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Thread: Augmented chords..

  1. #1
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    Augmented chords..

    Full disclosure: Whole-tone harmony absolutely baffles me.

    I've been trying to incorporate more augmented chords into my composition process, but I find their harmonic ambiguity frankly confusing.

    Obviously they have myriad uses as passing chords, and I think I'm comfortable with their applications in that regard. What I really think I'm trying to say is- Do augmented chords have a harmonic function and if so what is it?
    "Had you played some free jazz to ninety five per cent of the people who had made "Take Five" a smash, they would have run for cover behind the latest release by Pat Boone."

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  2. #2
    Musician Author Educator Jeff Brent's Avatar
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    Most typically as dominant chords. Especially in minor cadences.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Brent View Post
    Most typically as dominant chords. Especially in minor cadences.
    As in Vaug-i?

    Riffing off the same concept, the progression III-Vaug-i is similarly satisfying. It's sort of a motion by thirds thing.
    "Had you played some free jazz to ninety five per cent of the people who had made "Take Five" a smash, they would have run for cover behind the latest release by Pat Boone."

    -HOW TO HAVE A NUMBER ONE HIT (The easy way!)

  4. #4
    Piano/Compose/Arrange engelbach's Avatar
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    Augmented chords don't have to imply whole-tone harmony. A whole-tone pitch collection can be played nicely against an augmented chord, but it's only one of a number of possibilities. For example, one can treat the #5 as a b6 and play a natural 5.

    As Jeff says, augmented chords are usually found as V7#5. But they can also be just augmented triads. And adding a #5 to a major 7 chord on a cadence is a cool sound.
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  5. #5
    Piano/Compose/Arrange engelbach's Avatar
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    I forgot to answer the question about "harmonic function."

    The raised 5 of V7+5 resolves to the 3 of a major tonic. As does the 7 in a vanilla V7.

    Sometimes the 7 is omitted and only the raised 5 is used. A good example is in bars 5–7 of the original version of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Eb - Eb+5(no7) - Ab.

    Sometimes the +5's only function is to add color. Red Garland's comp to Miles' version of It Never Entered My Mind starts with a vamp on Ab - Ab+5 - Ab6 - Ab+5.

    In an augmented triad any of the three notes can be the root, and any two of the notes will resolve to a major triad that includes the third note.

    So G - B - Eb can be G+5 > C, B+5 > E, or Eb+5 > Ab. The +5 triad can also resolve up a half step from the the root, functioning as an inversion of the V, and I think working better as part of a flow of changes, as in the original chords to Ain't Misbehavin': Eb - G+5 - Ab - Abm, etc.

    (NOTE: I prefer to notate #5 rather than +5, but I see that in a triad something like G#5 can be confusing.)
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  6. #6
    Guitar edrowland's Avatar
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    fwiw, I have real difficulty with wholetone scales as well. I find the use of the entire wholetone scale to be rather extreme.

    I do use wholetone fragments; but the framework in which they occur, when I play, is that of melodic-minor modes, rather than within the framework of the wholetone scale. The key insight that supports this is recognizing that the half of the melodic minor scale is a wholetone scale fragment, and the other half is a diminished scale fragment.

    Consider:

    One substitution/extension of a G7 (V) chord:

    Chord: G7(#5#9) or GAlt,
    Function: V
    Scale: Alt scale, 7th mode of MM

    G Ab A# B C# D# F G
    H W H W W W W
    | dim scale |WT scale|

    Another equally valid extension of a V chord:

    Chord; G7(#11)
    Function: V
    Scale: Lydian dominant, 4th mode of MM

    G A B C# D E F G
    W W W H W H W

    These are the two most common substitutions of a straight V chord. Notice how, between them, you can justify the use of every note of a whole-tone scale. The Lydian dominant scale covers the bottom half of the WT scale; the Alt scale covers the top half.

    So what's the difference in application? Using thoe two scales as frameworks, you can play substantial fragments from the Wholetone scale; but eventually your melodic line is going to make a half-tone step, and fall into that oh-so-tasty diminished portion of the melodic minor scale.


    And of course, if your melodic line doesn't venture into the diminished portion of the MM scale, if you limit your melodic line to either the top or bottom half of the wholetone scale then it doesn't matter which way you look at it. Personally, I find I need a conscious effort of will to make that wholetone step into the other half, and commit myself to wholetone scale tonality. So my actual use of WT scale over the fretboard is vanishingly rare.

    Sure, I can see using a wholetone scale in limited cases. But it's a very challenging sound. The pair of melodic minor scales provides a more nuanced use of wholetone fragments that is much more satisfying, and is usable in a majority of cases rather than as a special trick to set people's ear on edge.

    In passing, my feeling about use of the diminished is much the same: better to think of diminished scale fragments as part of a melodic minor mode.

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    Jason Lyon's "Pentatonic and Hexatonic Scales in Jazz Improvisation" book defines a whole-tone pentatonic scale which is basically the whole tone scale minus the major 2nd. This makes it ambiguous between an altered scale and a whole tone scale, as it is a subset of both. But it is nice because it has a lot of the sound of a whole tone scale, but is a little easier to work into improvisations. I agree with edrowland's opinion that the use of the entire wholetone scale is rather extreme, and this another way to look at a fragment of it.

    Actually I sometimes feel the same way about the diminished scale, that is, unless you actually play every note of it, it is kind of ambiguous as to whether it really is the diminished scale as opposed to altered or a mode of harmonic minor, blues, etc. - and again, i think it can be handy to think in fragments.

    I think this kind of ambiguity is good - do you really want to hit every note of a scale like that? Sounds like the Joe Henderson quote about sounding like the index of a book...

    Lyon's pentatonic ideas are nice because it is a way of really exploiting these kinds ambiguities to create space and emphasize certain subsets of notes to create a distinctive sound or feeling.

  9. #9
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    Or to put it another way, I think that whole tone and diminished scale sounds are better accessed by using means other than learning the fingerings to be able to run up and down them.

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