• Tenth Day Of Christmas: Ten Altered Chord Voicings

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano

    altered chord voicings

    What is an altered chord?

    The term “altered” refers to extended dominant chords that have tones that are raised or lowered to adapt them to a related or foreign key.

    Read this post carefully because beyond giving you ten solid voicings of the altered chord, I’m shedding light on why and how a chord becomes altered along with the exact tones you can alter.

    Quick Overview of Dominant Chords

    A dominant chord is the chord off the fifth degree of the major and minor keys.

    (Remember that the fifth degree of the harmonic minor scale will yield a dominant chord, too).

    For a little more info on extended dominant chords, you may need to see my eighth day of Christmas post.

    C is the fifth degree of the F major scale:

    …therefore a C chord formed from the F major scale is a dominant chord.

    There’s a very simple way to go about this. I call it the “pick and skip” technique.

    Using the major scale of F:

    …we can form Cdom7 chord by…

    Picking C:

    …skipping D.

    Picking E:

    …skipping F.

    Picking G:

    …skipping A and picking B:

    Put together, C-E-G-B is the Cdom7 chord. It is called a dominant chord because it is formed on the fifth degree of the scale and a seventh chord because from C to B encompasses seven notes.

    If we undergo the same procedure using the F harmonic minor scale:

    We’ll be Picking C:

    …skipping D.

    Picking E:

    …skipping F.

    Picking G:

    …skipping A and picking B:

    Put together, we’ll have C-E-G-B as the Cdom7 chord in the key of F minor.

    (The reason why the harmonic minor scale is used for harmonic purposes like chord formation is because of the shortcomings of the natural minor scale)

    Therefore, whether it progresses to a major or minor chord, it’s the same dominant chord. Remember that Cdom7 is the fifth degree chord in the keys of F major and minor.

    Pay closer attention to this…

    Even though F major and minor are related by letter name (both keys have the F note as their tonic), F minor has a closer relationship with A major than F major.

    The major scales of F natural minor:

    …and A major:

    …have exactly the same notes.

    Using the circle of fourths/fifths:circleoffiths1

    You can see this same relationship in all keys. The inner circle minor keys have the same relationship with the major keys in the outer circle.

    A major and F minor are on the 8 o’ clock part of this circle.

    So far, you’ve seen another perspective to the relationship between F major and F minor.

    Instead of only seeing it as a relationship between a major and minor key, we’re going to consider it as a relationship between two major keys (F major and A major).

    We’ll be back to the importance of this relationship soon. Before then, let’s learn how to alter a dominant seventh chord.

    How to Alter a Dominant Seventh Chord

    “I know that dominant chords are the quality of chords that can be altered.”

    “I also have an idea of how to construct them from major and minor scales alike…”

    “Show me how to alter the dominant chord!”

    If I’m right, these are the things you’re thinking. So let’s jump right in.

    There are two chord tones that can be raised or lowered to alter a dominant seventh chord.

    They are the 9th and 5th tones.

    A ninth from C is D:

    …while a fifth from C is G:

    Raising or lowering the ninth will produce two altered tones.


    …or 9:

    …while raising or lowering the fifth will produce two altered tones.



    Altogether, there are four altered tones that altered chords can be made of:

    • 9
    • 9
    • 5
    • 5

    When an altered dominant seventh chord is written, these alterations are usually added in parenthesis, brackets, or simply shown at the end of the chord.

    For example, from the chord below:

    Cdom7 (9,5)

    …one can tell that the chord is altered.

    But beyond that, the altered notes are indicated.

    Here’s what to deduce from the parenthesis:

    The “9″ means that the ninth tone is lowered by a half step while the “5″ is indicating that the fifth tone is raised.

    Take Note…

    Altered chords are non-tertian.

    Notwithstanding that it is against traditional spelling guidelines for a chord to have sharp () and flat () letter names at the same time, it is possible to have all altered tones in one chord.

    Chords like…


    …belong to this category.

    Considering that altered chords are non-tertian, application of strict spelling guidelines can be difficult (if not impossible).

    The implication of this is that D or C can be used interchangeably as the 9 as opposed to the strict use of D as the 9 and C as the 1 in traditional rules.

    The Default Altered Chord 

    Depending on the alteration used, we can come up with many alterations of the dominant seventh chord. We can have the following altered chords:





    Notwithstanding that there are lots of altered chords (especially if we begin to consider using three or four altered tones), the default altered chord is the dom7(9,5):

    The dom7(9,5) chord can be formed when we raise the ninth and fifth chord tones of any extended dominant seventh chord.

    In this post, we are covering ten voicings of this default altered chord (dom7[9,5]).

    Why Should I Alter a Dominant Seventh Chord Anyway?

    The dominant seventh chord is tritonic.

    The interval between its third and seventh tone:

    …is a diminished fifth, which is also known as a tritone obviously because of the three whole steps between the tones.

    Read my post on the tritone here.

    Back to the question at hand. Why should I alter a dominant seventh chord?

    Honestly, this isn’t a silly question to ask, considering that the dominant seventh chord already has the necessary tension from the tritone.

    However, in my post on yesterday’s dissonance vs today’s consonance, I made it clear that there’s a need for more dissonance in the present generation because musical taste has changed over time and there are certain situations where the regular dominant seventh chord does not sound dissonant anymore.

    There are so many reasons why a dominant seventh chord should be altered, but I’ll cover only two in this post and maybe in a future post, we can delve deeper into the why.

    Reason #1 – To Incorporate More Dissonance

    The main reason why dominant seventh chords are altered is to incorporate more dissonance.

    All the altered tones are dissonant intervals:

    9 – The “flat nine” yields a minor ninth, which is one of the most dissonant intervals in music – so much that even jazz musicians tend to avoid it in certain situations.

    9 – This is the augmented ninth. All augmented and diminished intervals are chromatic dissonant interval. Read more about this in my post on chromatic dissonant intervals.

    5 – The “flat five” (aka – “diminished fifth”) is popularly known as the tritone. This alteration adds yet another tritone to the dominant seventh chord and that heightens the dissonance.

    5 – This an augmented fifth. All augmented intervals are dissonant and that includes this one.

    With all I’ve showed you so far, you can see that altered tones are basically dissonant tones that are added to increase the intensity of the inherent dissonance in the dominant seventh chord.

    Reason #2 – To Borrow Tones from a Foreign or Related Key

    Earlier in this post, I showed you the relationship between the keys of F major and F minor.

    Irrespective of the difference between both keys, they share the Cdom7 chord in common.

    Pay attention to this:

    It’s okay for a Cdom9 chord to resolve to an Fmaj9 chord (listen to the example below):

    However, in the case of its resolution to F minor 9 (listen to the example below):

    …it does not sound as interesting as when it is altered below:

    Altering the Cdom9 sounds more interesting.

    This is because the 9 (D), 9 (E), and the 5 (A) are all scale tones of the F minor scale.

    I spelled the 9 as Eand the 5 as A because of the difficulty of spelling the altered chord (and other non-tertian chords.)

    It should be clear that altered tones are actually borrowed from the F minor (or A major) scale.

    The default altered chord (dom7[9,5]) has two altered tones:

    The 5 (A) is the third scale tone of F natural minor scale.

    The 9 (E) is the seventh scale tone of F natural minor scale.

    The introduction of the third and seventh scale and chord tones of F minor in the Cdom7 chord creates an anticipation and more mind-blowing resolution.

    There are also situations where the altered tones can borrow tones from a foreign key and as usual, I’ll be bringing these perspectives to you in future posts.

    I’ve said a lot already. Let’s jump right into the voicings!!!

    Ten Altered Chord Voicings

    Now that you know the how and why, let me give you ten solid voicings of the default altered chord that will widen your scope.

    Voicing is the consideration of the notes of a chord as voices or voice parts and rearranging them as such.

    Voicing #1 – Tenth and Quartal triad

    This voicing features a major tenth on the left hand:

    …built off the root note.

    On the right hand is a quartal triad:

    …built off the 7 degree of C major scale.

    Voicing #2 – Tenth and Tertian Triad

    Here’s another voicing with a filled-in major tenth on the left hand.

    In between the major tenth is the 7 tone.

    The difficulty of this left hand part is undeniable, but it’s worth it after all because having C, B, and E in one hand outlines the basic dominant seventh structure.

    This leaves the right hand with the obligation of providing the extensions via a triad (aka – “upper structure triad”).

    Our choice of triad in this case is a tertian triad – A major triad:

    When I said we’re borrowing from F minor and that there’s a relationship between F minor and A major, I was merely stating the obvious.

    Voicing #3 – Tenth and Suspended Chord

    This is the final voicing for today that will use a left hand major tenth.

    …built off the root note.

    On the right hand is an Asus2 (suspended) chord :

    …that’s another chord from A there. Expect more.

    Voicing #4 – Dom7 and Seventh Chord


    I flipped the left hand just in case you found the three earlier voicings challenging.

    In the left hand, I’m using a dom7 chord:

    …the fifth is omitted because we’re altering it.

    On the right hand, we’re playing a maj75:

    …built off the third degree of C major scale.

    Voicing #5 – Dom7 and Major triad

    Using the same left hand voicing of voicing #5:

    …I’m doing something different on my right hand.

    I’m playing the A major triad in second inversion:

    …I trust you’re getting used to A over Cdom7.

    Voicing #6 – Skeleton and Major triad

    The third and seventh of a chord are of the greatest importance in chord formation and recognition.

    They are often referred to as the skeleton.

    This voicing features the use of the skeleton (third and seventh):

    …on the left hand.

    On the right hand is an A major triad in second inversion:

    Voicing #7 – Skeleton and Suspended chord

    This voicing features the use of the skeleton:

    …on the left hand.

    On the right hand is an Asus2 chord in octave position:

    Voicing #8 – Quartal triad and Major triad

    This voicing features the use of the maj7sus4 chord:

    …on the left hand.

    On the right hand is an Amajor triad in root position:

    Voicing #9 – Tertian triad and Quartal triad

    This voicing features the use of an augmented triad:

    …on the left hand.

    On the right hand is a Bquartal chord:

    Voicing #10 – Tertian triad and Tertian triad

    This voicing features the use of an augmented triad:

    …on the left hand.

    On the right hand is an Amajor chord in second inversion:


    Voicings #1-3 are related by the major tenth left hand voicing style. However, different right hand chords are used, ranging from quartal, to tertian, and suspended chords.

    Voicings #4 & 5 share the same left hand style in common. The right hand chords used are triads and seventh chords.

    Voicings #6 & 7 have the skeleton on the left hand part with major and suspended chords on the right hand.

    Voicings #8-10 consist of polychords (the superimposition of two or more chords). Variety is created between tertian and quartal triads.

    See you next time!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 zino



    2 Chidi

    I noticed the use of only the root and the major 3rd as the lowest notes in the voicings. I know the augmented 9th and the minor 7th [to say the least] can also be used as as the lowest notes of voicings. Is there any special reasons you didn’t use any of them, even when the bass can play the root or the major 3rd?


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