Some of my favorite songs included added tones in their chord progressions to keep things interesting. I would like to follow suit, but I tend to become overwhelmed with the options: sevenths, added-second, added-fourth, and added-6th . . . I never know which is right in the moment.

Is there another way I can approach adding non-triad tones to my chords? Should voice leading possibilities (i.e. anticipations and suspensions) dictate where the voices should go? Or, alternatively, should I think of these extended chords in terms of the "moods" they evoke and go from there?

Thank you for your insight.

  • I suppose you didn't really mean to ask about added tones only, but any sorts of harmonic modifications? Added tones was just one trick you're familiar with? Chord substitution is another category of harmonic modifications, where you don't just add to a chord, you replace the whole chord with something different. Dec 8 '19 at 19:16
  • right . . . just trying to learn more about added tones at the moment! Thank you.
    – 286642
    Dec 8 '19 at 23:09

I don't think there are any rules. Or actually, I hope there are no rules, it's just a matter of taste and getting used to. Maybe someone dislikes maj7 chords, because they heard someone else say it sounded like elevator music, in a way which implied that it's a bad thing... and so, "maj7 = bad" for that person.

Music students tend to have a period in which they add extra notes everywhere, weird inversions and chord substitutions, weird time signatures, weird sounds, weird lyrics, weird clothes and hairstyles, weird everything. It's an important phase in developing a taste.

Play a lot of songs and try all the seasonings. Listen to it the next day. Do you still like it? Does it feel tasteless and kitchy, or just better? Listen to jazz and try to mimic what you hear. Can you reproduce the feelings, and does it make your playing feel credible and interesting and better, or does it sound like you're pretending to be something in a pathetic or ridiculous way? Do you think the added or changed things support the song and the artist and the genre, or is it just a gimmick?

As a guiding principle for getting ideas for jazzifications to try, voice leading is one alternative. Or you can use various substitutions like C7 => Gm, or C7 => Gb13 (tritone substitution), or C7 => Edim7, or C7 => A/C and F#/C. Try holding a pedal tone. Try everything.

You're developing a taste, it takes time and practice, but it's important to do, because it's part of what makes your sound.


Added tones can be useful in maintaining harmonic density. After e.g. a string of secondary dominants, a plain triad can sound bare. In a Db9-C substitution for a G7-C cadence (that Db9 sounds very like a dense G7+(b9)(b13) chord) it seems only proper to give the C at least an added 6 and 9!

Added notes can arise from voice-leading. Or they can just be 'plonked in' to add colour. If you're playing the Functional Harmony game, once the tritone is in place, telling the chord where to go, just about everything else is up for grabs.

Do be aware of harmonic density though. It's fine to terminate a 'juicy' sequence with a unison or a bare fifth. More problematic to carelessly switch between triads (3-density), 7ths (4-density), 9ths (5-density) etc. DURING a sequence.

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