Passing Chords: Altered Chords And Dominant Seventh [b9] Chords

In this lesson we’ll be contrasting between altered chords and dominant seventh [b9] chords.

In the next 10 minutes or so, you’ll clearly understand the relationship between both chords and how they resolve to major and minor chord types respectively.

Let’s get started by refreshing our minds on altered chords and dominant seventh [b9] chords.

A Short Note On Altered Chords

An altered chord is a dominant chord with a ninth and fifth that is chromatically modified. The goal of the modification of a dominant chord to form an altered chord is to change the way it resolves.

The C dominant ninth chord:

…can be modified to form an altered chord when its ninth and fifth tones are either raised or lowered.

Raising its ninth tone (which is D):

…by a half-step (to D#):

…and its fifth tone (which is G):

…by a half-step (to G#):

…produces the C dominant seventh [#9, #5] chord:

…which is for all intents and purposes an altered chord.

The Default Altered Chord

There are a handful of altered chords you can come up with and this depends on the modification. Check out these examples:

The C dominant seventh [b9, b5] chord:

The C dominant seventh [b9, #5] chord:

The C dominant seventh [#9, b5] chord:

However, the default altered chord is the dominant seventh [#9, #5] chord and here’s the C dominant seventh [#9, #5] chord:

Attention: Throughout this lesson, the term “altered chord” will be used to make reference to the dominant seventh [#9, #5] chord.

“Check Out The 12 Altered Chord On The Keyboard…”

The C altered chord:

The Db altered chord:

The D altered chord:

The Eb altered chord:

The E altered chord:

The F altered chord:

The Gb altered chord:

The G altered chord:

The Ab altered chord:

The A altered chord:

The Bb altered chord:

The B altered chord:

Review Of The Dominant Seventh [b9] Chord

The dominant seventh [b9] chord is the 5-chord in the minor key.

Using the key of C minor (as a reference):

…the dominant seventh [b9] chord can be formed using the C harmonic minor scale:

…which is one of the traditional scales associated with the minor key.

So, using the C harmonic minor scale:

…the dominant seventh [b9] chord (which is the 5-chord in the key) can be formed on the fifth tone (which is G):

“Check It Out…”

Using the pick-skip technique of chord formation, we can form the dominant seventh [b9] chord by picking and skipping scale tones; starting from G.

Let’s use two octaves of the C harmonic minor scale (as a reference):

So, if we pick G:

…skip Ab and pick B:

…skip C and pick D:

…skip Eb and pick F:

…skip G and pick Ab:

Altogether, we’ll have G, B, D, F, and Ab:

…which is the G dominant seventh [b9] chord.

If you’re already familiar with the dominant ninth chord, you can lower its ninth tone by a half-step to produce the dominant seventh [b9] chord. For example, the C dominant ninth chord:

…can be used in the formation of the C dominant seventh [b9] chord. Lowering the ninth tone of the C dominant ninth chord:

…which is D:

…by a half-step (to Db):

…produces the C dominant seventh [b9] chord:

“Here Are All The Dominant Seventh [b9] Chords On The Keyboard…”

The C dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The C# dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The D dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The Eb dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The E dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The F dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The F# dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The G dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The G# dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The A dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The Bb dominant seventh [b9] chord:

The B dominant seventh [b9] chord:

Altered Chords Vs Dominant Seventh [b9] Chords

One thing altered chords and dominant seventh [b9] chords have in common is their tonal function as passing chords.

Let’s take a look at how these passing chord types resolve to major and minor chords.

Resolution To Major Chords

“So, How Do Altered Chords Resolve To Major Chords…?”

Altered chords resolve to major chords that are a half-step below their root. For example, the C altered chord:

…resolves to a major chord that is a half-step below its root.

A half-step below C:

…is B:

Consequently, the C altered chord resolves to any of the following B major chords:

The B major triad:

The B major seventh chord:

The B major ninth chord:

…and any other B major chord option.

So, always remember to resolve altered chords downwards by a half-step.

“Here’s How To Resolve Dominant Seventh [b9] Chords…”

Dominant seventh [b9] chords resolve to major chords that are a perfect fifth below their root. For example, the G dominant seventh [b9] chord:

…resolves downward by a fifth to the following C major chord options:

C major triad:

C major seventh chord:

C major ninth chord:

…or any other C major chord option.

Also note that the dominant seventh [b9] chord resolves like the altered chord as well.  For example, the G dominant seventh [b9] chord:

…that resolves downward by a fifth can also resolve downward by a half-step to the following F# major chord options:

F# major triad:

F# major seventh chord:

F# major ninth chord:

So, while altered chords can only resolve downwards by a half-step, dominant seventh [b9] chord can either resolve downwards by a fifth or by a half-step.

“Here’s What I Mean….”

The F dominant seventh [b9] chord:

…either resolves downwards by a fifth to Bb major chords:

Bb major triad:

Bb major seventh chord:

Bb major ninth chord:

…or downwards by a half-step to E major chords:

E major triad:

E major seventh chord:

E major ninth chord:

Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.”

Resolution To Minor Chords

Having understood the resolution of altered and dominant seventh [b9] chords to major chords, it’s easier to understand how that of minor chords work.

“So, How Can An Altered Chord Be Resolved To Minor Chords…”

Altered chords resolve to major chords that are a perfect fifth below their root. For example, the E altered chord:

…resolves downward by a fifth to the following A minor chord options:

A minor triad:

A minor seventh chord:

A minor ninth chord:

…or any other A minor chord option.

“Here’s Some Information On The Resolution Of Dominant Seventh [b9] Chords To Minor Chords…”

Dominant seventh [b9] chords resolve to minor chords that are a half-step below their root. For example, the G dominant seventh [b9] chord:

…resolves to a minor chord that is a half-step below its root.

A half-step below G:

…is F#:

Consequently, the G altered chord resolves to any of the following F# minor chords:

The F# minor triad:

The F# minor seventh chord:

The F# minor ninth chord:

…and any other F# minor chord option.

So, always remember to resolve dominant seventh [b9] chords downwards by a half-step.

Attention: The dominant seventh [b9] chord resolves downwards to minor chords by a perfect fifth — just like altered chords.  For example, the G dominant seventh [b9] chord:

…that resolves downward by a half-step can also resolve downward by a fifth to the following C minor chord options:

C minor triad:

C minor seventh chord:

C minor ninth chord:

So, while altered chords can only resolve downwards to minor chords by a fifth, dominant seventh [b9] chord can either resolve downwards by a fifth or by a half-step.

Final Words

In a subsequent lesson, we’ll go a step further to see how these passing chord types can be applied to real life songs.

See you then!

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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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