Are you sick of the sound you are getting over dominant chords and wonder what the Bop players, and great jazz improvisers are doing that makes them sound so good?
If you want to play create better sax solos, this lesson is for you. We’re going to have a look at a really simple technique, to give you a pro sound on those dominant chords. So let’s get into it.
There’s a PDF and backing track to accompany this lesson, which you can get from our Locker. Click the link below to get access.
So could you hear that sound I was getting there when I was playing over the dominant chords, in the video?
I was playing over a Rhythm Changes, which is a chord progression based on I Got Rhythm. You’ll know it from loads of other tunes like Oleo and Anthropology and many, many others. It’s a standard chord progression that jazz players improvise over.
But it’s a useful one for us today because it’s got lots of dominant chords in it. And that’s the subject of today’s lesson.
We’re going to look at getting a great sound on those dominant chords. Now you may have seen lots of videos talking about altered scales and all this complicated stuff that you can do on them. We’re not doing that today.
We are going to look at a really simple technique that’s used by all the big improvisers in their playing. And it’s a really simple one to learn to help us play better sax solos. So the sound I was getting there over those dominant chords was what’s called an augmented triad.
What is an Augmented Triad?
An augmented triad is just a major triad, but the fifth is raised or sharpened.
So for example, we might take a C major triad.
And all we do, is we raise the fifth. So we’ve got C – the root, E – the third, and G – the fifth, and we’re going to turn it into a G sharp. Listen to how it sounds.
And you can hear it’s got a quirky quality to it. And there are some other interesting things going on here with the augmented triad.
Let’s look at the intervals that we get between each of those notes now. Between C and E – the root and the third – we get a major third interval, just like in a major triad.
But now between the E and this raised fifth – the G sharp – we get another major third. And if we go from the G sharp back up to the C, we get another major third. So it’s just a big pile of major thirds.
And this is useful for us because it’s completely symmetrical. So if we can play a C augmented triad, then we can also play an E augmented triad, because it’ll have the same notes.
It’s symmetrical. So an E augmented triad would consist of E, G sharp ( it’s third) and the raised fifth – B sharp, or C – just like we just played in the C augmented triad.
And likewise, we started on the G sharp. We’d have a G-sharp augmented triad.
So what’s great about this is if you learn one of them, particularly if you play it across the full range of your horn, you’ll find that you’ve learned 3 augmented triads.
And that means there are only four of these shapes to learn, which is brilliant for us and quick to do. It’s also really nice technically, to play on the saxophone.
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How to use this augmented triad
So how and why can we use this augmented triad in our improvisations to create better sax solos?
Well, we’re going to apply it to dominant chords. As I said earlier, we’re going to just apply the augmented triads, starting on the root of the dominant chord.
Now, one little thing here. Make sure that the dominant chord is a five (V) chord, go into a one (I) chord. And that one chord can be any type of chord. It could be a major chord or a minor chord, or even a dominant chord.
But as long as you’ve got five to one, and that five chord is a the dominant chord, you can use this augmented triad.
Now let’s take the chord A7. So the chord tones of A7 are A, C sharp, E, and G natural.
And if we play an A augmented triad over it, we get that root – the A, we get the third -the C sharp, and then we get the F.
Now on an A7 chord, the note F is a flat 13, and some people may call it a sharp five as well. But the flat thirteens are a really important note on a dominant chord because it kind of defines what’s going to happen when it cadences to the one chord. Or what it suggests is going to cadence. Because that’s the whole point of dominant chords. It’s preparing your ear for cadence. It’s a perfect cadence.
So if we were to play a natural 13, that would be an F sharp, so A7 to a D chord. And that F sharp would be telling your ears that you’d be expecting a major cadence – because the F sharp is the major third of D major.
Now if we play an F natural, it suggested we are going to get a minor cadence. It’ll be an F natural, the third of D minor.
What’s interesting here, is when we use it approaching a major chord. What we suggest is this sad minor resolution, but when we arrive at the major chord, we get this happy major sound, and that’s a nice contrast.
This works well in tunes that have big, major progressions going on through the entire thing, like All The Things You Are, for example. So this a great way to just add a bit of extra colour and dimension, to create a better sax solo.
Bach uses this all the time. It’s called a Tierce De Picardie. He uses it at the end of tunes, and finishes on the major, even though it’s in a minor key.
Sax legends who use this device
Playing over Rhythm Changes
So let’s look at some exercises we can do just to get used to the sound, over Rhythm Changes.
So here’s the chord progression for Rhythm Changes.
And what you can see straight away is it’s rammed with perfect, V-I cadences.
Now, some of them go to major chords. Some of them go to minor chords. And in the bridge, some of them go to dominant chords. So it’s a great tune to get used to playing this augmented triad because there are lots of chances to use it.
You can see in this turnaround at the beginning of this progression, we’ve got C Major, then we’ve got A7 (V) going to D Minor, briefly (I), and then we’ve got G7, (V) going to C Major, the true I chord of this piece.
And then even in the bridge, we’ve got E7 going to A7, that’s five to one (V – I).
And then A7 becomes the five (V) and goes five to one to D7.
Then D7 becomes a five, and goes five to one to G7, which is the five of the key we’re in. And it takes us back to C.
So you can see there’s loads and loads of perfect cadences in here. So it’s great for us to practice this.
So first we’re just going to play through it. Grab your saxes and play along with me.
We’re just gonna play one octave up of the augmented triad, starting on the route of each dominant chord.
So let’s see what that sounds like.
Follow me in the video.
So you can hear it’s got quite a quirky, odd sound to it. But it’s a familiar sound if you’ve listened to plenty of jazz.
So let’s try something different this time. Let’s play through again, but this time we can play it in any inversion we like. So instead of just playing it, starting on the A on an A7 chord, maybe I’ll start on the C sharp. Or maybe I’ll start on the F and I’ll play it in different directions.
Feel free to play along with me on this. It doesn’t matter if you do a different version of what I play, because all we’ll get is a harmonization. It would be like we’re doing a little duet.
Play along with the video.
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Our Sax School members have been loving working on these augmented triads on tunes like Take the A Train and All The Things You Are. So if you fancy having a look at those courses, then don’t forget to sign up for a 14 day free trial.
So you can start to feel how flexible it is when you play this triad in different inversions. Once again, there’s lots of familiar sounds that I’m sure you’ve heard before in there.
So finally, I’ll play through the entire thing. Here’s what I’m going to do:
- On the non-dominant chords I’m just going to play some basic chord tones
- On all those five dominant chords, I’m going to play the augmented triad
- I’m going do lots of different inversions in different directions, but I’m just playing that really basic shape.
And don’t forget – there were only four of these are to learn across the horn, to learn all 12 keys of the augmented.
So it’s a really simple one to apply, and easy when you look at the chord to apply it because you play what you see which starts on the root of the dominant chord.
So let’s see what it sounds like in a more performance-based context.
Using Augmented Triads over other progressions
So you don’t just have to play augmented triads over Rhythm Changes.
You can play it over any tune you like – any standard, any blues progression, anything you want – and it’ll always sound great. That little quirky sound is really easy to play.
How have you used this augmented triad and what tunes have you applied it over? What do you think about the sound of it?
I think it’s a great simple sound that you can add to your repertoire of dominant sounds, to create better sax solos that sound more pro and more interesting.
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