Chord Extensions & Extended Chords
Extended jazz piano chords create a richer and more complex sound than triads and 7th chords and they are used in jazz music to create more interesting harmonic progressions.
This lesson provides an introduction to chord extensions, explaining what they are and where they come from. To find these chord extensions we must be comfortable with the 12 major scales and have memorised the scales numerically.
We explore some of the most common extensions for major, minor and dominant chords and later in this course we discuss the most effective way to practise these extensions in all 12 keys.
Downloadable Lesson Supplement
Download this lesson supplement which contains all of the notation examples from the lesson:
What Are Chord Extensions?
Chord extensions occur when you extend a chord beyond the 7th note of the scale which takes you past the octave mark. There are three extensions, the 9th, the 11th and the 13th. If we continue to extend the chord past the 13th we get back to the root of the chord so the 13th is the highest chord extension that you need to learn.
Be aware that on lead sheets and jazz standards, chord extensions may or may not be indicated in the chord symbol. This is part of the freedom you have as a jazz musician – you can interpret and play the music however you like.
In the upcoming lessons we explore rootless chord voicings and chord alterations which are used in combination with chord extensions to create beautiful jazzy chord progressions.
Major Chord Extensions in Jazz Piano
With major keys, the common extensions include the 9th, sharp 11th and the 13th. We use the sharp 11th (an 11th that has been raised by half a step) due to the half step interval between the major 3rd and the natural 11th. This half step interval sounds very dissonant so instead the 11th is sharpened to create a full step interval which sounds much more palatable.
The major 13 chord is another common voicing for major chords as seen in the graphic above. In the upcoming lessons and courses we will learn these extended 13th voicings in all 12 keys.
Minor Chord Extensions in Jazz Piano
With minor chords, the common extension include the 9th, the natural 11th. In minor keys there is a whole step interval between the minor 3rd and the natural 11th which makes 11th chords sound much more consonant than in major keys.
Another useful voicing is the minor 13th voicing. An example of this is the first chord in the tune “Blue In Green”. We look at some useful voicings for minor 13 chords in this lesson.
Dominant Chord Extensions in Jazz Piano
Dominant chords are by far the most complex of the three chord types in terms of extensions – pretty much anything goes here and it’s perfectly fine to have the 9th, sharp 11th and the 13 all in the same chord. Here are some dominant extended chord voicings to get you started:
The final voicing is an Upper Structure Triad Voicing which is a dominant shell in the left hand and a triad in the right hand. Check out the related lessons below for more information.
Chord Extensions Supplement File Type: pdf
Jazz Voicings Cheat Sheet File Type: pdf
If the chord is G-7, as a jazz arranger, we need to decide how to play a G-7 to produce a nice sophisticated jazzy sound.
With any chord, we have the creative freedom to choose what notes to include, your options for minor chords are root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th & 13th (if you add another 3rd on top of the 13 you are back to the root so 13 is the highest extension)
Jazz musicians often abbreviate chords to just ‘7’, eg. G-7 or C7 - even if the chord contains higher extensions such as 9, 11 or 13. Look at this as shorthand.
This also applies to lead sheets. If the chord symbol says ‘7’ we have the creative freedom to add in extensions and alterations. This is on of the beauties of playing jazz music; we have a lot of freedom to interpret the chords how we want to.
Generally speaking, the higher the extension we include in the chord voicing, the richer and ‘more complex' the sound will be.
Complex doesn’t always mean good, sometimes just a plain chord with the root, 3rd, and 7th will sound just fine. Variety is the key.
Where are resource (file pdf) to print the chords for this video ?
Hi Marc, You can find them on this page: http://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-standard-transcriptions/ – It’s the ‘chord extensions’ link. You can find this page on the Pro Member Dashboard and there is also another page for jazz standard transcriptions, scores and midi files.
I have notated some of the more common voicings in all 12 keys:
Kenny Barron Voicing: http://www.pianogroove.com/resources/jazz-piano-chords/kenny-barron-voicing-worksheet/
So What Chord: http://www.pianogroove.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/so_what_chords_12_keys.pdf
I’d recommend learning these in all 12 keys as they are very useful!
Hope this helps and any other questions just let me know 🙂
How do you recommend I practice major, minor and dominant 7th chords to get a good foundation for the practice in this video?
Sorry for the late reply… i wasn’t notified of your comment.
I’d recommend a methodical approach….
Simple work through each type of chord in 12 keys, start with major, then dominant 7th, then minor (you could also practice -7b5 and diminished 7th chord too).
Start with C, play Cmaj7, C7, C-7, C-7b5 and finally Cdim7.
When you play each chord, look at the notes, and say to yourself “that’s the 3rd, that’s the 5th, that’s the b7th” etc…
Then you should also practice inversions of the root position chords.
I actually cover all of this in detail here: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/7th-chords/
Hope this helps,
Good morning Hayden,
I’m kinda stuck at the Chord Extensions 9, 11 & 13 lesson. A bit because, I have been busier recently and have not studied much, but also, because of how 11th and 13th are arranged.
The 9, I visualize well, and play around the circle of fifths. The 11th is a bit harder for me….Any tips from you side so I can get my self unstuck?
Thank you in advance
Hey Ody 👋
Sure thing, let me help you out here.
The 9th is the easiest extension to visualise as it’s the same note for major and minor 9th chords.
Here’s a few steps that will help you visualise these 11ths:
Step 1: Stack 3rds Sequentially
Build each minor chord with 3rds from the root upwards, left hand play R, b3, 5, and right hand play b7, 9 and 11.
Do this is all 12 keys. Always make a conscious analysis of the scale degree of each note, say to yourself “that’s the b9, that’s the 9th, that’s the 11th”.
Step 2: Learn to visualise the 11th in the middle of the voicing:
To do this I wold first recommend taking the “So What Chord” around all 12 keys. Here’s the lesson: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/so-what-chord-voicing/
From bottom to top, you have left hand: Root, 11th, and in the right hand b7, b3 and 5.
In the So What Voicing, the 11th is in the towards the bottom of the chord and so this will initially be difficult to visualise.
But just remember that the 11th is just a 4th interval up from the root, (the 11 is the 4).
Again, play the So What chord in all 12 keys and make a conscious analysis of the scale degrees. Say this out loud or in your head.
Step 3: do the same with the Kenny Barron Voicing: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/kenny-barron-voicing/
This will again will tricky to visualise at first because now the 11th is 2 octave above the root. But find the root 2 octaves above the root in your left hand, and then build up a 4th interval.
Step 4: do the same with the Herbie Hancock Voicings: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/herbie-hancock-voicing/
A final very important point Ody:
Every time I come across a chord on a lead sheet, I analyse the scale degree of the melody in relation to the chord underneath. As mentioned I have got to a point where i do not need to think about this, my hands just go for the voicing but as a beginner, you should always make a conscious analysis of this when you are playing through jazz standards and it will help you memorise and internalise voicings. This is really important!
By ‘internalise’ I mean remember the formula. With jazz it is far more efficient to think in terms of numbers (or scale degrees) than to think of individual notes. So for example, with the So What Chord, from top to bottom, it contains the Root. 11th, b7th, b3rd and 5th. Knowing this formula means you can then apply it to any key (considering you know your major and minor scales!)
Always analyse the scale degree of the melody note in relation to the underlying harmony, and then build the voicing underneath.
Hope this helps Ody. If you would like me to elaborate on any of the points just let me know.
It may be worth reading that a few times so it sinks in 🙂
All the best,
My question is with major 11th chords. First, would you ever play an 11th chord (major or minor) without the 7th or the 9th? Second, if the bass chord is in a flat key signature (eg Bb), would the notation for the major chord be Bbmaj9#11 or Bbmaj911? As you can tell, I am classically trained and we were always taught never to mix flats with sharps. Also, as someone relatively familiar with playing lead sheets, I would think it is more intuitively obvious to be told to play a natural 11th rather than a #11 and have to remember that the # is actually a natural.
Finally, on your pdf chord extensions sheet, I think the Ebmaj9 (open and closed), Dmaj9 (open), Abmaj9 (closed) Gbmaj9 (closed) are incorrectly notated. Could you confirm or help me understand?
Good questions… to answer each one:
1) If the 7th is not in the chord, then the 11th would become the 4th and often replace the 3 to create a ‘suspension’ or suspended 4th. So if the 7th isn’t present, you would identify the 11th as the 4th. Whilst you could play a voicing like this, jazz is characterised by richer voicings that extend to the 7th and then beyond into the upper extensions.
If you have a 7th but no 9th, the chord would still be referred to as an 11th chord, because the 7th is present and the 11th is the highest extension. We always name the chord by the highest extension. If the chord contains the 7th, 9th and 11th, then it is still an 11th chord.
2) I think there is something is tripping you up here with key signatures and how we refer to alterations in jazz. Let me try to explain further for you…
The Bb Major scale is:
The Eb is the natural 11th – despite it being flattened in the key signature. E natural would be the #11. When you are building voicings in jazz, you are not reading them from notation, and so in many ways, the key signature in terms of sharps and flats becomes redundant.
Instead we analyse the scale functionally and numerically to get: root – 2/9 – 3 – 4/11 – 5 – 6/13 – 7
When playing from a lead sheet, the only real purpose of the key signature, is to make the lead sheet easy to read. In jazz, the harmony is constantly modulating and shifting keys. It’s common for 1 jazz standard to go through many different keys within 8 bars or less. Therefore, its much easier to analyse everything numerically.
No matter what key you are playing in, we always analyse the notes in relation to the major scale, and so the 4th note of the major scale is the natural 11th – irrelevant of whether there are sharps or flats in the key signature. Remember the aim is to learn the scales numerically, so that you get a functional understanding of what you are playing.
By the sounds of it, you have not internalised the major scales numerically. This is very important as it will then allow you explore altered and extended harmony much easier than by thinking in terms of note names.
Does that make sense? I understand that jazz can be difficult for students coming from a classical background. Many conventions are completely different which can be a challenge. If you’d like me to elaborate on any of the above I’m happy to try to explain further 🙂
Yes thanks for spotting the typos… that was a working copy of the handout and should not have been uploaded. I have reuploaded the worksheet with corrections and also additional annotations and guidance. Please download the file again.
In addition to the guidance below, you may be interested in the course on “Altered Harmony & USTs”: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/altered-harmony-upper-structure-triads/
This course introduces the concept of chord alterations and may help you understand the topic.
Finally Dennis, there is a new chord extension ‘cheat sheet’ available here: https://www.pianogroove.com/resources/common-voicing-formulas/
This document highlights the importance of internalising voicing formulas numerically so that you can then apply them to any key.
Are the extensions of minir chords also coming from the major scale or do I have to look at one of the three minor scales? For example: The 13th of the C natural minor scale would be an a flat but the 13th of a C major scale would be an a. So when there is a Cmin13 chord on the lead sheet where does the 13th come from?
Do you recommend mixing up /experimenting with the positions of the extensions.?For example.. playing the root the 13 or the 11 with the left hand and the rest with the right hand.Or it is better to follow a preset of combination s(like the ones you give us in this lesson)for each type of extension.
Since the #11 forms a tritone with the root, should I just avoid the root close to the #11? Else it kind of gives off a dominant vibe, right? Does that mean I shouldn’t play the #11 as an extension if the melody (which i’m not playing) contains a root note over it?
Hello Hayden good morning, hope everything is allright .As imprivisation goes, i know that the 9 is an exellent choise for resting while improvising because of his sweet and colorfull touch. But what about the 13 and the 11?Thks!