IN LAST MONTH’S LESSON
[“Diminished Transformers,” June 2010 GP],
we explored the concept of unfolding a diminished
7 chord into four dominant 7s, an idea
we can attribute to Pat Martino. We compared
this process to manipulating Transformers
from their robot form into something new
and different. In this lesson, we’ll take this
chord-generating technique even further.
For starters, let’s revisit the basic principle:
If you lower a note within a
diminished 7 chord by a half-step, you’ll
get a dominant 7 chord with the lowered
note as its root. Because lowering any of
the diminished 7’s four notes will generate
a new dominant 7, one diminished 7
voicing spawns four dominant 7s.
Look at Ex. 1, which has a Gdim7 as the
first voicing. Pluck Gdim7—it’s our diminished
7 transformer in this lesson—then
lower the root on string six by one halfstep
to F#. As shown in the second grid,
this lowered note becomes the root of F#7.
At the bottom of the grid, you’ll see each
tone’s function in this new chord. To help
you visualize the root, it’s shown as a hollow
circle on every chord grid.
After strumming Gdim7 again, drop the
note on string four by one half-step and
you’ll get an Eb7. Repeat the process lowering
the notes on strings three and two
to generate A7 and C7 chords, respectively.
We’ve now created four dom7 voicings
from a root-position dim7 voicing.
Moving a diminished 7 voicing three
frets higher brings you to its nearest inversion.
Ex. 2 begins with a 1st-inversion Gdim7,
which, like its root-position predecessor,
spawns four dom7s. We get new fingerings
of the same four chords we generated
in Ex. 1— F#7, Eb7, A7, and C7—except
now they’re in a different order.
Examples 3 and 4 carry us through the 2nd
and 3rd inversions of Gdim7 and yield two
more sets of our dom7 chords. This means
we now have four ways to play F#7, Eb7, A7,
and C7. Some of these 16 dom7 chords are
old friends, but it’s likely some will be new,
or at least, less familiar to your fingers. And
because these voicings are moveable—they
contain no open strings—every one of them
can be played chromatically up and down
the fretboard. Wow, a plethora of dom7s!
But what’s the point? Beyond having a
wealth of dominant 7 possibilities at your
fingertips, there’s an excellent reason for
spawning so many dom7s from diminished
7 transformers: A dominant 7 chord makes
a superb platform for generating a wide variety
of other chord types. Let’s take just one
dom7 fingering to make this point—the A7
we first encountered in Ex. 2. Because it’s
conveniently positioned in the middle of
the fretboard, raising or lowering one or
two notes in this A7 fingering is easy.
Look at Ex. 5 and the 1-b7-3-5 A7 voicing
in the upper left grid. If you lower the
b7 to 6, you get A6. Or—returning to A7—
lower the 3 to b3 to generate Am7. Or
combine the 6 and b3 to get Am6. See what’s
happening? By sliding one or two notes up
or down from our starter A7, we get the 12
chord types shown here. In other words,
from a humble A7 we can wrangle A6, Am7,
Am6, Am7b5, A7b5, Amaj7, Amaj9, A9,
A7sus4, A7#5, and A13. And with a little
investigation, you’ll find other chords too.
• We start with a single dim7 fingering.
• Lowering any one note of this dim7
yields a dom7 voicing, for a total of four
dom7s from one dim7.
• Moving along the fretboard through
the given dim7’s inversions (root, 1st, 2nd,
and 3rd) generates a total of 16 dom7 chords.
• Raising or lowering one or two notes
within a dom7 chord yields other chord
types, such as m7, maj7, 7b5, and so on.
• Because we’re working with moveable
forms, every chord shape we uncover
can be played in all 12 keys.
At this point, we have a wonderful alternative
to a chord dictionary. If you recall, in
last month’s lesson we looked at four dim7
fingerings on different string sets. In this
lesson, we walked one of these dim7s
through its inversions. To get a thorough
workout, march the other three through
their inversions. Simply start with a dim7
transformer, grind out the dom7s in each
inversion, tweak the dom7s as we did in
Ex. 5 to create other chord types, and you’ve
got dozens and dozens of useful voicings
all over the fretboard. No doubt you’ll like
the sound of some but not others, and you’ll
also find some are easy to play while others
are very difficult. Write down the
voicings you like, and discard the rest.
It takes time to explore the fretboard
this way, but such is the price of mastery.
To avoid being overwhelmed, just ease
into the concept, and whenever you get
an “a-ha” moment, remember to thank
A seventh chord is composed of four
notes—the root, plus the third, fifth,
and seventh tones of a major scale
starting from the same root. This 1-
3-5-7 arrangement can be altered
according to specific formulas to
create a variety of chord types. For
instance, a dominant 7 chord has a
formula of 1-3-5-b7 and a minor 7
chord has a 1-b3-5-b7 formula. When
the root is the lowest note, the chord
is—not surprisingly—in root position.
But there are other ways to stack
the notes. When you move the root
up an octave, the chord is in its 1st
inversion (3-5-7-1). Now move the 3
up an octave, and you get a 2nd-inversion
seventh chord with the 5 as the
lowest note (5-7-1-3). Moving the 5
up an octave yields a 3rd-inversion
seventh chord (7-1-3-5).
In each of these inversions, the notes
remain within a single octave; this
is called a close voicing. In an open
voicing, selected notes are shifted
to lower or higher octaves to create
seventh-chord harmony that
extends beyond an octave.
Andy Ellis hosts The Guitar Show weekly
radio program, which streams online. Visit theguitarshow.com for details.