I was having a go at this tune Minor Swing which solo sections follow this utterly simple changes:

Minor Swing original changes

I've been soloing over that using a backing track and also I've been playing simple voicings of the chords on the keyboard.

My main question is: what are your thoughts with regards to using Am6, AmΔ or Am7 instead of Am; Dm6, DmΔ or Dm7 instead of Dm?

For context, below is an attempt to describe my own limited knowledge about the matter (likely innacurate and/or wrong).

  • Theory seems to say that, from a functional harmony standpoint, the 4 (I'm including the m triad) are pretty much equivalent and interchangeable (with the exception of the "major II-V device", where the II is a m7).
  • Fake book music sheets seem to agree. However, implications related to aesthetics (rather than functionality) seem to exist: you are likely to use m7 in Summertime, but m6 in Autumn Leaves.
  • As I play the chords, I can tell each of them has a distinct sound.
  • I realise their use affects voice leading (for example, in Minor Swing, the tone B in Dm6 in measure #10 moves to the tone C in Am) but I don't know whether this has any relevance.

Side questions:

  • To what extent are these chords really "equivalent" in practical use?
  • You choose between them based on what?
  • I've seen them coexist in a given tune, but to what extent do you actually mix them? For example, in a given tune in the key of Am, you can find Am6, then Gm7 as part of a II-V to F. However, would it sound odd if, with voice leading in mind, in Minor Swing, I did:

Minor Swing odd changes


The Django recording of this has pretty much all m6 and m6/9 chords being played by both piano and guitar. Is this your own chart/transcription or is it from a book?

That aside, if you hand this chart in its original form to experienced jazz musicians they will automatically and instinctively play some or all of the chord extensions and alterations you mentioned both in their comping and their soloing. The minor chords will become m9 or m6, the 7th chords will become b9, #9 or altered. Dorian modes or ascending melodic minor scales may be substituted for natural minor scales, etc. This is done creatively, spontaneously, and most importantly collectively, with players listening to each other to see what is being done and reacting to it. If a comping pianist hears a soloist playing B naturals on a Dm he might react with Dm6. If he hears lots of G’s and B’s on an Am chord he will probably play Am9. When it’s his turn to solo he will choose what suits his ear and taste.

Bottom line, don’t feel like you have to compose a set of more advanced changes but by all means try them out. Experiment, listen and react to what others do. Discover what sounds good to you. Don’t worry much about analysis and function, this is simply a minor 1-4-5 tune.

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Since this is blues/jazz, ordinary theory doesn't necessarily sit happily here.

Am maj7 is only really valuable as a stepping stone chord from Am to Am7.

Using Am6 can work, but it's somewhat dependant on what's in the melody.

Am7 works most of the time - particularly in the bar preceding iv (Dm).

Dm6 is a re-voiced Bm7♭5, so leads well to E or E7.

In a minor blues the V chord works well as 7♯9. A sort of melange of major and minor - aka Hendrix chord.

Choose between them based on what? Based on how I feel at that moment, listening to what's going on at that moment and prior.

Am9 and E9 both work well too. As would A7 (or A9) before moving to Dm.

Just a few random ideas! Use of ears is always recommended, and often works better than consideration of theory - especially when recommended by someone else...

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    Am maj7 is valuable everywhere! :) I think the only right way for the OP is to try things and develop a taste. – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 5 at 11:10
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica - Personally, I haven't quite reached that point where I would be inclined to put m maj7 in 'everywhere', or even 'anywhere'. Do put it in 'somewhere' but am still quite choosy! Probably to do with what the rest are doing - it won't fit well in some cicumstances - imo... And voicing, as ever, is pretty important, with a chord like that. – Tim May 5 at 11:13
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    I mean, m maj7 doesn't have to be out of the question in any genre. The maj7 can be used for its color in itself, and the voice-leading pressure used as a separate independent "feature". A bit like in blues tradition, dominant seventh chords are used as color, not letting the tension "properly" resolve. But yes, it is very tempting to move the maj7 voice to either direction. – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 5 at 16:52
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    It’s not just a passing chord, some of the best spy movie themes end with a m maj7 chord, actually usually a m 6, maj7, 9. James Bond, The Pink Panther. – John Belzaguy May 5 at 19:09

what are your thoughts with regards to using Am6, AmΔ or Am7 instead of Am

My thoughts are: it's completely a matter of taste. When I was younger, so much younger than today, I used a lot of m7, but now it's more often mmaj7 or m6.

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For the rhythmic guitar of Minor Swing for instance, it is cool to play Am6 and Dm6 (and E7#9), see this video.

Why? Because their dissonance really fit the restlessness of the tune.

Consonance, dissonance, dynamics, timbre, tempo and rhythm changes, modulation...they are just colours of your palette. Learn from the artists you like, and use such tools to express your feelings. Do not feel constrained.

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