Altered Dominant Theory

Altered Dominant Theory

Altered Dominants for Guitar: Part 1 – Altered Dominant Theory

I want to do a short series on using altered dominants chords since they seem to be particularly intimidating from a theoretical point of view. This is largely because of the descriptive notation which generates length chord names. Indeed it is often a lot simpler to describe a chord like Ab7#5b9 as Ab7alt. In this first part I will be discussing Altered Dominant Theory.

In this first lesson I’ve included a video in which i discuss the contents of this sheet I’ve prepared on the basics of altered dominants.

1) what’s the difference between a altered and unaltered dominant
2) what are common altered and unaltered dominants
3) how do dominants work in major and minor keys
4) how, in jazz, unaltered dominants are commonly substituted for altered ones in major keys


Altered Dominants For Guitar – Part 1: Altered Dominant Theory


All dominant family chords contain the following chord tones:  1, 3,  b7

Unaltered or “major key dominants” may also contain: 5, 9, 11, 13

e.g. A7, A9, A11, A13, A7sus4, G/A (1 b7 9 13)


Altered or “minor key dominants” may contain: b5*, #5, b9, 9, #9, #11*, 13

*b5 & #11 are the same but consider 7b5: 1 3 b5 b7 vs 7#11: 1 3 5 b7 #11

e.g A7b9, A7#9, A7#5, A7b5, A13b9, A9#11, A7#5b9, A7#5#9, A7b5b9, A7b5#9


The function of any dominant chords is to resolve

  • up a fourth (down a fifth) – e.g. A7 to D or Dm
  • down a minor second (up a major seventh) – e.g. Eb7 to D or Dm


In diatonic harmony, unaltered dominants are used in major keys e.g.:

| ii Em9      V A13         | I Dma9              |

And altered dominants are used in minor keys:

| ii Em7b5   V A7#5b9   | I Dmi6                  |

However in Jazz it’s  common to use an altered dominant in a major key e.g.:

|ii Em9       V A7#5b9   | I Dma9              |


You can download the cheat sheet here:

Altered Dominants For Guitar: Part 1

Here are links to the next lessons in the series:

Altered Dominants For Guitar: Part 2

Altered Dominants For Guitar: Part 3

Hope you’ve found that useful! Till the next time, adios!

PS If you want to get a little deeper into the topic, this wikipedia article is worth a look

1 Comment

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    […] Jazz Chords for Guitar Altered Dominant Theory Jazz Transcription […]


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