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Jazz Piano Lesson: Altered Dominant Chords


Most jazz compositions, whether classic or modern, heavily feature dominant seventh chords. This hybridized major and minor harmony is an enormous contributor to the jazz sound and has become a staple of the genre’s aesthetic.


You may be wondering: what is a dominant seventh chord? A dominant seventh chord is a four-note harmony comprised of a major triad (the root, major third, and perfect fifth) with the addition of the minor seven tonality, hence the major/minor hybridization. The bridging between the major and minor tonalities gives these chords a unique sound and a very specific function within their musical context.


Due to the frequency that dominant seventh chords appear in jazz, musicians will often apply extensions to these harmonies to add interest and complexity to the chords. These extensions most commonly include the ninth (which is the major second an octave up) and the thirteenth (which is the major sixth an octave up). To add further sonic complexity to these harmonies, jazz musicians will often raise or lower these extensions by a half-step to create what’s known as altered dominant seventh chords. These altered textures give the harmonies a particularly jazz sound, and implementing them will elevate the maturity of your jazz vocabulary.


In this online jazz piano lesson, master jazz pianist, recording artist, producer, and ArtistWorks instructor, George Whitty, details the concept of altered dominant chords, outlines a few of the most common harmonies and their accompanying voicings on the piano, and teaches you how to incorporate altered dominant chords into your playing.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play jazz piano from a master musician like George Whitty? Try some free online piano lessons now!


“More often than not, my instinct when I’m playing is to migrate more toward the altered dominant than traditional dominant seventh tonalities,” George explains. “Traditional dominant seventh chords tend to provide a happy, consonant sound to my ear, while altered dominant harmonies create a much jazzier, hip feel.”


It can be intimidating to begin implementing altered dominant seventh chords into your playing at first, especially if you’re reading lead sheets calling for complex-feeling chords with multiple altered extensions in a single harmony, etc. While lead sheets of this nature may feel daunting at first, remember to approach this concept with patience. As this idea sinks in, altered dominant chords will feel increasingly approachable and will quickly be falling under your fingers in no time.


“A great way to practice your altered dominant seventh chord voicings is to take one specific extension and play it through the circle of fifths,” explains George. “For example, take one singular dominant seven voicing with a sharp nine and play that voicing through the circle of fifths. Before long, you’ll develop muscle memory so that you can quickly recall that voicing in all twelve keys.”


To learn more about altered dominant chords and how to implement them into your playing, dive into this online jazz piano lesson from George Whitty:


Altered Dominant Chords with George Whitty:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play jazz piano? Through our comprehensive jazz piano lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like George Whitty, and get personal feedback on your playing.


George’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner piano to advanced performance techniques, improvisation methods, jazz standards, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as pianists and musicians.


Try out some free sample music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



Jazz Piano Lesson: Learn How to Play “Tune Up” with George Whitty

Jazz Piano Lesson: Learning Approach Patterns with George Whitty

ArtistWorks Music Series Podcast—Explore the Styles of Jazz with George Whitty




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