In the jazz context, what is a chord family? How is the concept used in improvisation, chord substitution, and re-harmonization? Which are the families and their members?

I've seen chords divided in families and grouped by quality (Maj family, Dominant family, etc) or by function (like Tonic family = I, vi, iii Subdominant family = IV, ii Dominant family = V, viio) or by key (C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bo = C maj family).

Are there other chord families?

How can this grouping help us with improvisation, chord substitution, and re-harmonization?

  • Google buddy - google.co.nz/… – scrowler Jun 10 '14 at 21:45
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    @scrowler I'm currently studying the subject. My teacher gave me the answer. I'm interested in the input of the musicologists of this site, and have that input available to others for the time to come. If your answer is "google buddy", SE sites like this one might not be the place for you. Also, in the all mighty google there is no unified concept of the families, which can potentially be done here, which would extend and complement the google knowledge base you are pointing me to. – user1079425 Jun 11 '14 at 12:16
  • @scrowler: The idea is that the SE results should come up in google searches, so questions on "basic" things like these are good. – Meaningful Username Jun 11 '14 at 12:49

A family of chords will be the same, basically, in just about any musical situation. Built up off the basic notes of a particular scale. As in Cmaj. 3 majors, built on I, IV and V, three minors, built on ii, iii and vi, and one half diminished, built on vii.So these will be recognised as C, Dm, Em, F,G,Am and Bo in key Cmaj. The same concept applies in minor keys, not forgetting that three different sets of notes comprise these so there will be differing chords dependent on which set is being used. In jazz, melodic minor is the more usual.

That takes care of the triads. Jazzers like extensions, so as well as 1,3 and 5 making up a chord, 7,9,11 and 13 will be brought into use. They will still be 'rooted' in the originals, and often notes will be omitted. As in 13th - leave out 5, and maybe 9 and 11. Still recognisable as a 13th.

Altered notes are also de rigeur, as in #/b 5 and #/b9. Again these will use the basic triad as,- well,- a basis. Tritone substitution has been discussed on this site before, often with reference to the dominant chord.

So, the families are as ever, but with additions and changes to the same old relatives as before.

  • In jazz, I've found that there are 3 (maybe more?) different kinds of families. 1: The one you explained. 2: Function families (like Tonic = I, vi, iii Subdominant = IV, ii Dominant = V, viio) 3: Quality families (Maj family, Dim family, etc). These grouping is used normally in a re-harmonization and chord substitution context. I wanted to dive into how this grouping and families can help is with improvisation, re-harmonization, and chord substitution. Edited the question to make it more clear. – user1079425 Jun 11 '14 at 12:07

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