#4 - Altered Harmony Practice Planner

Welcome to the Altered Harmony Practice Planner.

Our course on Altered Harmony introduces the concepts of chord alterations and upper structure triads.

In the course we explore the following topics:

  • What are chord alterations b9s/#9s/#11s/#5s/b13s?
  • How can we add these to our chord progressions?
  • What is upper structure harmony, and how can this benefit our playing?
  • What are the formulas for the most common upper structure triads?
  • How and when can we apply chord alterations/upper structures to our playing?

We can add ‘colour’ and ‘texture’ to our chord voicings by altering the upper extensions of the chord. Once we understand the concept of extended harmony (9s, 11s, & 13s) we can then change the ‘flavour’ of our chord voicings by introducing b9s, #9s, #11s, & #5s/b13s.

Chord alterations are used to create more sophisticated and harmonically-complex progressions and to add interesting twists to basic harmonic cadences.

Download The PDF Practice Plan Here:

Altered Harmony Practice Series.pdf|attachment (3.2 MB)

Practice Slots:

Slot 1: Altered Chord Drills: b9s & #5s

Slot 2: Altered Chord Drills: The #11

Slot 3: Minor 251 Chord Alteration Drills

Slot 4: UST Drills: 13#11 & 13b9

Slot 5: UST Drills: b9#11 & #5#9

Slot 6: UST Drills Over Minor 251s


Hi Hayden, I am about to start the Altered Harmony course – yay ! :smiley:-- and I tried to download and print off the Practising Upper Structures PDF, but cannot get it to fit an A4 page. On my desktop screen it looks really large ? Would you mind checking the settings on your original version ? I have not had any problems before printing other resources.

Cheers, Natasha

Hi Natasha :wave:

I have just resized that document for you, here it is:

Practising Upper Structure Triads.pdf|attachment (1.6 MB)

I’ve merged your post into this new thread on Altered Harmony.

I’m currently working on the practice plan and I’ve created videos on 4 of the 6 slots in the planner, see links above. The last 2 videos will be finished asap.

I put a lot of work into those lessons and I think you will find them insightful for grasping altered harmony.

I paid special attention to demonstrating the concepts in jazz standards which should help to show the end result of the drills and exercises.

Any feedback be sure to let me know :+1:


Thanks Hayden, for all your continuing hard work that encourages all of us. All the best


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I watched the video for slot #1 today, and found the inner voice leading very useful, as it encourages me to think of independent lines, as well as block chords. Thank you Hayden.
A long time ago, I used to think of jazz harmony being beyond my comprehension, but realising that there is a finite number of alterations and extensions is a relief :laughing:

I think your comment about being able to " choose the colour, tension and texture of any Dominant chord we play " is great. Cheers

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Wow just went through the first lesson and had a quick look at the second in this series. I must say I find this extremely useful in helping to breakdown the composition of upper structure triads into their basic elements. I tended to apply USTs by simply flattening the 5th or by playing the chord based on the 9th., etc.

This adds a further dimension in building the foundations in our understanding in 251s and 25s, etc in jazz standards. So much to learn,

I can understand the amount of effort you’ve put into this Hayden.

Well done,

Haha yes there is a finite amount fortunately! There are only 4 altered tensions. I explain I categorise them below.

In addition, by memorising the 4 simple UST formulas we can drastically reduce the amount of information that we need to remember to access the more complex altered dominant sounds in all 12 keys.

Yes I find that a very useful way to look at harmony. Just as a painter can choose different shades of a colour in a painting, we can also choose different shades in our voicings.

When playing a new voicing with specific extensions and/or alterations, I recommend to stop and look at the notes we’re playing and say to ourselves, for example, “that’s the b9th” and then play that b9th again to hear what it adds to the ‘colour’ and ‘flavour’ of the voicing and in context of the progression.

We can do the same with every other alteration such as #9/#11/#5 which is specifically what we are addressing in this practice series.

By doing this, we gradually build an awareness of what those tones sound like so that we can make more informed choices on when to use them in our playing.

To take this point further…

Once this information has been absorbed, we can start to think in terms of ‘colour’, ‘texture’, and ‘flavour’. This might sound a but whacky :grin: but let me elaborate…

A dominant 7 b9 chord sounds the same in every key, not in terms of pitch, but in terms of the ‘colour’ and ‘texture’ it creates. Play a simple voicing for C7b9 (C-E-Bb-Db) and then the same for F7b9 (F-A-Eb-Gb) and you will hear that each chord elicits the same ‘mood’.

I’m sure we all hear alterations differently, but for me, they have the following characters:

  • The dominant 7 b9 chord has a somewhat soft and subtle character

  • The dominant 7 #11 chord has a mysterious, floating, lingering character

  • The dominant 7 #9 chord has a jarring and abrupt character

  • The dominant 7 #5 chord is somewhere in between the b9 and #11, subtle, but has a floats and lingers

This is the same in every key.

Of course this is just single alterations. When we combine these tensions using Upper Structure Triad Vocings, the sounds become more complex, but I find the above distinctions to help me when arranging tunes and deciding what tensions to add to my voicings based on the kind of mood I want to create.

Have fun playing around with this stuff!

Thanks Paul! I’m glad you enjoyed the first 2 lessons.

Altered Harmony is a vast topic which I’ve tried to simplify as much as possible in this practice series.

I still have 2 more lessons to plan and record which I will be doing this month.

And yes its surprising how related these concepts are to simple triads and scales - the most basic aspects of harmony.

If we know our major scales numerically, our major triads, and dominant shells in the left hand, that’s all we need to create these wonderfully complex and interesting voicings.

Thank again for the feedback :+1:

I’ve started on this series as well. I like how in slot 1 you work through the b13/#5 and then the b9 to show the variation in tone. It makes it easier to understand the formation of the b9/#5 chords. Some interesting stuff here. Thanks. :musical_keyboard:

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Hi Hayden, I have just watched video #2 Alterations and UST. It is very helpful. :star_struck: But I now have a question, because I need to clarify any differences between Major 251 and Minor 251.
In the Major 251 worksheet, we have minor 7, V13 and major 7. All well and good.
In video #1, you demonstrated the alterations as contained in the UST’s - b9, #9, #5,b13, #11
In minor 251, we can have Vb9, #5, #9, b13, resolving to a min9.
So my question is : we can use these alterations in Dominant chords in both Major and Minor 251, whether they resolve to a Major 7 or 9, or a Minor 7 or 9, is that correct ?

I just need to totally clarify this for myself.
Thank you for all your help Hayden

Good question Natasha.

Yes absolutely.

There are some general ‘guidelines’ that I follow, however, none of this is set in stone. These are just some things that I keep in mind when I’m adding colour to major and minor 251s:

Let’s start with Major 251s

We have a lot of freedom with the extensions and/or alterations we choose to add to our major 251s. The options include:

  • natural 9th (goes well with the #11 as we explored in practice slot 2)

  • b9 or #9 (we can also play both tensions to add some inner movement)

  • natural 11th would make it a 7sus chord (which can then resolve to the dominant)

  • the #11 (sounds great with the 9 and 13 which is UST 2)

  • the #5/b13 (enharmonically it is the same note, just written/spelled differently)

  • we can also combine the above such as b9/#11, #9/#5, or 13/b9 etc…

  • The key here is to experiment and see what you like the sound of. I love the 13b9 UST and the 13#11 UST which are UST 6 and UST 2 respectively

Now onto Minor 251s

This should make more sense when you have watched practice slot 3 in this series:

With minor 251s, the ii chord is a ii-7b5 chord.

If we hold down that b5 and move to the V7 chord, it becomes the b9 of the V7 chord and so playing the natural 9 over the V7 chord in a minor 251 progression will sound unusual. To my ears it clashes and doesn’t lead into the i-7 chord to resolve the progression (that i minor chord could be i-7, i-6, or i-maj7 )

When I play minor 251s here’s some options that run through my mind:

  • just the b9

  • just the #9

  • just the #5

  • the #11 can be used, however I personally prefer it over major harmony

  • we can combine the above, #5#9 gives a very ‘spicy’ altered sound

  • in the lesson above we explore ‘toggling’ between the b9, #9, and #5 which for me are the most characteristic and colourful tones to play over minor harmony

Hope the above clarifies my thought process with altered harmony.

To come back to your original question as I have digressed a little as usual :grin:

It doesn’t matter what extensions the 1 chord has.

It could be a plain old 7th chord, added 9th colour, added #11 colour (if it’s major 251), or added 13th colour.

The colour we choose on the 1 chord is irrelevant in terms of the alterations we decided to use on the V7 chord.

I hope this helps. It can be tricky to explain/formalise this stuff and much of this is best learnt from following our ears.

Ultimately we all hear these sounds differently which gives us the freedom to use them how we like.

Experiment with the guidance above, finish this practice series, and I’m positive you will have a solid grasp of the options available :sunglasses:

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Actually @natasha0412 , reading this point again, there is something I’d like to add.

Sometimes the alterations I use on the V7 chord will voice lead nicely into specific tones of the 1 chord and therefore inform the choice of extensions/colours I play for the 1 chord.

Half step voice leading creates smooth transition between the chords, just as we covered with b7s falling to 3rds in every 251.

As an exercise, when you play an alteration over a V7 chord, try to resolve it up or down a half step into one of the tones of the 1 chord.

The alteration is a tension , ie, it wants to resolve somewhere. Resolving the tension up or down a half or whole step will create a very smooth and pleasing sense of resolution.

Experiment with that and see what you figure out. Enjoy!

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Hi Hayden, video #3 clarified things a lot. Your attention to detail is fantastic, and tells me that I’m probably not noticing as many things as I need to. I had never thought of V7 as having a tritone, even though I play them everyday, and isolating it in terms of left hand work tells me that I need to practice more attentively.
Another revelation was that if I see an alteration over a chord in a piece of music, then that is a cue to use a UST.

Thanks again :grinning:

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Hi Hayden, the Practising Upper Structures video is extremely useful. I finally realised ( after playing these major triads over V7 for months ) is that the melody notes in the RH determine which UST to use. The demonstration using Misty and Tenderly is great ! I’m looking forward to working on the other UST’s made up of minor triads, :slight_smile: Cheers

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Hi Natasha :wave:

Glad you found the tutorial useful!

You will find that with just the 4 upper structures on the UST Cheat Sheet, we can access the most common and useful altered dominant sounds.

Download the cheat sheet here and stick it close to your piano:

Upper_Structure_Cheat_Sheet.pdf|attachment (1015.7 KB)

Whilst there are certainly other UST formulas incorporating minor, diminished, and augmented triads as the upper structure triad, the 4 major triads listed on the cheat sheet above are the most versatile and practical to have ‘under our fingers’.

I must say that just those 4 upper structures give me more than enough choices to add interesting colours and flavours to my dominant chord voicings.

I would highly recommend learning and internalising those as a priority so that you can visualise them quickly when you have a dominant chord on a lead sheet.

Here’s another useful relationship to understand:

For example, the dominant chord colour #5#9 could be accessed through “US#5” which is a major triad built off the #5.

Over C7 this is an Ab major triad which gives us #5, Root, & #9.

If we remove the C in our left hand, and instead play the tritone F#/Gb, we now have F#13#11 or Gb13#11 - however you want to look at it.

As an exercise, play around with a 251 in F Major

  • G-7
  • C7#5#9
  • Fmaj7

Then play the exact same upper structure (Ab major triad) but using the tritone V7 chord, and we have:

  • G-7
  • F#13#11
  • Fmaj7

That’s a useful relationship to understand and it works in all 12 keys.

Enjoy playing around with that.

ps. I will be finishing this practice series shortly… I still have 2 lessons to do!


I just tried that tritone substitution and it really sounds good ! Cheers Hayden

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Hi Hayden, I cannot locate any of these pages anymore, and get a 404 error message when I try to open them. Have they been moved, or deleted ? I found them really useful. The Altered Harmony course is no longer on my dashboard.

Thanks, Natasha

Apologies for this Natasha - I’m working on getting it fixed now.

We are in the process of adding custom syllabuses to the website and I imagine this will be the cause.

It seems to have affected some of the progress tracking functionality, and also some lesson pages are now missing as you point out.

We take regular backups of the website so we will be able to restore to an earlier backup.

Thanks for letting me know and working on it now.

This has been fixed Natasha.

I switched to your website profile and I can confirm your progress is correctly saved to your dashboard.

All the pages above are accessible in their usual location.

I’ll also be finishing off the final 2 slots in this practice plan very soon… it’s high up on my to-do-list. Cheers.

Thanks Hayden ! Cheers

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