim I wasn't trying to defend the book. I agree with you, it's not explained properly.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 8:16
  • Not knocking your answer, just knocking the book. So many 'mistakes'...
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 8:19
  • Melody notes can be part of a piece's functional chord structure, but they don't have to be. The same can sometimes be true of certain "color" notes in an accompaniment. In some contexts, omitting a 7th or 9th of a chord, or replacing it with the root, may fundamentally change the way it sounds, while in others such a substitution might be barely noticeable. If a piece has a chord with C, E, and Bb, while a melody note hits a B natural that will resolve up to C while the chord notes underneath resolve to C, F, and A, I'd classify that as a C7 despite the presence of a B natural.
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 18:29

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