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#11 vs. b5 chords...should I care?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by BrandonL, Jun 29, 2020 at 7:02 PM.

  1. BrandonL


    Sep 20, 2018
    Boise, ID
    So, I’m curious - is there any practical playing difference in a D7b5 vs. D7#11? What I really want to know is: Is there any difference in the notes I’d choose when organizing a bass line in one vs. the other?
  2. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Yes, one of those chords can have a perfect fifth in it while the other should not. For the D7#11 i would likely not play the #11 in my line and let the guitar/piano take it. Pretty much it would be a D7 to me. With that said, context matters, and your line could feature the #11 if it makes musical sense in the moment or if you are the only one outlining the chord. You could also use perfect fifth on the D7b5 as long as it's taking you somewhere meaningful, like a chord tone of the next chord in the sequence.
  3. BrandonL


    Sep 20, 2018
    Boise, ID
    Thank you.

    Okay, I Just want to make sure I got this:

    b5 chord - I use the b5 INSTEAD of the perfect 5
    #11 chord - I use the perfect 5, but also consider the #11 as an additional note

    I know there will always be the opportunity to do whatever I want if I know what I’m doing/where I’m going, but as a general concept, this is it?
  4. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    You got it! Hopefully some others chime in with their perspective as well as i am always curious how folks might incorporate the extension(#11) in chords from a bass perspective.
    BrandonL likes this.
  5. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    On a D Dominant 7 chord (D7xxx) spelled either "D7b5" or "D7#11", the natural 5 (A natural) can be a supportive note in the bassline, chord voicing, or the melody. (See/Hear the bassline in the YT below @0:21 below (the chord is "D7..." with a G# in the melody), the bassist IS playing an A natural in his bassline.
    (NOTE: on a D MINOR 7b5 Chord - I would NOT like to hear an A Natural in either the bassline OR the melody.)
    lurk, Dabndug, M0ses and 3 others like this.
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    In many instances, the two are just two different ways of expressing the same basic idea, along with D7#4. As with most questions about harmony, context is everything, and even then what seems right to any given person can still be subjective if the melody doesn't spell out the details.

    My first thought when I see D7b5 is that the person who wrote it is thinking about the chord itself rather than about a chord scale. I tend not to think about out of context chord symbols as relating to chord scales, so to me on the face of it, D7b5, D7#4, and D7#11 all mean the same thing and the context fills in the missing bits.

    For example, here's the first 4 bars of "Take The A Train" from four different sources:

    Real Book:
    Screen Shot 2020-06-29 at 10.00.08 PM.png
    (note that the melody spells the note as a #4, while the chord symbol shows b5)

    Jazz Fake Book:
    Jazz Fake.png

    New Real Book:
    New Real.png

    And Colorado Cookbook:

    To me, the first three are all implying the same sound, but just showing it in a different nomenclature. I don't care for the 4th one because in my experience "Alt" means some alteration of the 9th, which clearly isn't happening here. But the melody makes that clear, so I would arrive at the same conclusion as the other three in the end anyway while wondering what the person who wrote that chart thinks "alt" actually means and why.
  7. BrandonL


    Sep 20, 2018
    Boise, ID
    Ha! You folks are smart...A Train is the precise piece I was thinking of...I have to say that the A natural seems to sound right to me when I include it in those D7...bars.
    Can you help me understand the difference between thinking about the chord vs. the chord scale?
  8. M0ses


    Sep 11, 2009
    Los Angeles
    I don't like the last example either, the triangle implies a major seventh which isn't included in any of the others and has a jarring sound. I think that's WHY the other arrangers labeled it C6, jazz arrangers are uncomfortable with traids but the Maj7 just sounds bad :roflmao:

    Chords don't include scalar information. They're notes with intervals in-between them; they make great landing spots, but the steps you take in-between those intervals are not logically, irrevocably proscribed, they're choices. We use different modes of the same scale in a ii-V-I cause it sounds nice in context, but it's not true that a dorian scale is the only thing you can play against a minor 7 chord.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I think @M0ses has it right when he says:

    Except that I would rephrase the sentence to say that chords contain some scalar information; they contain the same amount of scalar information as they have notes in the chord. In theory, this should be simple, but as your question and Seanto's reply illustrate, sometimes it's complicated. Because D7b5 seems to indicate the four notes D - F# - Ab - C, whereas D7#11 seems to indicate the five notes D- F# - A - C --->G#.

    So if most scales have seven different notes between the root and 8ve, then a 4 note chord gives you 4/7ths (57%) of the "scalar answer"; a 5 note chord gives you 5/7ths, or 71%. The remaining spaces in between are largely what people end up arguing about. And as we see, to the person writing as a chord, enharmonics don't always matter (hence the D7b5 in two sources).

    In this case, then, we know that the "chord" contains D - F# - G#/Ab - C, and we choose to call it a G# because that makes more sense because it's clearly a passing tone in the larger melodic line. Then the melody of the measure shows us that there is an E natural, which makes our "chord scale" D - E - F# - G# - ? - ? - C. So we have 5/7ths of the answer. Most people tend to fill in those blanks with the notes A and B, which produces a Lydian Dominant "Scale". But there are plenty of times where you will hear players use a Bb there in soloing in place of both of those notes, turning the sound into a superimposed whole tone scale just for fun and/or because that way of hearing the sound makes more sense to them.

    And speaking of fun, the symbol used on the last example I posted above from the Colorado Cookbook (D7alt) has been argued about endlessly by jazz musicians and theorists for decades. Many would say it implies a specific scale, others would say it's shorthand for D7#9#5, while others think it implies the notes D-F#-A-C plus both alterations of the 9th (in this case both Eb and F natural), which is how I usually approach it.

    True about the dorian sound, although it is arguably the most organic sound to play in a ii V I. But I would argue that a ii-V-I isn't three different chord scales, but rather three interlocking chords that, when the notes of all three are taken together, combine to produce a major scale but on the root of the last chord. D-F-A-C combines with G-B-D-F and C-E-G-B to produce C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. This is why context is everything. :)
  10. BrandonL


    Sep 20, 2018
    Boise, ID
    Whoa. That’s a lot to chew on before my next lesson...or next 20 years for that matter. I’ll be re-reading all these posts a few times. I’m grateful for ya’ll’s sharing of knowledge....now, back to the shed to work on this.
  11. jjqq123


    Aug 16, 2017
    To me, take the A train sounds better walking through the whole tone scale than Mixo #11...
    So maybe D7b5 makes more sense than the newer real books nomenclature?
    Jason Hollar likes this.
  12. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, to me D7ALT. means "a D7 and some undefined extensions" which is less than useful. If you're going to ALT it, for chrissakes tell us what you're ALTing it to!

    In the 40 or so years I've been playing this tune, I have almost invariably either used a whole tone scale or an D7 scale over the 3rd and 4th bars of the tune. I would not hang on the A natural obviously, but if it falls under the fingers for an instant it's not so bad. I wouldn't play the A natural on bass, for sure.

    What would really be interesting would be to figure out what Duke and Duke's band played there. There was a lot of ear playing going on in that band, driven by what Duke played at the piano. A lot of the interesting dissonances you hear on record, by all accounts were the result of guys being dissatisfied with somewhat sketchy scores and finding notes that fit. This being a Strayhorn tune and not a Duke tune, I don't know how explicit Strays would have been in writing out detailed harmonies.

    (What that last paragraph alludes to is my firm belief that all music is played by ear at some level and the dots and letters/numbers are a code that helps you play things that sound good. I am neither a high powered theorist though I can sort of hold my own; I am certainly not a professional jazz bassist; but my way of figuring out a way through chord changes might be meaningful anyway. I listen till I get the sound of the tune in my head, then I use notes that sound good. Of course I use theoretical knowledge to help me pick them, but every time I start using music theory to pick notes and don't pay enough attention to how they sound, it sounds bad.)
    Dabndug likes this.
  13. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    I don’t usually like to chime in on jazz theory discussions as it makes my head hurt, but in Take the A Train I will almost always add the b5 to my bass line and solo as it reflects what the other musicians are playing. Also, a common alteration of a “major II7” chord (such as in measures 3 & 4 of Donna Lee) is to add the #11. In cases like these I like to think of the dominant 7th. chord a whole step above the major II chord when soloing. So in the case of Donna Lee, think C7 in measures 3 & 4 instead of Bb7. Of course, you need to be “judicious” in how you use C7 here; some note note combinations feel better than others!
    Dabndug and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  14. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Great advice from our theory sage's thus far, but one thing that I was waiting to be said is that there can be a difference in the notes you'd play over those chords in a jazz band setting with a harmony player, but it won't be because of the chord symbol. That's because, in my experience, there isn't a consensus about what either C7b5 or C7#11 mean and so different harmony players will voice the chords in different ways. I find that when I see either chord the first time I play with a harmony player, I'll usually take a guess on the first chorus and see if it clashes or not. If it does, I won't play my guess again with them again until it starts clashing again and then I'll know that they've changed their voicing and change my line.

    I think Alt-chords are similar, in that, there's no consensus about exactly what an "Alt" chord is and some player's rarely change which voicing they use for a particular measure and others change frequently. The players I like best change their voicing based on what the soloist is doing but that could mean that they're staying away from that #5 until the soloist gets cooking or vice versa.

    Part of the reason I love jazz is to listen to what the masters choose to do.
    Low Crow, oren, M0ses and 2 others like this.
  15. M0ses


    Sep 11, 2009
    Los Angeles
    Oi, yeah, I phrased it pretty awkwardly. Tried to hint at the fundamental relationship between chords and scales and ended up saying something like "you have to choose the intervals inside of the intervals" and it'll be a wonder if OP gains anything by it lol.

    Often when I see a chord with a diminished quality I will play BOTH the natural 5 and the b5 with emphasis. It's bluesy. And it just doesn't matter what the upper structure is, P5 always sounds bassy and powerful and only ever sounds outright "wrong" on a tritone substitution or other scenarios where ONLY the root is changing.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  16. As a less experienced bassist than many of you, I really appreciate this discussion, because these two chord symbols have always confused the heck out of me. Seeing 7b5 or 7#11 kinda scares me away from a natural 5 (should it?) and often results in my defaulting to a whole tone sound or staying away from the 5s altogether. Often it sounds fine, but I'd like to be aware of other good options.
    yodedude2 likes this.
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    @buckthorn 7b5 or 7#11 should not scare you away from using the 5th, or at least, from trying it to see if you like the sound. The one place that comes immediately to mind where I would not use the 5th (as @Don Kasper mentioned) is on mi7b5/Ø7 chords, where the b5 is actually intended to replace the natural 5.
    Tom Lane and Don Kasper like this.
  18. Thanks Chris. Yes, the intention is definitely clear on mi7b5 chords. But not so much on the 7b5 or 7#11. I guess that's what we're talking about.

  19. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

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