Secrets - Diatonic Chord Extensions Can Elevate Your Playing

Posted by: Willie Myette on October 26, 2021

In this podcast episode, number 53, I'm excited to share with you part one of two about diatonic chord extensions for improvisation. It's a topic that I think you're really going to enjoy.

Starting with the Basics

When it comes to improvisation, I like to start with the basics. I usually play a root three seven chord show in my left hand and improvise with chord tones in my right hand. So, for instance, if I'm playing a C major seventh chord, I'll improvise with the notes C, E, G, and B.

Chord Extensions

Once I've established a basic sound, I like to move up to upper structures. I'll start by moving the chord up to include upper structures, which are the available tensions on a major seventh chord. For example, on a C major seventh chord, the upper structures include the ninth and sharp eleventh. I like to use these notes to create interesting lines.

Fingering & the Upper Structures

To finger the upper structures, I usually use the fingering 1235, 1235, 1235, even up on the F sharp. Coming down, I use 5321, 5321, 5321, 53258.

Diatonic Chord Extensions for Improvisation

Now, let's move on to diatonic chord extensions for improvisation. I'll start with a D minor chord. The technique works great on the minor chords. On a D minor chord, I play D, F, A, and C. Then, I move up to the upper structures by moving the thumb up. The upper structures on a minor chord are the ninth and eleventh. However, I usually stop at the eleventh because the natural thirteenth might not sound good.

The same concept applies to an E minor chord. I like to play around with the fingering and try different upper structures.

Using the Exercise as a Springboard

The exercise is designed to be a springboard to get you thinking about upper structures. You should never look at any of these exercises as being the only thing you can play. It's just a starting point to get your creative juices flowing.

Bringing It All Together

Once you've practiced the upper structures, you can start to bring them into your improvisation. You can use them to create interesting lines, as I did in this podcast episode. I played a C major scale and a C natural minor scale but also used the upper structures to create cool lines.


That's it for today's podcast episode. If you want to grab the sheet music for this lesson, head back to Jazz Edge. It's available for all Jazz Edge members. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast and leave a review. Your feedback is important to us! Thanks for joining me today, and I'll see you in the next episode.


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