Dear UG Community,
Lately I have looked at a few books regarding chords, substitutions and a bit of theory. What I can grasp is what notes make up which chords. Easy enough. For example C6/9 is C E G A D. No problem. But, when I run into a wall is when I try to embellish these chords with altered tones or using chord extensions such as 9ths, 11ths, 13ths. Obviously we don't have enough fingers to play all C E G Bb D F A. So which notes do we choose?

I am interested in substitutions. Not just simple Cmaj (CEG)

I would like to know these chords from having an understanding of how they're made and where they can be applied in my playing. Therefore looking up chords in a computer generated picture of a chord is not my preference. Please help.

POINT. What I would like to know is when you come across these types of chords, (whether in a fake book or during improvisation) how do you know which notes to omit and keep?

I have heard that the root isn't so necessary if you play with a bassist that can cover that root not. The 5th can be omitted, bot sure why, and the 3rd and 7th are essential in a chord's color. If this is true (if not please correct me) then how can we as guitarists accommodate for the larger/advanced/colorful chords?

Thanks so much,

you choose the notes you want to play. with guitar, there really aren't any rules on chord construction because, unlike piano, you can't play the root, 3, 5, 7, 9, #11, b13, etc.; you have to pick and choose.

you obviously have some grasp of theory, so why not sit down and fiddle with different voicings/inversions/extensions/altered tones? generally you won't play more than one extended note (9/11/13), but who says you can't? how about a minor chord with a major 7, a b9, and a #13? you could look into drop-2 voicings so you'll have some idea of where to start, but you really don't even need that if you know theory. just sit down and have some fun.

EDIT: tl;dr: if it sounds good, play it.
Last edited by gnomieowns at Jul 29, 2010,
there are "standard" voicings for the more colorful chords. Once you learn the fingerings it is applicable to all the chords of that type up and down the neck. Usually, the 5th and octaves are omitted. Things you will want to keep are 3rds, 7ths...and if its an extention you keep the 3rd and 7th and add 9th 13 etc.

I wasn't clear on your sub question though. Could you ask in more detail?
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Root Third Fifth Seventh and Upper Extensions are the usual notes to include you would start by dropping out all extensions except the upper extension which would make it a five note chord.

You can drop further notes - and often the fifth will be the next to go or the root if it's covered by another instrument but of course you will often end up playing a different simpler chord as a sub for the original.

It helps if you know what chord is being played and what notes make up that chord. Then you can use your ears to determine what the best thing to play as it will have a lot to do with context By context there are two things to consider - if there is a band you're playing with then what they are doing in regards to bass harmony and melody, what they will cover, and where the particular chord is coming from and/or going to.

Take your example of a C13 chord C E G B♭ D F A. You could play a C major triad an Edim triad a Gm triad a B♭ triad a Dm triad an F major triad or an Am triad - depending on the context in which you find yourself. Its a C major chord so C E G would be good but if that's well established in the accompaniment you find yourself you might opt for a Gmadd9 (G B♭ D A) or a B♭Maj7 (B♭ D F A).

If you have no accompaniment then what matters is where the chord is going. Often a dominant chord such as C13 (the full name of which is a C dominant 13 chord) is likely to resolve to a chord with a root a perfect fifth below the C (an F). The tritone created between the E and B♭ is important in that it creates a dissonance within the dominant chord that needs to be resolved. This is often resolved by the chord tones that make up the tritone moving a half tone in opposite directions so the B♭ moves to an A and the E to an F which make up the root and third of the next chord. So if you have no accompaniment then the tritone would be a good interval to keep so to still retain the dominant function of the chord through the resolution of that dissonance.

If it's a 13 extension then it's pretty important that you have the 13 or it's no longer a 13 chord. But then you also have to consider how important that 13 is compared to the root. If you are trying to decide between the root and the upper extension you simply have to ask yourself does the song retain more of it's character by substituting a C7 in place of a C13 (thereby dropping the extension) or by dropping the C root note?

Or you might decide that the best bet is actually to keep the root and the upper extension. So you might substitute a C13 by playing a C bass note on your A string and an A a major 13th above that on your E string . You might even do it as a C5 power chord with a major 13th C5add13

It's a matter for your ear to decide really.
Last edited by 20Tigers at Jul 29, 2010,
Quote by 20Tigers

It's a matter for your ear to decide really.

Well we certainly went around our ass to get our elbow on that one didn't we. haha jk man.
2010 Gibson SG Honeyburst
I'm a musician, a composer, and a theory nut. Pleased to meet you! Check out my websites and drop me a line.

"The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. " ~ Freidrich Nietzche

My Website
Haha sure did, but sometimes that's the only way I know.

It sure isn't my best work but I did try to answer his question and give him some things to think about too.
Last edited by 20Tigers at Jul 29, 2010,
yeah i said basically what you did
2010 Gibson SG Honeyburst
I'm a musician, a composer, and a theory nut. Pleased to meet you! Check out my websites and drop me a line.

"The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. " ~ Freidrich Nietzche

My Website
Thanks guys. Your feedback is doing me a lot of help here. When I was creating this thread I was hoping that there might be some "standard" way of doing it, but perhaps half of the fun of playing is that there isn't and the experimentation makes playing only more dynamic.

All of your replies have helped me see the forest through the trees a bit better. Now only time with my guitars will actually allow me to apply the knowledge.

I plan on approaching some of these chords theory books with a new perspective. I usually get stuck on maj9 chords before going on to other extensions, but I feel like a can go past that.

To previous and future repliers, if you care to add more opinions/information/theory please feel free to as I appreciate for any of your incite. I don't know where else I could find feedback like this from a musician's point of view. Sometimes a different way of saying the same thing helps me understand (which you guys have done.)

Thanks. I'll get back to playing.
My brother, reading over my shoulder, suggests you "stop being a bitch and grow another finger." I have a much more practical solution: Experiment. Try taking out different different notes and see which sounds the best to you. Certain notes of the chord are necessary to make it sound the way it does, thus the other ones can be removed. There's usually only one or two notes that can actually be taken out while leaving the tonal qualities of the chord intact.

EDIT: Damn it I was really late on that.
Last edited by FrauVfromPoB at Jul 29, 2010,
when you get the basic chord forms under your fingers then the theory begins to take shape...seeing the chord quality change in function with the same chord form..ie: CMA7 form could also be Ami9...and getting comfortable with this kind of application of harmony takes a bit of time because the ramifications can be far reaching..

extend this logic to dominate chords and their extensions and inversions and all of the possibilities they create .. so you can now see how one chord form can have more than one quality and have several chord names... ie: DMA7b5 / E13 (D G# C# F#)

this all takes quite a bit of time to absorb and get under your fingers...

play well

Last edited by wolflen at Jul 29, 2010,
Sounds like you have two things going on, the chord building itself, the chord building in a Key, and then how the function of the chord in a Key determines it's quality (extension, altered, etc...).

Read through the Beginners to Advanced Series here; http://lessons.mikedodge.com This first three links in that series will fill in the gaps for you and give you a solid foundation for the next level...then couple of links are some basic ways what you read is applied.

With that info under your belt you can then look at something like this that explains substitutions in serious application: http://lessons.mikedodge.com/lessons/Jazz1/chordthoughts.htm (each of the substitution methods are explained here...http://lessons.mikedodge.com/lessons/Jazz1/ChordMethodDetails.htm)

That link goes with this example of application: http://lessons.mikedodge.com/lessons/Jazz1/Jazz1TOC.htm

Those last three links are pretty heavy, and without the earlier knowledge up front it might leave you bewildered and bit, but it's your call how you want to approach it.
Last edited by MikeDodge at Jul 29, 2010,