Originally, I asked the question immediately below and it created some confusion. My revision appears below the original.


What books or references do you recommend which teach about altered chords as they exist inside the given key? Allow me to explain by way of an example... Take My Funny Valentine, for instance. Great tune, lovely changes. It's in the key of Cm (using both harmonic and natural minors). The G7#5 leading back to the Cm caught my attention as an altered chord that exists within the context of the C harmonic minor scale.

Looking at the whole of natural, harmonic, and melodic minors, we can create a fair amount of chromaticism (b6, 6, b7, 7, 1). What I am attempting to piece together are which altered chords can fit where inside the context of these scales. In other words, I am attempting to learn how to intelligently apply these alterations without leaving the key (however I am allowing for some stretch of the key definition by including these three different minor keys).

Of course, we can create further tension by going beyond (or "outside" of) the current key context, but for now it is these "inside" alterations that interest me the most as a potential vehicle for spicing up some changes. Thanks in advance for your recommendations.


I should have used the term "alteration", however my example suggested "altered" instead. (I have amended the title.) I did not intend to limit the scope to altered dominant chords; my intent was to map the diatonic ("inside") alterations within the context of each mode for the three minor scales, plus the bii tritone sub as well. I have recently begun this exercise for my own benefit, and I was seeking to corroborate my answers. (As a guitarist, my voicings will be more limited than some of the potential keyboard solutions.) Thanks for your feedback.

  • Between your question and the one answer currently posted, it seems that there is confusion between an Altered chord and an Alteration. An Alteration is an extension that is either raised or lowered compared to the major or perfect intervals that are Extensions (tensions). So, in Cmaj7 #11, though it occurs naturally in G Major, the #11 is an alteration. I have seen two Altered chords, Dom7 b9, #9, #11, b13; and Dom7 b9, #9, #11, Natural 13. It seems that the first is the most common. So in your example, G7#5 (b13 as some would call it) is not an altered chord but a chord with an alteration. Mar 19, 2014 at 15:43

3 Answers 3


Alterations are mostly used with dominant chords moving to a chord with a root a perfect fifth below their root, i.e. G7(alt) moving to Cm. You can use a dominant chord to approach any stable chord in your key (these dominant chords are called secondary dominants), but using them also means altering (at least) one scale tone. E.g., for the IV chord in C minor (which could be an Fm7 or an F7) you could use C7 as a secondary dominant, but then you need to alter the scale tone eb to e. So you see that within the key the possibilities are restricted. It is only the V chord (G7), which is usually altered. However, in minor this means just using ordinary (unaltered) scale notes as tensions for G7: eb (#5/b13), ab (b9), bb/a# (#9). Just the #11 for G7 (c#) is not part of the minor key.

Some other chords (in C minor) where the #11 is inside the key are:

Ebmaj7/#11, F7/#11, Abmaj7/#11

You can use these to add some color to your progressions without altering any notes of the key (even though I don't understand this self-imposed restriction).

Note that all these 'alterations' sound very normal and not really unexpected, simply because they are all notes already contained in the key. Altering a dominant chord in a major key is a very different matter, because here all the alterations mentioned above are NOT part of the major scale.

As far as I know there is no book on this exact topic. A very good general book on jazz harmony is The Chord Scale Theory & Jazz Harmony by Nettles and Graf. However, to get the most out of it you should know your basic music theory before you start working through it.

  • Using a note that is outside the scale, say for a secondary dominant, is not necessarily an alteration, at least not within the realm of Extensions/Alterations. Also, Altered chords are probably used just as commonly, if not more, to move somewhere other than down a fifth. Altered chords make for great tri-tone and minor third substitutions. Within the Jazz context, alterations are so common that anything 'being in the key' doesn't really have the same weight as it does in more strictly diatonic settings. Mar 19, 2014 at 15:54
  • A note outside the scale is an alteration of an original scale note, indeed not necessarily an alteration of a chord tension, this is what I meant by 'alteration' in that context. Furthermore, tritone subs usually do not have altered tensions other than the #11, otherwise you would 'undo' the implicit alteration of using a tritone sub, because the unaltered tensions of a tritone sub are just the altered tensions of the original chord.
    – Matt L.
    Mar 19, 2014 at 16:06
  • Yes, the note is altered from that which is within the scale of the key but not an alteration for the chord. Undoing the implicit alterations of the substitution is exactly why one might want to use an Altered chord. The chord itself is quite dissonant but having those common tones from the scale makes it fit with a less jarring effect. Mar 19, 2014 at 16:18

Even if your interest may not be in classical music, you need to work on classical harmony, for it is the basis of any tonal music (jazz, etc, included). There are many books on classical harmony, but one I suggest you look at is Tchaikovsky's Guide to the Practical Study of Harmony, as it is short and well explained, and freely (and legally) available at IMSLP.org.


I've never heard the terms "inside" or "outside" but from the other answers, it seems if "inside" refers to chromatic alterations which do not change key and "outside" refers to those which do. (There may be "boundary" cases that could be analyzed either way.)

Classically, there are quite a few chromatic alterations that do not cause one to hear a key change. The most common (as already mentioned) are secondary dominants (AKA applied dominants) like using D7 in the key of C in a progression like D7-G7-C. This can be extended to many progressions based on the Circle of Fifths like C-E7-A7-D7-G7-C. Other simple alterations are using the tonic or subdominant minor where the major chord would be expected. The Neapolitan Sixth and Augmented Sixths can also be used without leaving the "current" key.

Schoenberg suggests that one only effects a key change when the characteristic notes of the "first" key are "neutralized." Thus "modulation" to a new key depends on long-range relations. A non-modulatory example: C-A7-D7-G7-C-C-Am=dm=G7=C). The notes "foreign" to the first key should be confirmed. C-Am-dm-G7-C-A7-D7-G-C-Am-D7-G-A7-D7-G-D7-G... used the F# in the new key in contrast to its use in the old key. The F# hangs around.

The minor keys are a bit tricky in that there are two notes (steps 6 and 7) that are mutable. Both forms may occur without leaving the key and may even occur simultaneously (in different voices.) The idea of neutralization still works except in moving to the relative key (similar problem in major). The simple VII7-III movement isn't enough to modulate to III (c-f-Bb7-Eb can be ambiguous) so more work is needed. This is why early Baroque liked pieces to modulate from i to III or I to V as moving in and out of these pairs of keys is hard to make aurally convincing.

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