ALTERED!! (and the augmented 6th chords)
We left the last lesson without describing the most interesting and mysterious mode of the melodic minor (ascending) scale. Let’s take another look at it:
This scale has a split personality, or, at least, is awesomely confused. If we were parsing this normally, that is, as stacked thirds, it behaves in some capacity like a half-diminished chord- yet, as we look closer, it seems apparent that this scale behaves more like a dominant 7th chord. It has the name “Locrian b4”, but what is a b4 but a natural third. So, lets parse the scale as a dominant 7th scale rather than a half-diminished scale:
Altered w chord.mp3 Altered With C7
Why is it called Altered? Well, simply put, all the extensions of the 7th chord are altered. The ninth is two-fold, either flat or sharp (and, you’ll find as we continue this course, often when you find a sharp nine you’ll find a flat nine; think of them as brothers); the 11th is sharped; and the 13th is flat. You can also think of the sharp 11 and flat 13 as a flat or sharp 5th. To sum it up, everything that has the ability to be altered is. The only notes left alone are the root, 3rd and 7th- the notes that define the chord. Remember, you only need a 3rd, 7th and a root to definitively define a chord.
Another Cool Thing: the Altered/ Lydian Dominant connection
Remember last week when I said that Lydian Dominant likes to be attached to dominant II7 and III7 chords? Well, likewise, altered likes to be attached to V type chords (V7, VI7) in circle of fifth progressions. For example:
Circle of 5ths.mp3 Circle of 5ths Progression
Now let’s, for a laugh, tritone sub all of the lydian dominants:
All Altered prog.mp3 Tritone Subbed
Ah ha! If you tritone sub a Lydian Dominant it becomes Altered, and vice-a-versa. And it is thus that these two chords are related, sister chords even.
Ok, one more thing for this lesson that is a bit of a bonus (and slightly off topic) for you strictly classical theorists:
Let’s have a quick talk about augmented 6th chords. I want to provide an alternate way to look at an augmented 6th chord, hopefully without the academic headache that these chords inherently cause. Here is a typical aug 6th progression:
ital 6th.mp3 Italian Augmented 6th
Classical theorists love to describe this progression as if the aug 6th was an inverted minor 4 chord with an augmented 6th. As it’s written above: there’s an “italian” augmented 6th chord which in classical theory is described as an inverted minor 4 chord with an augmented 6th. But, we all know it’s really working as a half step dominant chord- and really as a tritone substitution for V/V. So let’s look at it again through a different lens:
germ6th.mp3 German Augmented 6th
(Note this German aug 6th is the same as the Italian, but with an added 5th- it acts as a complete dominant chord)
The only thing stopping the classical theorists from calling it a true dominant 7th chord is that augmented 6th interval in lieu of a minor 7th interval. Oh, semantics, it’s really the same thing. Some would say that in this parsing of the theory, we are treating the 6th chord as a dominant instead of its intended “predominant” role. Yet, this is untrue, since we still intend on bringing the 6th chord to a conclusion, that is, we intend to move it to V7 and eventually to I.
The most interesting augmented 6th chord to me is the French augmented 6th chord, the only one we have not talked about yet. What makes this chord special is its lydian dominant quality. Where the Italian 6th is comprised of solely a root, 3rd and 7th; and the German 6th is comprised of a complete dom 7th chord; the French augmented 6th has a root, 3rd, 7th, and a #11 (#4). Check it out:
fren6th.mp3 French Augmented 6th
Now play around with that- try out a bunch of these techniques when you write your next piece of music. the only way to know if you like something is to try it out!