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  How to Unlock the Mystery of the Altered Dominant Chord  
    To clearly embark on any path of understanding, we must set our focus and scope to gain perspective of our topic. In discussing How to Unlock the Mystery of the Altered Dominant Chord, I will attempt to take an often misunderstood and sometimes perplexing musical situation and try to simplify and better explain how to best melodically use these important musical colors.

 
  What is an Altered Dominant?
  An Altered Dominant is any Dominant 7th chord with alterations to the 5th or 9th degrees of the basic chord, i.e. G7(#5,#9), G7(b5), G7(b9,#9,b5,#5) etc... Understanding the chemical makeup of each of these rich sonorities will give you a much broader canvas for creativity. More clearly, it is understanding the subtle differences between these chords which will eventually add a much more sophisticated texture to your playing.

  Type 1 and Type 2
   In order to more clearly understand how to best improvise over these chords, it is helpful to divide them into two categories. For lack of a better choice I like to refer to them as Type 1 and Type 2. A Type 1 dominant chord resolves to some form of a 1 chord, whether it be major, minor, or dominant. A Type 2 dominant chord does not resolve to a one chord function. For ease of explanation, I will start with Type 2.

  Type 2
  The Type 2 altered dominant chord does not resolve to 1 and is most commonly found functioning as a II7 chord and usually has the #11 or b5 indicated or implied. The alteration of the lowered 5 or better #11 gives this chord an ambiguous quality because the natural tone of resolution has been raised a half step; i.e. D7b5/#11 would generally resolve to G major, but the G in the D7 is replaced with a G# or an Ab. The scale that I employ for improvising on this chord is the melodic minor (jazz minor, no alteration to 6th or the 7th in the descending version) built a 4th below the root of the given chord, i.e. for a D7#11 chord I would use an A melodic minor scale.
    Click here for example 1
 
  I arrive at this choice because in "A" diatonic melodic minor a D13#11 chord appears as the fourth chord, and therefore the scale can be used successfully to create interesting and correct sounding melodies.
    Click here for example 2
 
  I have composed a sample solo to Take the A Train showing clearly how by using the correct scale this example needs no accompaniment to sound correct.
    Click here for example 3
 
Type 1
   I chose to discuss the Type 2 dominant chord first, because in my opinion there is only one correct scale choice for that type of chord making it an easier way to approach this subject. The Type 1 altered dominant is a much more complex issue for there are several different choices of scales due to the subtle variations in the chord spelling. I like to think of these choices as layers. This allows for a greater understanding as the chord becomes more altered.
    Click here for example 4
 
   There are a few other combinations not mentioned here but this chart will serve to explain any combination. First let's explore the altered ninth. The 1/2-whole diminished scale works with all altered ninths (raised or lowered), natural 5th, b5th and 13th chords because the scale contains the root, b9, #9, 3, b5, 5, 6, and b7. The diminished scale also serves a lowered or natural fifth. To include the raised fifth you have a completely altered dominant, (this is the chord that composers refer to as X(alt), that is b5, #5, b9, #9 then the 1/2 step up melodic minor becomes the appropriate choice. Sometimes this grouping of notes is referred to as the diminished whole tone scale, and while it is true that both scales contain the same tones I think that choosing the 1/2 step up melodic minor scale yields many more organically driven melodies, that is to say melodies that are more melodic than pattern driven. Also, note the only difference between the diminished scale and the half step up melodic minor is one tone. As a rule: use diminished when there is a natural 5 and 6, and 1/2 step up melodic minor for the raised 5.
    Click here for example 5
 
   Here are some examples of II-V7-1 phrases which employ all of the types of scales discussed.
    Click here for example 6
    Click here for example 7
 
   I have provided an example which combines all of the elements discussed using the first 16 bars of There Will Never Be Another You.
    Click here for example 8
 
Conclusion
  One of my goals with my students is to have them be able to improvise without accompaniment and have the structure and form of the clearly known and cleanly executed. By understanding the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 dominant chords and practicing these suggested exercises you will notice more positive results with you or your students improvisations.
If you would like to contact me for clinics, master classes, concerts, or any questions you may have I can be reached directly at (310) 287-2353, or by email at drbruce@bruceeskovitz.com.


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