Help! How Are Altered Chords Resolved?

If you’re interested in learning how to resolve altered chords, this lesson is for you.

Altered chords are commonly used in gospel and jazz styles as passing chords and that’s why it’s important for any serious musician to be acquainted with it.

Attention: Altered chords are advanced, extended, and sophisticated and are usually played by intermediate and pre-advanced players. Therefore, this lesson is not suitable for beginners.

Let’s get started by taking a closer look at altered chords.

A Review On Altered Chords

An altered chord is a dominant chord that its ninth and/or fifth tones are modified.

The reason why the dominant seventh chord is altered is to adapt it to a foreign or related key. For example, the G dominant ninth chord:

…usually resolve to the C major seventh chord:

…or the C major ninth  chord:

The G dominant ninth chord can be altered when its ninth and/or fifth tones are modified. The ninth and fifth tones of the G dominant ninth chord:

…are A:

…and D:

…respectively.

“How To Modify Chord Tones…”

The modification of notes entails the use of two pitch modifiers –  the sharp (#)  and the flat (b). The sharp modifies a note by raising it by a half step, while the flat modifies a note by lowering it by a half step.

Using the sharp, we can raise the fifth and ninth tones of the G dominant ninth chord:

…which are D and A:

…by a half step (to D# and A#):

…to produce the G altered chord:

…commonly known as the G dominant seventh (sharp ninth, sharp fifth.)

A Short Note On Altered Chord Types

There are many altered chord types and each type is a product of the modified chord tones. Some of the commonly used types are:

Dominant seventh (flat ninth, sharp fifth)

Dominant seventh (sharp ninth, flat fifth)

Dominant seventh (sharp ninth, sharp fifth)

Dominant seventh (flat ninth, flat fifth)

Other rare altered chord types may have more than two extensions. Check out some of them:

Dominant seventh (sharp ninth, flat ninth, sharp fifth)

Dominant seventh (sharp ninth, sharp fifth, flat fifth)

…etc.

Although there are several altered chord types, the default altered chord is the dominant seventh (sharp ninth, sharp fifth) chord.

“Check Out All The Altered Chords On The Keyboard…”
C altered chord:

Db altered chord:

D altered chord:

Eb altered chord:

E altered chord:

F altered chord:

G altered chord:

G altered chord:

Ab altered chord:

A altered chord:

Bb altered chord:

Cb altered chord:

 

How Altered Chords Are Resolved

Beyond learning altered chords, it is important for any serious musician to understand how they are resolved.

Altered chords are classified as unstable chords because when played or heard, they have the tendency to move to a stable chord.

The resolution of an unstable chord is the movement of that chord to a stable chord. Due to the fact that altered chords are unstable, learning how they are resolved is important.

“Just Before We Go On, Let’s Review The Resolution Of The Dominant Ninth Chord…”

The dominant ninth chord resolves to a major chord (be it a triad, seventh, or ninth chord) that is a fifth below its root.

For example, the D dominant ninth chord:

…resolves to the G major triad:

…G major seventh chord:

…or the G major ninth chord:

The Resolution Of Altered Chords

The resolution of an altered chord differs from the resolution of the regular dominant ninth chord.

The altered chord resolves to a minor chord (be it a triad, seventh, or ninth chord) that is a fifth below its root.

For example, the B altered chord:

…resolves to the E minor triad:

…E minor seventh chord:

…or the E minor ninth chord:

“Hey! That’s Not All…”

Altered chords can also resolve to major chords.

An altered chord resolves to a major chord (be it a triad, seventh, or ninth chord) that is a half-step below its root.

For example, the F altered chord:

…resolves to the E major triad:

…E major seventh chord:

…or the E major ninth chord:

 “Let’s Resolve A Few Altered Chords…”

Example #1

Resolve the F# altered chord:

The F# altered chord resolves a fifth downwards to the B minor ninth chord:

…or to the F major ninth chord:

…a half step below it.

Example #2

Resolve the C altered chord:

The C altered chord resolves a fifth downwards to the F minor ninth chord:

…or to the B major ninth chord:

…a half step below it.

Example #3

Resolve the E altered chord:

The E altered chord resolves a fifth downwards to the A minor ninth chord:

…or to the Eb major ninth chord:

…a half step below.

Final Words

I’m doubly sure that with all that we’ve learned in this lesson, you can practically resolve any given altered chord.

I’ll see you in the next lesson!

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Chuku Onyemachi

Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. I started teaching musicians in my neighbourhood in April 2005. Today, I'm humbled to work as a music consultant with HearandPlay Music Group for musicians in Africa and beyond.

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