2 November 2015

Post 290: MINOR 7ths AND FLATTENED 5ths

Don't get me wrong: I think the Minor 7th with Flattened Fifth is one of the loveliest and most luscious in the entire lexicon of chords. If you doubt me, try playing it on your keyboard.

C minor 7th with flattened fifth, for example, comprises these notes:

C   -   Eb   -  Gb  - Bb

But I always find it awkward to play. I am a poor keyboard player, so when I am trying to play a tune from a fake book or busker's book and I come across a minor 7th with flattened fifth, I'm stumped. I have to work out what the notes are; and I can't get my fingers into position before it's too late and I'm on to the next bar. It's the flattened fifth that throws me.

However, I discovered that if - instead of playing a minor 7th with flattened 5th - you play the minor 6th of the chord 3 semitones above it, you achieve virtually the same effect. You are using the same notes, but in a different inversion.

So, for example, play the Cm7(-5) above as Eb Minor 6th:

Eb  -  Gb  -  Bb  -  C

It works.

So now, when I'm asked to play Dm7(-5), I actually play Fm6; when I'm asked to play Em7(-5), I actually play Gm6; and so on.

It's a simple little trick that I stumbled on recently. If you know much about music, you may be surprised that I was unaware of something so 'basic'.

But it has been a helpful discovery to me; and I hope it may benefit some readers.

For an example of this chord in action, think of the opening line of that lovely old song from 1913 'If I had my way, dear, forever there'd be a garden of roses for you and for me....'. The word way is sung with the chord of the minor 7th with flattened fifth.

Since I wrote the above, Allen Robnett has kindly added to my musical education by sending me this very helpful comment and tip:

Are you aware that another name for the  x7-5  is  x half dim  or  xf. (The x represents any minor chord here).  That means that if you are conversant with a dim7 chord, all you have to do is raise the 7 a half step and you have the minor 7 flat 5.

And still further thoughts have been sent to me by my old friend John Burns:

My experience of the m7b5 chord is very limited; it does not feature very often in the chords given for the majority of the jazz tunes that I am familiar with. However, in any of the chord sequences in which I have come across it I think it is extremely effective, though generally not essential. It can therefore be used as a embellishment, an example being at the start of Georgia on my Mind (often played in F) where
F /A7    /Dm can be rendered as F        /Em7b5  A7 /Dm
which I think sounds really great.

It turns up as one of various possible chords in the curious downward chromatic motion in Blue Turning Grey Over You:  Bb     /A7      /Dm7b5     /G7
again with excellent effect, and a fine accompaniment to the “middle eight” of Sweet Sue is: (in F)
F    /Am   /Am7b5    /D7     /Gm     /Gm     /Gm7b5      /C7

When looking through the various chord books, I have noticed that usually, though not always, the m7b5 is followed by a dominant 7th chord with a root a fourth higher (fifth lower) than that of the m7b5 chord, as it does in all the examples above. The fingering of these chords on my banjo is not particularly easy with the tuning I use (CGBD). However one inversion (where the root is at the bottom) is infinitely easier than all the others and the move from that inversion to the dominant 7th as described is very simple, requiring the first finger to slide one fret backwards while the other fingers stay in position. The change to the new chord also sounds particularly smooth from this inversion. This simple move led me to notice that, as the first finger is actually covering two strings, the change between these two chords involves the lowering by one semitone of two of the notes of the m7b5 chord, these being the flattened 5th and the 7th , for example:
Cm7b5 to F7 consists of
C, Eb, Gb, Bb      going to   C, Eb, F, A   which is, in root position, F, A, C, Eb, in other words F7. Fascinating, isn’t it; at least, I think so!

(So do I  - ed.)

There is nothing particularly odd about this; there are many chord changes involving the movement of one or two notes by a semitone (the “Dragon chord” is an example) but it doesn’t alter the fact that I find it all very fascinating!

The other feature of the m7b5 chord, which has already been mentioned by you, is its having the same notes as a m6 chord with a root three semitones higher. This causes some confusion for me with the same “chord shapes” being involved but different inversions. A combination of that and the fact that I don’t use these chords all that often is a bit of a problem but, of course, also a challenge…………..!