Substitution Methods Explained

Before starting this tutorial, please refer to the Essential Needs for this Lesson page. It will give you the links for the audio, staff notation, and tab for this lesson. It also includes a few links that will provide a number of resources regarding prerequisites for a lesson of this type.


IIm7-V7 Method for creating Movement:

There is an old rule that states that any V7 chord can be approached from the IIm7 of the Key it's from.

What this means basically is you can mingle the V7 and IIm7 chords freely to your discretion. The reason for this is to create movement into the V7 chord. It creates movement towards the V7 chord.

Option 1: I am treating the G7 as the V7 of the Key of C. So, I approach the G7 chord with a Dm7, which is the IIm7 of the Key of C.

Option 2: I'm now treating the D7 as the V7 of the Key of G Major. So, I approach the D7 chord with an Am chord, which is the IIm chord of the Key of G. Here I chose Am6, as opposed to Am7 due to the fact that a Am7 chord can be found in the Key of G OR C. Since it has that relationship with C, it doesn't provide as much movement as using the Am6 which has nothing to do with the Key of C and is clearly a chord from the Key of G.

Go ahead and replace that Am6 with an Am7 chord. You can hear for yourself that it's not wrong, but it just doesn't provide the movement that the Am6 chord does.

Option 3: This is nothing new on the IIm-V method but instead "extends" the chords into some higher Harmonies while still remaining in the the Key of C, and the Key of G for the D7.

You can learn about Chord Extensions in my Chord Construction Series at my lesson site.

To clear up any confusion, the IIm-V movement can also be written as: ii-V, iim7-V7, IIm-V, IIm7-V7


Simple Diatonic Substitution for chord in the Key of C, to create movement:

So, you've learned the "modes" and can play them every where on the fretboard. This is good for memorizing the fretboard, coming up with a few "rip your face off" licks, etc... But, few learn that each of those scales creates a chord, or can create harmonies that create very small to very large chords. This is a VERY IMPORTANT thing to know.


Because when the "lead guitarist" is asked to comp chords, you can take all that fretboard knowledge and grasp chords EVERY WHERE on the fretboard and make you look like even a more complete musician.

For more on Diatonic Chord refer to my Diatonic Tutorial. It will show you how all the Modes relate to Chords, a few uses for them, and why I say the chords are VERY IMPORTANT.

Once you understand Diatonic Theory more you'll see that ALL of the chords in a Key are related and that there are ways of interchanging them to produce "bigger" sounding, or more colorful, progressions.

You can see with these Options that I am using the same progression we left off with. IOW, I'm including the IIm-V changes we made in the previous section. 

Option 1: Here I'm making some changes to the Cmaj9. I'm substituting a chord based on an Interval within the Cmaj9 chord, the E or the M3 Interval, and playing it built with harmonies found in the Key of C Major. This essentially doesn't do too much to the chord except to make things sound like they are progressing, moving, or building. This could be thought of as an "inversion" of some other chord, but we'll call it a simple Em11 chord. You can see how I've placed it halfway through the duration of each Cmaj9 chord.

The Em11 chord is essentially the same as a C6/9 chord without out a Root. As E sounds like the Root here, it makes it sound like we are moving.

Option 2: Here I'm making another change to the Cmaj9. I'm substituting a chord based on an Interval within the C Major scale, the A or the 6/13 Interval, and playing it built with harmonies found in the Key of C Major. This essentially doesn't do too much to the chord except to make things sound like they are progressing, moving, or building. This could be thought of as an "inversion" of some other chord, but we'll call it a simple Am7 chord. You can see how I've placed it halfway through the duration of the first Cmaj9 chord.

The Am7 chord is essentially the same as a Cadd6 chord without out a Root. As "A" sounds like the Root here, it makes it sound like we are moving.

The C to Am substitution also introduces us the the "Relative Minor" substitution. This is VERY popular in almost EVERY style of music.

For the Relative Minor Substitution, basically you take the Root of a Major Chord, move the Root down one and a half steps, or up four and a half steps, and you build a Minor Chord from that note...making that note the Root of the Minor Chord. 

Option 3: This is more possible uses for the chords we've learned so far. I'm mixing things up using what we've learned so far. Just to show you again, it's up to your discretion how to want to mix them up. Just as long as you are creating movement when doing so.

Option 4: Remember in the IIm-V Movement section, we replaced some of the G7's with Dm7's. Well, the IIm-V can actually be thought of as a Diatonic Method, that's where that "old rule" came from. So in this Option I'm replacing that Dm7 with it's Relative Major: F Major, using harmonies from the Key of C. This can create a Fmaj7 chord.

The Relative Major Substitution is just the opposite of the Relative Minor Substitution in Option 3.

For the Relative Major Substitution, basically you find the Root of the Minor chord, move it up one and a half steps, or down four and a half steps, and you build a Major Chord from that note...making that note the Root of the Major Chord.

So, I'm substituting the Dm7 chord with a Fmaj7 chord. It's all in the Key of C, everything remains intact, but it still gives you the sound of movement.

Option 5: This is the m7b5 Substitution. It's still Diatonic as the other were. This "rule" states you can easily replace a V7 chord with a VIIm7b5 chord within the same Key. Both of these chords are basic chords found in general functions of a Major Key. In this Option I've replaced some of the duration of the D7(D9), from the Key of G Major, with the F#m7b5 chord from the Key of G Major.

Viewing the F#m7b5 chord from D7 could also be a D9 with no Root. So, it's really the same chord. The Diatonic aspect will help you line things up and see more reasons to why it works like it does.

Option 6: Here I've used the m7b5 Substitution for the entire length of the G7 chords. Works every time, as long as you keep it in Key, and it always sounds great!


b5 Substitution Dominant 7 chords to create movement:

This is a rule/practice by which we replace a Dominant 7 chord with another Dominant 7 chord a Tri-Tone away from the Root of the original chord.

It's also called a Tri-tone Sub.

A Tri-Tone Sub is a Dominant chord three Whole-steps above or below the Root note of the original Dominant chord.

Once you find the Tri-Tone Sub for a Dominant chord you might get all excited and try and find another Tri-tone Sub above or below it. Well sorry, in either direction you end up back at the original Dominant chord. It only provides one substitute chord.

Above everything else so far, the Tri-Tone Sub is where all of this starts sounding like the interworkings of Jazz. Jazz relies heavily on the use of Tri-Tone Subs. Jazz relies on everything shown so far, but you can hear decades of Jazz pouring out when you start incorporating the Tri-Tone Sub method on your Dominant Chords.

Option 1: I am replacing some of G7's duration with it's Tri-Tone Sub, Db7.

Option 2: I am replacing some of D9's duration with it's Tri-Tone Sub, Ab7.

Option 3: Here's I'm showing again that you are free to mix this up at your own discretion by placing the Tri-Tone Sub's at will.

Option 4: Here I am completely replacing the original Dominant chords D7 and G7 with their Tri-tone Subs, Ab7 and Db7 respectively. This is a great indication of the Tri-tone Sub standing up to the task of substituting for the original Dominant chord. Also I threw in a Relative Major Sub for the Dm9.

Option 5: This is just more variations.

Option 6: This is more variations.

The Tri-tone Sub is such a strong sound that it's relied on more and more as you play jazz. Think of this...remember how we did all those Diatonic Substitutions, and how everything stayed in the appropriate Key? And remember how just about EVERY chord in a Key can replace almost any chord in the same Key?

Well what if I was playing any chord of a Key and substituted it with the V7 chord of the Key, couldn't I then explore the Tri-Tone Sub of that V7 chord? So, it might be possible to replace even the Imaj7 chord with the Tri-Tone Sub of the V7 chord from the same Key. OH BOY!!!!!

Again, it's up to your discretion. Try it and see if it serves any purpose to what you're playing.

Now you can see things can get VERY deep VERY Fast.

It might be good you go back to the beginning and reread everything again. It will be helpful before moving on.


Diminished Substitution for Dominant 7 chords to create movement:

The more you get into Jazz you it won't be long before you see that the Dominant Chords play a HUGE part in the common sounds within Jazz.

This in turn make the Dominant chords some of the most exciting and adventurous chords to play over.

We should know by now that the Mixolydian scale builds a complete, perfect, Dominant 13 chord. But you will also find there are SEVERAL other scales that build Dominant chords.

While the Mixolydian sounds great over a Dominant chord sometimes it sounds like it doesn't provide enough movement in your lines. This is where the other scales come to the rescue in a big way.

These other scales can be, the Half/Whole-Tone Scale (also know as the Diminished Scale to Jazzer's), the Whole-Tone Scale, The Scales of the Melodic Minor Scale, The Scales of the Harmonic Minor Scale, and more.

Each of these scales can create Dominant chords and can be applied directly on indirectly by scales within the scale, such as the Harmonic and Melodic Minor scales.

So, where does all this "scale talk" lead us...back to chords of course. Remember, in almost any style of music...the chords are the important thing.

All of the sounds these scale produce allow us to find a world of more substitutions for our Dominant Chords.

One of these substitutions is the Diminished Substitution.

You can substitute a Diminished chord (a Diminished 7 that is) built off the M3, 5, b7, and the b9 notes of a Dominant Chord.

Basically you should know that building a Diminished 7 chord from either the M3, 5, b7, b9 produces the same chord, and either note in the chord can be the Root of the chord. So, even though you might be playing 4 different fingerings, you are still essentially playing the same chord regardless of the Root.

If you are not familiar with details regarding the Diminished chords please refer to my Chord Construction Series at my lessons site.

Let's look at the Options for this method...

Option 1: Here I am substituting the a Fdim7 chord for the G7 chord. This one Diminished chord is build from the b7 of the G7 chord, or the F note. But, this chord could be written as Fdim7, Abdim7, Bdim7, or Ddim7 (the b7, b9, M3, 5 of G7 respectively).

Option 2: I've replaced the D7 with the F#dim7 substitution. And I went one step further and replaced the Dm7 with the Fmaj7. This creates a whole little world of voice leading/moving with F#dim7, Fmaj7, Fdim7 consecutively following each other. These "voices" move things right back to the Cmaj7 chord VERY nicely.

Option 3: In this Option I've dropped the Fmaj7/Dm7 and went to a dim7 chord build off the b7 of the original G7 chord. So, look at that...I just tore that whole progression down to just 3 chord voicing's! Cmaj7, F#dim7, and Fdim7, COOL!

Option 4: Hold the frickin' phone on this Option! Here I've replaced the I chord, the Cmaj7, with the Diminished Substitution for the the Diatonic Substitution of a V7, G7, of the Key of C!!!

Let me explain that again...

In the Key of C, using Diatonic Substitution, I've replaced the Cmaj7 chord with G7, and then went one step further and substituted the G7 with it's Diminished Substitution.

So in theory, Cmaj7->G7->Fdim7 allows me to replace the Cmaj7 with a Fdim7, Abdim7, Bdim7, or Ddim7 chord!

So, now I've stripped that whole progression down to just two Dim7 chords, Fdim7 and F#dim7.

In doing so you can still hear a foundation that COULD be the original progression. But, on it's own like this, without any reference to the original progression, it doesn't sound like much. But play it after, or in between, a song of the progression that gets played over and over...this is a pent-up breath of fresh air ;)


The Altered Dominant (7alt) chord:

When I mentioned all those other scales that can build Dominant chords and Diminished chords, that is only the tip of the iceberg. You can be left with so many options for big chords that people, transcribers, musicians, etc...just end up calling them "altered chords".

Think of things from a perspective you're familiar with...

In the Tri-Tone Sub we saw that you could use two Dominant chords in place of one Dominant, and pretty darn freely at that. So...

why not super-impose those two chords and play them as one big chord? It should work, right? All of the Tones fit fine on their own, why not throw them together to make one chord?

Take a b5 sub for G7, this would be Db7. If we lay both of those chords on top of each other we could get G7b5b9.

How about a G7 with a Db9 laid over it: G7b5#5b9, maybe you could call it a G7b5b6b9.

If you try this method from the Root of the Db7 chord (using the G7 as the 'sub') you can make Db7b599 and Db7b5#5b9 chords on the fly.

What about the Diminished Subs laid over a G7, oh boy...

G7 plus a Fdim7 = G b9
D7 plus a Cdim7 = D b9

And if that isn't enough...what if you looked at these super-imposed chord names from the Root of the b5 or the Diminished 7 Sub???!!!

Ok, so this can spiral out of control very easy, and I hope you're still with me ;)

This is why musicians and transcribers just call it an Altered Chord. An Altered Chord is symbolized by the "7alt" label after a chord. Like G7alt, D7alt, etc...

When you see this chord label it means to alter the 5 or the 9 of the Dominant chord.

So an Altered chord will start with the Dominant 7 chord and then can have, in any combination, a b5, #5, b9, or a #9. It can actually have ALL of those notes if you wish.

What this means is that is up to the performer to alter this chord as they wish. Many things determine what notes you will alter with so ALWAYS experiment with them all, there's some awesome combinations.


Now that you are Substitution Theorists...

Lets look at the "Full Figured Movements".

By combining EVERYTHING we've learned so far (and I have learned a lot putting this together), you can learn to "direct movement". Let's go right to the Options since you already should have some understanding of the concepts so far.

Option 1: This creates a staggered but steady movement for the first chord, Cmaj9, all the way back around to the beginning again, Cmaj9. This uses quite a few of the theories we've learned so far as the voices they create make this sound "full figured".

Option 2: This provides us with a One-Way movement from beginning to end. If you look at all the Roots of these chords, it's a Chromatic set of chords that works as the chord progression. So your Roots go: E Eb D Db C. Now that's what I call One-Way movement. And these Chromatic chord movements like this are found ALL OVER Jazz Standards. So, whenever you are working on Jazz Standards, use all of these chord movement theories and find ways to make almost every progression into a Chromatic Progression. You'd be amazed how many times this works.