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I want to get more comfortable playing a wider variety of chords voicings, so recently I've been playing around with lots of different chord progressions in my warmups. A pianist I like put out a video on practicing 2-5-1's, so I decided to check out what she does, but there's a bit I don't understand:

She chooses to replace the 5th of some chords with 6ths - what is the purpose of this? Why can/does she do it in some places, but not others?

For example, she voices some one progression like this:

Dm7, she plays D + FACE / 1 + 3,5,b7,9

G7, she plays G + FABE / 1 + b7,9,3,13 (Why not play D?)

Cmaj7, C + EABD / 1 + 3,6,7,9 (Why not play G?)

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The 6th of a chord (generally M6) is an addition which is consonant - its sound blends well with the other notes - usually.

In a I chord, as in C in your example, it sort of works, but works better in a C major rather than a C major 7 chord. Reason being the maj7 note (B) is too close in sound to the 6th (A).

In the V chord, (or V7), it produces a 13th chord sound, so fits fine.

In the ii chord (Dm) having a 6th note is bad news, as it's a B. That then is the leading note of key C, and gives the feeling that the C chord will follow straight after, which of course it doesn't.

Reason why the 5 can be omitted? In any chord, that 5 is already there, as a harmonic which can actually be heard from a lot of instruments. Thus it is a note that can be, and often is, left out of a chord. (Except power chords!)

  • Thanks for breaking down each chord. I learned yesterday that ii is a minor 7, V is a dom7 and I is a major 7 chord. Does this affect the 13ths at all? Or in this case is it purely because of the lesson tones & nearby chords that it does/doesn't work? – SuikaCider Oct 22 at 1:01
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The fifth is not replaced with the 6th. It's really common to leave out 5ths in jazz/blues harmony because they don't add much colour. Usually you start with a "shell voicing" of 1/3/7 (even leaving out the root 1 often) and then add colour tones, and there are many possible ones: 9 / b9 / #9 / 11 / #11 (b5) / #5 / 13 ...)

In this context a chord with 3rd, dominant 7 and 6th is known as a 13th chord. G13 in the example you give.

(Mark Levine's book is a worthwhile investment if you want to dig deeply into this stuff. There is far too much to cover in a short post like this.)

  • Much prefer Bert Ligon's book. Levine's is full of discrepancies between text and music shown. – Tim Oct 21 at 13:01
  • Oh, I just assumes that G13 was g triad add 13. Are there multiple types of 13ths, just like 7ths? I'll be sure to look into that, thanks! – SuikaCider Oct 21 at 14:18
  • @SuikaCider - 13ths theoretically have 7, 9, 11 as well as 13 - but that then includes the whole scale! So, often, some notes are left out (on guitar it's essential - there aren't enough strings!). An effective 13 chord just has 7 and 13 (6) as well as the base triad. – Tim Oct 21 at 14:55
  • Really you can play G/B/F (that's your shell, maybe no G if you have a bass player doing that bit) and have some combination of A (9th), C# (#11) E (13) and call it 13th. The overall sound is more about the voicing and the intervals within it. Note the E (13th) does not have to be on top, though it often is. – danmcb Oct 21 at 19:21
  • On guitar you very typically have G (maybe) with F/B/E because that's a voicing that sits rather easily on that instrument. But good players probably have a bunch of other ways too. – danmcb Oct 21 at 19:22
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Perfect 5ths don't add color to a chord so unlike a sus4 where you're substituting a guide tone (3rd) for another, I would just view those as shell voicings of added 6th chords.

add6's include another note from the major pentatonic or major/minor blues scales, so it just sounds good. Opens up some new harmonies and tension and more interesting overall.

  • '7-note minor blues'? That's a new one on me! That M6 also comes in major blues. – Tim Oct 21 at 5:09
  • Aha, thanks for the correction. I have a tendency to only think of minor blues scales, because I simplify that major blues in my head to major pentatonic with a sometimes-flat third. – jasnoj Oct 21 at 12:05
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Why do something differently? To have variety. Varying things is good in and of itself in music, because it makes things more interesting.

Why leave out the fifth? To make room in the voicing. To make things more ambiguous. To use the voices where it makes the biggest impact. Because you like the sound of it? To leave a hole so that you can move the bass to the fifth without doubling any note?

In any case, you should try all tricks in different contexts. Dozens of different songs, play them in different keys and apply all your tricks. Then you get to know what the tricks do.

Myself, at some point I discovered all the different notes I could add to, say, minor chords... It took me years to get enough of it, and start to develop a taste for simple chords again. What I mean is, you should be playing songs and applying everything much more than seeking "explanations". Spend time with the chords, go to places with them, that's how you get to know them.

  • My particular case is that currently (and for the foreseeable future) I only have 2 hours per week where I have access to a piano. That being said, I have 10-15 hours a week that I can spend learning about why and how stuff works / putting together arrangements of stuff by ear/doing ear training stuff. I'm not necessarily trying to memorize all of this stuff now, just to build a mental library of awareness of stuff that exists. It's easier to hear if I have a concrete idea of what it is and how/why it works. – SuikaCider Oct 22 at 0:55
  • @SuikaCider Sorry but IMO your approach cannot work well. You have to spend all the hours you can on producing sounds and hearing the results. Produce, hear, change, produce, hear, change, etc. It doesn't have to be an actual physical piano. Any way to make sounds is ok. Your learning harmony completely depends on the number of hours spent on producing and listening. You cannot learn harmony as a theoretical exercise. Theory can only give tools for describing things you've encountered and ideas for what to try next in your produce-listen cycle. No play, no learn. Simple as that. – piiperi Oct 22 at 6:25
  • To give a bit more detail, I've played piano for about 5 years (and had regular access to a piano during that time). I also put my arrangements together with a computer notation machine, so everything I write is played back to me in real time. I've played a fair bit before this, and all of the stuff I mentioned in that comment is happening with audio feedback. – SuikaCider Oct 23 at 8:02

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