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superimposed triads /chords?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mambo4, Nov 24, 2010.

  1. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I've been nerding out on the Hal Galper mater class you tube vids.

    He mentions "superimposed triads" a few times and i thought I'd look into them. It appears to be a common thing in jazz piano.

    what i have gathered is this:
    these are triads based on the scale of the chord that are made of upper partials. so a Cmaj7 chord (C E G B) might have D maj triad (D F# A) superimposed on it and get a Cmaj7#11 chord...I guess....

    If that's pretty much it, then where do these superimposed triads come from? That is, which of the various possible triads does one choose and why? are they just "as charted" or is the piano player pulling these out on the fly?

    I guess they just seem rather arbitrary to me. any rules of thumb for their use, similar to when you'd use a tritone sub?
  2. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    They may seem arbitrary, and in some cases, you could arbitrarily choose odd triads to superimpose, but what they do for a bassist is to outline a chord plus color tones. The example you cited, DMAJ over CMAJ results in a CMAJ9/#11/13 (hard to notate correctly in a text box). For a pianist, this can manifest itself in a dense sound that has complexity or notes for improvisation in a solo; for the bassist, it defines the upper extensions of an arpeggio during the chord; whether as a support line or in a solo.

    You should try to systematically add triads above CMAJ7 and see what you get. Some don't work as well as others, but there are no real rules, per se. Adding EMAJ gives CEGB plus EG#B, so you effectively get CMAJ(b13) - not your garden-variety jazz chord like the DMAJ over CMAJ gives.

    Jazz is all about experimenting and improv, but you'll see that this experimentation simply results in chords with varying upper extensions, which existed long before anyone actually thought of them. ;)
  3. Pat C.

    Pat C. Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2005
    Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
    I'm not an expert on this, but I use them to create and resolve tension in the harmonic progression. Typically the triad would create extensions of the indicated chords, such as the 9-#11-13 that the Dmaj triad creates over a Cmaj7 chord. The triads are usually not written, but the provided chord symbol provides a clue as to which extended triad you may use.

    A key to their use it to determine to which notes those extensions will properly voice lead. What chords are coming up, and how will those notes resolve? Or will they not resolve? And how do you want it to sound?

    A real world example: Autumn Leaves in the key of Em.

    First four measures:


    The D triad from the second measure can be played again over the Gmaj7 (as the 5-7-9) and again over the Cmaj7 as the 9-#11-13. In this example you create tension by playing the same notes - the harmony continues to move even though you do not.

    Where does it resolve?

    Next four measures:


    The D can resolve to a chord tone of the F#m7b5, probably C. The F# and A can continue to be played as the root and third of the F#m7b5, and as the fifth and seventh of the B7 chord, resolving to the chord tones of the Em chord in the following measure (or staying on as extensions once again.).

    This is an extremely basic, diatonic example, and probably not very real world because it's unlikely that you'd play the same triad for almost six measures. But it gives you an idea of how the harmonies of one chord relate to those of the next, and how to incorporate that into comping, walking or soloing.

  4. Chrispurchase


    Oct 24, 2007
    One of the cool things in Ed Friedland's book Bass Improvisation is what he calls a harmony grid. What it does is allow you do see what chord you create when build off a chord tone or extension. I hope Ed doesn't mind but this is one i've made up:

  5. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    thanks for your replies
    Pat C. good explanation.

    nice chart, Chris
    it does point to the question that nags me tho:
    in the first example I maj 7, the triad built form the 5th is either V7 or Vmaj7
    several other chords have multiple options...when to use which?

    I guess if the Imaj7 is charted as a I maj7#11 then you'd opt for V maj7 ?

    years ago I decided that as bass player I didn't need to think too hard about extensions, but now my curiosity is back...Chances are If i just spent time actually listening to a few progressions using these I'd get a better idea :p

    I'll summarize my understanding of how to use superimposed triads:
    A given chord implies a particular scale (or several)
    pick a triad from that scale to throw on top of the original chord
    listen to see if it works in context (voice leading, resolution)

    is there any more to it?
  6. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Actually, I think there's less to it; at least in some cases. From what you wrote at the end of your post, it sounds as if this is what you're asking, using CMAJ as the example:

    CMAJ7, add MAJ triads based on the scale degrees of CMAJ. This affords:

    1. DMAJ over CMAJ, CEGBDF#A = CMAJ9(#11add13)
    2. EMAJ over CMAJ, CEGBEG#B = CMAJ7(b13)
    3. FMAJ over CMAJ, CEGBFAC = CMAJ7 (add11 add13)
    4. GMAJ over CMAJ, CEGBGBD = CMAJ9
    5. AMAJ over CMAJ, CEGBAC#E = CMAJ7 (b9 add13)
    6. BMAJ over CMAJ, CEGBBD#F# = CMAJ7 (#9 #11)

    The only two of these that would see common use are #1 and #4. #2 doesn't work well because the b13 sounds like #5 but you have a nat 5th. #3 doesn't work well because of the 11 and the nat 3rd. #5 doesn't work well because of the b9 and the nat 7th. #6 doesn't work well because #9 works best with a b7 not a nat 7th.

    I mean, it's not like you can't use these, but really, only #1 and #4 are common. #3 would be OK if you drop the E from the C triad and it becomes CMAJsus4(add13). So, there's more to it than just applying MAJ triads over a MAJ triad. Using diatonic triads (e.g., Dmin, Emin, FMAJ, GDOM, Amin, Bmin7(b5)) over CMAJ doesn't really gain you anything either.

    So that's my take from a chordal perspective. From a scalar perspective, only DMAJ over CMAJ suggests anything common: C lydian, or the IV chord of GMAJ. #4 is still just CMAJ as a scale.

    Chrispurchase's table is a very different way of approaching this concept, and I think it makes more sense to a bass player than stacked chord notation.
  7. Chris K

    Chris K

    May 3, 2009
    Gorinchem,The Netherlands
    Partner: Otentic Guitars

    Nice explanations so far, thanks ... so: it works if the superimposed triad is somehow an extension of the 'original' chord... Or, like Pat and FretlessMainly say, if it works, it works.That's always an approach to my liking.

    You might also think of it the 'negative' way. I guess if through superimposure you create many semitones, it won't sound that nice anymore.

    Which takes us to other factors, like position and instrumentation.

    Position: if the superimposed triad is one or two octaves up and certainly if it's very high - it will be like adding an extra 'coloring' to the original chord. The closer, the heavier.

    Instrumentation: if the original chord and the superimposed chord are played by different instruments/instrument groups, there is less chance for conflict (or more opportunity for tension, whichever you like)

    Knowledge of what's happening in these cases is nice, but we bass players will have to deal with the original chord in 99% of cases...
  8. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Chris: Sounds like you're right on. I would say though, to your last point, that if you have something like this going on during an extended vamp or something, you could use the DMAJ over CMAJ as a guide for composing a melodic line, something like:

    B D E F# A...F# D E...

    Then try that same line over the changes CMAJ7 GMAJ7 Emin7. In that way you can see how DMAJ over CMAJ is really GMAJ or Emin. To solidify the connection, it's best to drop the least important note of the CMAJ chord, which is, ironically, c.
  9. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    A so I am gathering that , in practice, there are a limited set of superimposed triads which actually get used. Any rules of thumb for that , or is it just "what sounds good"?
  10. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    I would say that, in general, that is correct. However, in my brain, I don't ever think of stacked chords (unless I'm answering you thread questions here, that is). I just think of the root chord (e.g., CMAJ7) and whatever extensions there are above it, such as b9, 9, #9, 11 (sus4), #11, b13, 13.

    b9 works best on a dominant chord resolving to a minor as in Bmin7(b5) E7(b9) Amin7.

    #9 works well over a dominant chord in a blues format.

    The 11 or sus4 is a common voicing wherein the 3rd is dropped in favor of the 4 (or 11 if you prefer, but it's probably best though of as a 4 because the note is typically within the root chord and not an octave above as extensions often are). The sus4 chord is often more major sounding than minor sounding, but in reality, it is neither since there is no 3rd.

    #11 works most often within a MAJ chord (often the IV chord) to give it lydian character, You can add a #11 to the I chord also to create ambiguity.

    b13 is part of the natural minor scale, so it's almost redundant to use it on a min7 chord, but you'll see it over dominant chords.

    13 is just a 6th, so it can be used to create dorian feel over the II chord as in Dmin7(add13) add the B-natural to distinguish the Dmin as II of C from the Dnatural minor mode.

    THese are some guidelines; I don't do much more than this, but you can try anything you want. My point is that I don't think of them as stacked chords on bass. Perhaps a keyboard player has more reason to think of them this way.
  11. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Yeah...Hal Galper is a Jazz piano guy...some googleing shows that discussion about superimposed triads if more of piano thing as well.

    Honestly, the times I actually think of and apply anything above the 7th are practically nil. But I don't generally play Jazz or solos -Asking out of curiosity more than anything else.

    The one rule of thumb I have learned for what crazy extensions to add to a chord is: match the note that's in the lead melody.
  12. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Well here's a simple example of an "extension" that's really contained within the notes of the triads in question. This relates strictly to the bassline you could be using. Consider the simple rock progression of A to G. Like some rock patterns, there's no real indication of key, since the chords are not detailed enough to allow for it. Maybe the first chord is I of AMAJ and the second chord is I of GMAJ.

    Now, your bass line is this over A: C# D E D C# A. Assuming the G chord is then I of GMAJ, you repeat the same line down one step: B C D C B G. And you do that back and forth for a while.

    Now, think of it a bit differently. Play the same line over A, but over G, play: B C# D C# B G. What you've done, like it or not, is formed the basis for a GMAJ(#11). What comes out of that is that you can now see that the GMAJ(#11) is now the IV chord (as it often is) of, in this case DMAJ. The A chord then becomes the V chord of DMAJ or A7.

    Thus, the second scenario can be thought of as all in the key of D MAJOR. You can now move all over the A G chord change playing a D major scale. To my ear, the second scenario sounds a whole lot hipper than the first.
  13. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I can see what you mean...but I'd look at that is "I am connecting root notes the key of D" before I'd think of it a superimposed triads!

    I guess it's just an example of how interconnected these relationships are.

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