• # Can tritone substitutions really revolutionize your playing?

Wait!

I know you’re thinking… “whoa, big words.”

But let me assure you that this concept is very easy to understand.

Maybe you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you’ve seen these words thrown around forums. Well, I’m finally going to demystify tritone substitutions for you…

Yesterday, we talked about the tritone. I called it the little cousin of the power chord.

As you know, a tritone is made up of the 1 and b5 interval.

C major:

C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Learn how to find the key of any song, pick out chords, and learn songs by ear.

In C major, that’s C + Gb (G is the fifth… simply lower it to Gb).

It’s also known as a diminished fifth interval. (Diminish literally means to “make smaller”).

But here’s the thing with tritones. Unlike other chords, you really only have to learn 6 of them.

Yes! 12 is THE magic number in music. There are 12 major chords, 12 minor chords, 12 diminished chords… 12 of everything!

But with tritones, they are symmetric. In other words, they are the same if you take the bottom note and move it to the top. It doesn’t matter.

Take that “C + Gb,” flip it, and you’ll get “Gb + C” (it’s still a tritone).

On the other hand, if you take a perfect fifth like “C + G” and flip it, you won’t get the same fifth — instead, you’ll get a fourth (“G + C”). That’s because they aren’t symmetric.

Tritones are basically equal when you transpose them.

And get this…

They cut the octave perfectly in half.

Yes, believe it or not, the “b5” (flatted fifth) marks the MIDDLE POINT of the octave.

So if you go from C to Gb and then from Gb to C, you would have encompassed an octave.

Octave = 12 half steps
Tritone = 6 half steps (or 3 whole steps, thus the name “tri”)

Because of all this, there are really only 6 of them. Gb + C is basically the same as C + Gb (at least for the purposes in which we’ll use them).

That means, all you have to do is learn these (and I’m going to use informal spellings just to keep thing simple):

C + Gb
Db + G
D + Ab
Eb + A
E + Bb
F + B

…And you’ll automatically know these, the “flipped” versions:

Gb + C
G + Db
Ab + D
A + Eb
Bb + E
B + F

So the key is to master not only these tritones played as chords (or dyads) but to master, for example, what a tritone up from C is. In other words, you should be able to know that the other “tritone” side of D is Ab. Or the other side of G is Db. Or the other side of E is Bb, and vise versa.

Because once you understand this, tritone substitution is easy.

It basically says that you can substitute the chord a tritone away for the chord you’re currently on. It works best with dominant chords but you can mess around with it on major and minor seventh chords as well.

But basically, let’s see how this works in a 2-5-1 chord progression

Normally, in a 2-5-1, the “5” tone is a dominant chord.

2-minor7 >>> 5-dominant7 >>> 1-major7

In C major, this plays out as:

D minor7 >>> G dominant7 >>> C major7

D minor7 = D + F + A + C
G dominant7 = G + B + D + F
C major7 = C + E + G + B

See the “G dominant 7?” The rules behind “tritone substitution” say that you can replace this G dominant7 with the dominant chord that is 3 whole steps away (or a “tritone” away).

That is the golden rule!

Tritone Substitution: The use of a chord three whole steps away to replace (or follow) the original chord.

I said “follow” because, in my experience, you can usually play your original chord and then follow-up with the dominant chord a tritone away. And other times, you can substitute the original chord altogether.

And like I said, if you know your tritone relationships very well, it won’t take long to know that you can use Db dominant 7 in the place of G dominant 7 (“G7” for short).

D minor 7 >>> Db dominant 7 >>> C major 7

D minor7 = D + F + A + C
Db dominant7 = Db + F + Ab + Cb
C major7 = C + E + G + B

*Cb is basically the same as playing “B” — just spelled differently.

Why does the Db7 work so well as a substitute for the G7 chord?

Well, let’s look at their notes:

G7:
G + B + D + F

Db7:
Db + F + Ab + B

(Yes, I know that “B” should say “Cb” but I’m trying to make a point here).

Regardless of what you call them, do you see the two common notes that these two chords share? In fact the notes they share (“B + F”) form a tritone, themselves! There are just tritones everywhere!

Next week, I’m going to show you how to use tritone substitutions in 1-6-2-5-1 chord progressions. I’ll even show you how to simply move JUST the bass note of most of your chords up a tritone, and how it can totally change the feel of your chords! You’ll love it!

Exercise: Let’s come up with tritone substitutions for every 2-5-1 chord progression. I’ll start off in the key of C major by substituting a Db7 chord for the G7 chord. Let’s knock this out real quick! It’s easy!

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All the best —

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#### Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

#### Latest posts by Jermaine Griggs (see all)

1 Jermaine

C major 2-5-1

Dminor7 – G7 – Cmajor7 (normally)

Dminor7 – Db7 – Cmajor7 (tritone substitution)

Dminor7 = D F A C
Db7 = Db F Ab Cb
Cmajor7 = C E G B

Who’s next?

2 Mike J

G major 2-5-1

Amin7 – D7 – Gmajor7 (normally)

Amin7 – Ab7 – Gmajor7 (tritone substitution)

Amin7 – A C E G
Ab7 – Ab C Eb Gb
Gmaj7 – G B D F#

3 BRIAN AKA TRUMUSIC1SOUL

F major 2-5-1

Gmin7 – C7 – Fmaj7 (normally)

Gmin7 – Gb7 – Fmaj7 (tritone substitution)

Gmin7 – G Bb D F

Gb7 – Gb Bb Db Fb

Fmaj7 – F A C E

Tritones- E + Bb for C7 and Bb + E for Gb7 ?

GOod lookin out Sensai ;-)~>

4 Sunny

Father Jermaine, i understand the substitution of dominant7s but dont understand the tritone to fix at the bass. Please help me out.

5 Jermaine

Yes, that’s right Brian. But really, they can be used interchangeably but if you take the 3+b7 route, the E+Bb would match up with C and the Bb+E would match up with Gb.

Take care,
JG

6 Laketa

Db major 2-5-1

Eb minor7 – Ab7 – Dbmajor7 (normally)

Eb minor7 – E7 – Dbmajor7 (tritone substitution)

Eb minor7 = Eb Gb Bb Db
E7 = E G# B D ——This is what I’m having a problem with… so whats going on?
Dbmajor7 = Db F Ab C

Oh Yeah! I am totally lost on this concept…… I happen to have the Tritone DVD… but have just really gotten to the point where I can fluently play the tritones up and down without any interruptions, as instructed by Jamal. Think I probably should move on with the DVD to understand this concept a little better?

Thanks – Laketa

7 Jermaine

@Laketa:

That substitution should be a tritone away from the original chord. If original chord is Ab7, the tritone should be D7 (instead of E7).

Then from that point, you’re just playing a regular D dominant 7 chord (D F# A C)

What parts are you lost on? I’ll try to clarify those parts.

8 BRIAN AKA TRUMUSIC1SOUL

LIGHTBULB…THAMKS LAKETA FOR ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION. I FIGURED OUT THE HOW, BUT THE WHY, I TOO, WAS LOST ON . YET I COULDN’T FORMULATE THE RIGHT ? TO GET THE ANSWER NEEDED TO GET THIS CONCEPT TO REGISTER COMPLETLY. I THINK I’M GETTING THERE. THANKS LEKETA & JERMAINE.

“I WAS STUCK WITH PEANUT BUTTER, NO JELLY; KOOL-AID NO SUGAR….”

ANOTHER SUCCCCCCCCCCCCESSSSSSSSSFUL LESSON!!!!! ;-)~>

9 Jermaine

Hey Brian & Laketa:

Basically, there’s two main ideas in this post.

You have tritones themselves, which are basically 2 notes separated by 3 whole steps.

And you have tritone distances, which are basically dominant seventh chords (which you already know) separated by whole steps. So while yesterday was about playing TRITONES themselves. Today was about playing other chords you already know but realizing that there is a relationship between chords that are a tritone apart. In other words, you can replace one for the other in a chord progression. If you’ve got a G7 chord, and you know it’s “tritone counterpart” (if you will) is Db… this idea is suggesting to you to try to play that Db7 in its place. Either you can replace it all together (instead of D minor to G7 to C major, it would be D minor to Db7 to C major, which creates a nice chromatic walk down) —- or you can follow up with the substitution chord (D minor to G7 to Db7 to C major (obviously the G7 to Db7 must be quicker because they must be played in the same amount of time as the original chord progression).

So that’s the idea. LEt me know if this helps.

10 John k

As a beginer i got tired of playing one style always and i must confess that this whole thing has changed my view about the piano. I pray that God continue to bless us all with his divine wisdom, knowledge and undestanding(Amen). I really appreciate this and please update me on more infos like this.

11 BRIAN AKA TRUMUSIC1SOUL

THAT HELPED ENORMOUSLY…. THANKS

12 Laketa

Thanks Jermaine for the extra elaboration. I think I must have been on something new last night, cuz I tell you I totally didn’t get it. But, today thanks to your help I have experience yet another ” Light Bulb” moment. You’re the best! know this, when my ship of gold comes rolling in…..you’re on my list:-)

13 Roland

It looks like if you raise the root and lower the 5th,of the original V7 chord by a half-step…then you get all the notes of the tritone substitution chord. :-)

14 JAY

Pls Explain this further, I am really interested

15 Roland

…and as a bonus you get to keep the most important notes in the original chord: The 3rd and the 7th…hehe

16 Jermaine

@Roland… great observations. Not only do the chords have the B+F tritone (the 3rd and 5th) in common, but the notes they don’t have in common are just one half step apart. So that makes them great substitute candidates for each other.

Note to everyone: It works the other way around. Db7 just doesn’t substitute for G7.

G7 can also substitute for Db7… like in this progression:

Gb major

Ab minor 7 >>> Db7 >>> Gb major 7 (ORIGINAL)
Ab minor 7 >>> G7 >>> Gb major 7 (tritone substitution).

So it works both ways!!!!

That’s why, instead of going to the 6 chord to lead you to the 2, you’ll find many people going to the b3 to lead to the 2. In gospelkeys 202, it’s those chords that are a half step above the chord you really want to go to (those are mostly tritone substitutions).

All the best —

17 Jermaine

@Roland — welcome to the blog. If i’m not mistaken, this is your first post. Please continue to post. We’re in the birth stages of the blog still (only been like 80 days) and comments like yours and others keep the blog hot. Thanks.

18 Eresmas

Thanks for the enlightment again. Quite difficlut for me though.

Well, prove me right or wrong on

D MAJOR 2 – 5 – 1

Emin7 – A7 – Dmaj7 (normally)

Emin7 – Eb7 – Dmaj7(Sub.)

Emin7 – E + G + B + D

Eb7 – Eb + G + A# + C#

Dmaj7 – D + F# + A + C#

Phew!
This has been crazy. I’ve tried to understand it but almost gave up. I just wasn’t getting it. Looks like it’s not ranked Advanced Players for nothing and i’m just a beginner.
What Roland observed is cool i think. It sticks easier in the head that way.

19 chawk

A major 2-5-1

B min7 – E7 – A maj7 (normally)
B min7 – Bb7 – Amaj7 (tritone sub)

B min7 = B D F# A
Bb7 = Bb D F Ab
A maj7= A C# E G#

20 Jermaine

@Eresmas: You’re getting it.

You just need to spell your Eb7 chord correctly. There’s no sharps in Eb7… just “Eb + G + Bb + Db”

In order to understand this post:

1) You have to know your dominant chords (all 12)
2) You have to know your 6 tritone relationships (and how to “flip” them to get the other 6).

3) And you simply swap one dominant chord for the other. If the real dominant chord in the progression is G7 and you know the dominant seventh chord a tritone away from G7, which is Db7, then you simply play that.

That’s basically the idea behind tritone substitutions. Try another one and let’s see if you’re getting close. Try to work it out one step at a time and the first time you get a doubt, post it for me so I can help you work through it.

Take care,
JG

21 Jermaine

@Chawk! Looking good up there!

22 Roland

Thanks Jermaine,I’m happy to be here.
Nobody’s done Gb yet,I think

Abm Db7 Gb, Becomes: Abm Abb7(G7) Gb

Look at the roots of those chords.They move down chromatically.

23 Jermaine

@Roland: Thanks Roland!

How come you used Abb7 instead of G7?

24 Roland

Hi Jermaine
Because Db-Ab is a perfect 5th, and the dim 5th will be the lowered Ab.
In a scale every step has to have its own unique letter name…lol
But as a musician we would never call it an Abb of course.
It would be thought of as ‘G’.

25 Eresmas

Hey, thanks again JG.
When i first read the reply, i was trying to kick myself for getting it wrong, but now i understand that i just misspelt the Eb7.
Well then, let me try E MAJOR.

2-5-1
Fmin7 – B7 – Emaj7 (normally)

Fmin7 – F7 – Emaj7 (sub)

Fmin7 – F# A C E
F7 – F A C Eb
Emaj7 – E G# B D#

Hope i got it this time round.

26 Eresmas

Ooops! The Fmin7 is supposed to be F# A C# E.
So i’ll redo it like :

2-5-1
Fmin7 – B7 – Emaj7 (normally)

Fmin7 – F7 – Emaj7 (sub)

Fmin7 – F# A C# E
F7 – F A C Eb
Emaj7 – E G# B D#

I can also observe that in the substitution, you just flat everything except the 3rd in the 2min7 and you get the dominant chord.
Like in Cmajor, you flat 1st, 5th and 7th in Dminor7 = D F A C to get
Db7 = Db F Ab Cb.
Am i right?

27 drej

Hi, jermaine
it’s been a great privilege to get updates from you.I’ve not been able to reply your mails due to my tight schedule in school(the university)but I must confess you are doing a great job and i’ve enjoyed,understood and practicalised every lesson to the best of my ability. Keep doing the good work and may the lord bless you real good.I also have a question concerning your courses and it goes thus: can i place an order and receive your courses here in Nigeria (Africa)?

28 MS

That Roland is a very smart member!! Thanks, Roland. I like the observation by Eresmas, but heartily agree with Jermaine about the ‘learning to fish’ idea. Thanks, guys. I am just a mere beginner, but am trying to follow the wisdom in the postings. God bless you all.

29 MS

Slow down, Eresmas, and you’ll be fine! I am just trying to understand the postings.

30 Roland

Eresmas
2-5-1 chords in E major, would be F#m-B7-E
And with the tritone substitution,it would be F#m-F7-E

We still have the keys of Eb,Ab,B,and Bb to go…and more
Who’s next?

31 Ed Leite

Hi Jermaine,

This is my first visit to your blog site, and I am very impressed with the sharing of concepts and ideas to help us all become better piano players. Two comments concerning the use of tritone substitutions.

1. After using tritone substitutions in II-V-I progressions for some time, I find it easier to think “play a flatted II dominate 7th chord” rather than think “what is the tritone for the V chord?”. In other words, just step down chromatically II-IIb-I. In the key of C, this is Dm7-Dbm7-C. This approach was also suggested by another person in an earlier post.

2. To get a more interesting sound, use 9th and Maj7th voicings. For example, in the key of C, play Dm7(9)-Db7(9)-Cmaj7.

Advanced players can play another variation of II-V-I voicings by using 9th, 13th and Maj7 voicings. In the key of C, play Dmin7(9)-G7(13)-Cmaj7. However, this is best left for another post covering chord extensions and voicings.

Again thanks for this blog site, your wonderful products and great customer support. I purchased the Tritones DVD course and The Jazz 201 DVD course and find them very helpful.

Best regards,

Ed

32 Eresmas

Thanks MS and Roland.

Forgot the sharp. Yeah i should slow down a lil like MS says he he.

33 Jermaine

@Ed: Thanks for your insight! I totally agree. Once you have the concept down… then go for the shortcut (thinking of the substitution chord as a half step above the chord you’re going to). Similar to what we did in this lesson:

http://www.hearandplay.com/main/this-trick-will-spice-up-your-dominant-chord-progressions-instantly

34 wong

Great! How about doing a piece on soloing using the tritone concept?

For example you can play a Db dim. appreggio over a G7 chord. You can
use the E dim, Bb dim ,G dim apreggio as well.

By the way anyone here use solfege ? Heard of any solfege writing software?

35 ovie origbo

this is very intresting. please more

36 steve

Yes a very understated but useful information.I didn,t realise the impact tritone substittution in jazz had the first time around of reading.Very relevant to the circle of 5ths too.Another great multi-layered blog from JG.

37 Jacques

If there are only 6 tritones (as explained in the original post, you can ‘flip’ them) then there are only 3 diminished chords (as opposed to 12) – since you can ‘flip’ each of them 3 times…

38 Jacques

Dimished chords are quite interesting as well. And guess what? They contain no less than 2 tritone pairs! So Dom7 chords aren’t the only ones containing tritones.
Now let’s try something else. Get a diminished chord and lower any chord tone by half a step. What do you get? Try the other chord tones. Amazing, no? Now, try to get any chord tone (still starting from any diminished chord) and raise it by a half step. What do you get? Try the other ones…

39 ernest

sir pls i dont understand what tritone is all about pls can you explain it for me and state out the tritone chords for me with there notes?

40 umoh

great stuff here! Just realised that i hav been some of these stuff by ears without neccessarily knowing their technical names. The scales are fallin off my eyes and i hav a better understanding now. Thanks Jermaine.

41 fatunde

42 fatunde

please, can you give more insight ontritone and ditone as a passing tone

43 Jacques

Tritones are the characterisc component of a dominant 7 chord (think G7 in the key of C). The tritone is between the B and the F (exactly 3 tones or 6 semi-tones). There are other chords that contain the same notes, for example C#7 (B and F are 7th and 3rd respectively, exactly the other way round from a G7 – B and F are 3rd and 7th). So C#7 has the same characterics than a G7 and can form a substitution. Please note that from G to C#, there are also 3 tones (or 6 semi-tones) so the tritone works there as well. Which other chords have a B and F in them? If you find them, you can substitute them for a G7 as well. Also, remember that chords do NOT dictate scales or tonality. Rather, scales determine the chords and the tonality. Have fun!

44 jackikeys

please sir what will it take me to stay and learn with you

45 Tobi

somtimes i see words like ‘yesterday’ ‘on friday’ etc but am confused, is it that you send newsletters or a lesson is being taught via this website daily ‘cos i subscibed for newletters but i’ve not gotten 1. So do i go about it

46 Jermaine Griggs

Tobi, newsletters have actually been on hold. They will be back shortly. But yes, when I do say “yesterday,” usually it’s linked and you can go back to the page I’m referring to.

47 abel

tritone! at last, thnks jermaine.

48 abel

tritone! at last, thnks. But how can i purchase a copy of your dvd here in Nigeria?

49 Mike

50 dephkey

thanks J .. I get it a lil buh nt all.. Same thing applies to the DVD by Jamal … Couldnt really get the full concept…. Dnt know what is wrong

51 Henry

At last I got what I was looking
For thanks Jermaine am greatful

52 Henry

Please Jermaine,hw can I get this DVD in Nigeria?

53 GREAT

This is wow! This is good job! Tanks JG u’ve been a concerned tutor. I appreciate your effort towards the music industry. U’ve been a source of motivation to me. I pray 4 more grace to your elbows. Tanx

54 Damilare Elijah

hi.
sorry, i think i’m overwhelm with surprises in all of your coachings but please do me a favor by e-mailing me back. I want to become a student i mean student from the scratch …. want you to mentor me.
thanks and God Bless

55 jtrew

Lets play in F#:
G#m7-C#7-F#Maj7
G#m7-G7-F#Maj7

2: G#,B,D#,F#
5: C#,E#,G#,B. TS: G,B,D,F
1: F#,A#,C#,E#

Check my math :-)

56 vitus

thanks for this lecture. I think i av got good understanding of tritone substitution. I wil starting rehearsing it different possibilities. I do hope this greatly influence my player going forward. I am looking forward to other tips dat would hopefully put my skils on d pedestran on my bass guitar. Thanks a million.

57 Keri Niece

Some really excellent content on this internet site, appreciate it for contribution. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” by E. B. White.

58 Owusuiyke

Tanz a lot

59 Owusuiyke

Tanx

60 Haka

thanx very much father Jermaine… I realy appreciate ur lessons though am new here.. Bt am so Hapy 2 hve this may God Bless u..

61 boaz

wanna play tritones in church

62 Nco

Awesome!,for a Beginner like me this is all new yet awesome,playing in my local church(a small church),and I just wanne learn more Jermain,Sir my favourite key is Gmajor,would like any to help or give ways for me to sound great in this particular scale,God Bless all you Talented and Gifted Musicians

#helpNeeded

63 Nene Sackey

Jermaine I understand your concept but I have a question slightly off the track. I learnt something about tritones that I still can’t apply.
If I play something like
F, B(F tritone) / Eb Major (Eb G Bb)- how is it called?
And can I use it to replace the 1 chord which is F in this case.
*hope I’m not confusing things*

64 Du plessis

Thanks a lot

65 josh

thanks alot sir … think am doin grt with it

66 Godfrey

Great work bro