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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

The Tritone Substitution (3)

In the first blog of this series I stated the proposition,

  • The more you alter a Dominant chord the more like its Tritone it becomes.

I gave a technical definition:

  • A Tritone Substitution is the substitution of one Dominant 7th chord (possibly altered or extended) with another (possibly altered or extended) that is three whole-steps (a tritone) from the original chord. It's also known as a Flat-5 Substitution, since a tritone is a flatted 5th (technically speaking, a Diminished 5th) from the original root.

Then I demonstrated validity of the proposition by altering a Bb9 chord until it looked like an unaltered E9.

Next I applied Tritone Subs to a Dominant Cycle, namely, the Bridge to any Rhythm Changes tune.

I also applied Tritone Subs to a 12-Bar Blues form.

In the second blog of this series, I expanded the concept to include any chord progression that moves cyclically, that is, a cycle of 4ths.

I demonstrated that by applying Tritone subs to Autumn Leaves and also to All the Things You Are.

In this lesson I’m going to talk about what to play as a guitarist relative to Tritone Subs when there’s a bassist in the mix. I’ll use the I-VI-II-V Turnaround to illustrate.

I-VI-II-V Turnaround with a Bass Player

Since I-VI-II-V is a cyclical progression, Tritone Subs can be used to spice it up.


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When working with a bass player, I stay away from playing roots and just play 3rds & 7ths along with upper extensions/alterations. This gives the bass player room to incorporate Tritone Subs and can sometimes result in surprising combinations. The name of what I‘m actually playing depends on what the bass player does.

For example, on a I-VI-II-V Turnaround these are the possibilities that arise just from a single 4-note chord structure combined with Roots and their Tritones:

I would be playing only the upper 4 notes. The bass player would play the Root. This I chord is unaltered.

To play the VI chord I move the same chord shape up 3 frets. The bass player moves the Root to G. This results in a double altered chord (G7+(#9). The bass player then plays the Tritone (Db). This causes my chord to become unaltered (Db9/13):

  • Notice the 3rds & 7ths flip and the 9ths & 13ths/5ths flip.

To play the II chord I move the same shape down 1 fret. The base player plays II (C). The resulting chord is unaltered. When the bass player plays the Tritone (Gb) the resulting chord is double-altered (Gb7+(#9):

To play the V chord I again move the same shape down 1 fret. The base player plays V (F). The resulting chord is double-altered (Gb7+(#9). When the bass player plays the Tritone (B) the resulting chord is unaltered (B9/13):

The bIIx, which is the Tritone of V, leads back to the I (Bb9/13).

The above example illustrates what happens to a single chord shape when Tritone Subs are employed.

There are 8 possibilities for altering a Dominant 9th chord! There are 4 chords, I, VI, II and V plus their tritones.

Each chord and each Tritone Sub has 8 altered possibilities. The variations, though finite, are massive!

Stay away from roots and give your bass player all the choices available to him. Between the two of you, some combinations may occur that you wouldn't have thought of; it's one of my favorite things to do!


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