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A Spicy Chord

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A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 03, 2019 11:26 am

If you ever need an instant injection of spice to some basic harmony try this chord. On a C bass (for example) play:

E (natural) B flat and E flat.

Depending on context this can be bluesy, jazzy, funky or whatever. It has such impact that I hardly know what to call it, but it does seem to have some very special properties, and I rarely see it mentioned in discussions on theory and harmony, though you hear it a lot.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Peevy » Sat Aug 03, 2019 4:58 pm

Nice chord GilesAnt. Try adding a G# (Ab) to it. So left hand the C and Bb, then right hand thumb on the E, then the G#(Ab) and top note Eb. It resolves nicely onto an Fmaj7.
It’s called an ‘alt’ chord which is a variation on the dominant (chord V). If you google ‘alt chords’ (altered chords) you’ll find all the theory.

A handy way to think of it is (in the key of F) if you play the C (root) and Bb in the left hand (V chord), you can noodle around Db (C#) melodic minor in the right hand then resolve to the Fmajor7. i.e. you improvise the melodic minor scale a semitone up from the root of the V chord which then resolves onto the tonic. Once you get your head round it!

It’s because the melodic minor scale a semitone up from the V chord includes all the altered notes in the alt V chord: #9, b9, b13 and the likes. It makes sense because the melodic minor scale a semitone up from the root of the V chord still includes the ordinary 3rd and dominant 7th of the V chord.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 03, 2019 6:43 pm

Interesting reply Peevy, and yes that voicing with the A flat does make a very pleasing progression. It is a very altered chord indeed – a sharpened 9th with a flattened 13th on top of the basic dominant 7th chord. That tidies it up from a functional harmony perspective rather nicely.

But…..

Something else is going on here too I think, and it is connected with my original voicing, i.e. C bass with E - B flat - E flat above it. Somehow this has a starker sound, and works well as an impact chord without the need for resolution. As soon as your A flat is included I feel the tendency to move to an F chord as you have said. But on its own the clash of E natural and E flat within a bare bones C7 chord seems to owe more to a bluesy 3rd, i.e. smearing the 3rd as might happen with a vocalist or guitarist.

If you swap the voicing slightly to E flat – B flat- E natural, this bluesy effect is lost (to me at least). Also if you drop the B flat an octave it loses a little of its punch. So it seems to me the specific E natural – B flat – E flat voicing is chiming in a non-functional harmony way. The E flat is no longer a sharpened 7th, but a an aural trick to create a blues 3rd which would otherwise be impossible on a keyboard.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Peevy » Sat Aug 03, 2019 7:03 pm

Ah, I had assumed when I saw the C, E, Bb in your post that you were on a form of a chord V7. I didn’t consider it as a standalone chord. Not at my piano to try it out, but will do!
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 03, 2019 7:16 pm

Your answer works fine, it seems to capture the ambiguity of this chord somehow - both functional and non-functional which is I suppose why it is interesting and useful.

I had never considered noodling with C# minor over the top of a C7 either!
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Folderol » Sat Aug 03, 2019 7:24 pm

Sounds really dramatic played with a cathedral organ sound :)
Positively ominous :?

Then holding the Eb switch the Bb to AB, and for a finale a full Eb Major. Such fun!
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 03, 2019 7:44 pm

And while you are making the windows rattle I can gently strum it on my ukulele and it still has power.

It really is a super-chord in so many ways, or maybe I should describe it as a sonority.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Dryjoy » Sun Aug 04, 2019 3:50 pm

You have described the famous 'Hendrix chord', most commonly played with a root of E on the guitar, but works well in C on the guitar as well.

https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/purple-reign-the-hendrix-chord
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Sun Aug 04, 2019 6:15 pm

Never heard it called the Hendrix chord but then I'm not a guitarist. Purple Haze shows exactly the gritty bluesy-ness though.

Good article too, and the writer picks up the point about the clash of minor and major 3rd which lend that ambiguity. He makes the point that that being separated by a diminished octave softens the dissonance, and the voicing is all important. I still don't understand why it doesn't seem to work if you swap the 3rds around so they create an augmented octave, but I guess that is down to psycho-acoustics or something.

Also as the author states, the chord has been used for a while before Hendrix, particularly in jazz. Listen to Oscar Peterson for example, and it is a constant feature, particularly of his left hand, although he seems to fluctuate between using it as a power chord a la Hendrix, and a more standard #9th chord as part of a functional progression.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Dryjoy » Sun Aug 04, 2019 8:31 pm

GilesAnt wrote: I still don't understand why it doesn't seem to work if you swap the 3rds around so they create an augmented octave, but I guess that is down to psycho-acoustics or something.

I'd never really thought about that, but you're right - it just isn't as satisfying that way around.
Interesting.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby pianowillbebach » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:55 pm

Love how this chord doesn't need resolution - those are always fun to play around with
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Exalted Wombat » Fri Aug 30, 2019 2:00 pm

We used to call it the 'Spinning wheel' chord. 'Ride a painted pony...'

Theorists get very upset if you don't call it C7(#9). But aurally it's unquestionably C7(b10).
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Fri Aug 30, 2019 3:15 pm

That is very questionable indeed I think. As I suggested previously, this chord can behave both functionally as well as non-functionally.

As pianowillbebach says, it doesn't need resolution in its non-functional form and this could be described as C7 with a flat 10 if you like, (though this would be non-conventional).

On the other hand this can be treated functionally as a C7 #9 and resolve appropriately. Take a cycle of 5ths for example, with a simple bass line of C - F - Bb - Eb. On top of this you can slide the E - Bb - Eb pattern down a semi-tone at a time. So the first chord is C7 #9, the second would be F9, the 3rd would be Bb7 #9, and finally Eb9.

Pretty much the opening of Spinning Wheel in fact. And what could be more functional than a cycle of 5ths.

Of course you can use the chord to underpin a blues sequence, or just use it as a closing chord where it becomes non-functional, but adds that certain grit and spice of the conflicting maj/min 3rds.

It's very questionability in fact makes this chord such an ambiguous delight to me.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Jimmy T » Fri Sep 06, 2019 11:46 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:We used to call it the 'Spinning wheel' chord. 'Ride a painted pony...'

Theorists get very upset if you don't call it C7(#9). But aurally it's unquestionably C7(b10).
Not upset , but do enjoy a chat about harmony.
In triadic harmony there is no such thing as a 10th, it's just the 3rd in the next octave.
( 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 )
Isn't a theorist just a musician who understands the mathematics going on underneath what the human ear discovered, which is commonly regarded as (triadic) harmony?

Yeah, definitely the Hendrix chord. It's a great example of how the guitar voicings work really well on brass too. The limitations of the guitar lead to voicings that translate very well into brass parts..

Interestingly dominant chords like this can be tonic chords or static chords because the blues (which is a special type of Dominant chord harmony) has conditioned the modern ear to accept them as not so shocking. In the baroque period people may have found perceived them to be more dissonant than we do these days.

Great chord, a classic...
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Sep 07, 2019 2:58 pm

Interesting point about what people in the past would have thought about this chord. I agree that a sequence of non-functional 7th chords is acceptable to our ears, particularly in a blues or jazz context, but this 'Hendrix' chord does have parallels with the false relations that occurred frequently in Renaissance music and later.

Basically depending upon the movement of the melodic lines (in an era of counterpoint) the 3rd of the scale could occur both in minor and major, at close quarters or even simultaneously.

This sounds possibly more dissonant to our ears today than it was at the time. But this clash of major and minor 3rd is also the defining nature of the Hendrix chord.

No point in calling it a 10th as you say - but it could be a maj/min 3rd if not a #9th
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby OneWorld » Sat Sep 07, 2019 5:15 pm

To me, chord is like a word in a sentence - depends what if any words come before or after, determine the resolution, or it could be the imperative, and doesn't need to go anywhere. And it might be something we day 'in passing - such as a passing note' or it could be conclusive. The beauty of chromaticism, though is it opens up more opportunity for modulation. As for it being Jimi Hendrix chord, such a chord has been around longer than that, read "Harmony" by Walter Piston
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Sep 08, 2019 7:10 pm

GilesAnt wrote:No point in calling it a 10th as you say - but it could be a maj/min 3rd if not a #9th

When, as so often, it's voiced with the minor 3rd an octave above the major 3rd, there's a lot of point in calling it a b10.

Voicing information sometimes CAN usefully be given in a chord symbol! Particularly when it's being an aid to performance rather than a method of harmonic analysis.

If I'm playing light rock, 'Cadd2' can usefully be differentiated from 'Cadd9'. One's suggesting the 'Floyd Cramer' lick, the other isn't.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Sun Sep 08, 2019 8:31 pm

OneWorld wrote:When, as so often, it's voiced with the minor 3rd an octave above the major 3rd, there's a lot of point in calling it a b10.

I take the point in that specific context - if using the notation system to identify a voicing. I can see that it might work well in some situations.

However the notation system described by Jimmy wasn't primarily designed to describe specific voicings. For complex voicings it would become unwieldy. How would it indicate doubling the octave for example - b10 with b17 maybe.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon Sep 09, 2019 10:05 pm

Certainly chord symbols aren't designed to fully describe a voicing. We have notation for that! But the orthodoxy that they can't (even mustn't !) do so to some degree should be rejected!

Yes, the 'pile of 3rds' is the basis of chord naming. But a basis doesn't have to be a restriction. The pile of 3rds system doesn't cope very well with the 11th. And it happily admits 'C6' - the added 6th chord. So it shouldn't really get too upset at a b10.
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Re: A Spicy Chord

Postby GilesAnt » Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:01 am

I'll have to agree to differ regarding using chord symbols to describe voicings, not on grounds of dogma but simply because it would be of limited practicality, especially for me as a keyboard player.

On the other hand your points on chord naming are well made. There is no consistency in a system which allows for added 6ths but rejects the 10th. And you are right about the 11th too - I assume you are thinking of sus4 chords here.

It does raise questions about this whole system of notation. From what I can tell it has arisen mainly to assist guitarists and ukulele players. Beginners see a chord of, say, D7 in their sheet music, and can consult a chord chart to find how to play it. The voicing is fixed of course so many players tend to think there is only one D7 chord.

Probably an interesting subject for a new thread, the pros and cons of different forms of notation. Off the top of my head I can think of tonic solfa, Roman numerals, figured bass, standard notation, as well as the chord symbol notation.
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