Tritone Substitution

How to Tritone Substitute

In the last couple of blogs I’ve been talking about triad substitution and chord substitution, it’s now time for the king of substitutions; the tritone substitution!

Here’s how it works:

The purpose of a tritone substitution is to create an augmented and diminished pull towards a chord a 4th up, stronger than you would by just moving to it.

Most of the time this happens from chord I to chord IV, but you can find it in other places as well.

Step 1 – dom7

As you might know, in the blues we often turn the I chord into a dom7. This breaks away from the major scale’s I chord which has a natural extension of maj7.

In the key of A that means:

Amaj7: A – C# – E – G#
A7: A – C# – E – G

The D chord (chord IV) has the notes of: D – F# – A.

The G pull more towards the F# than the G# does as it is now only a semitone away.

Step 2 – The #5

To make the pull even stronger we can turn the A7 into a A7#5, we now have:

A7#5: A – C# – E# – G.

The E# (that’s an F) want to move towards an F# stronger than the original E, again, because it’s now only a semitone away.

Step 3 – The b9

To go even further we can add a b9 to the A chord, you now have this:

A7b9: A – C# – E – G – Bb.

The Bb wants to go to the A as it’s only a semitone away.

You could also try #9 and b5, all these are augmented and diminished notes and create a similar sound.

Step 4 – Tritione substitution

Instead of building chords like A7#5, A7b9, A7b5, A7#9 or even A7b5b9 etc you can tritone substitute.

A tritone is a #4 or a b5 (same thing). From an A this is the note D#.

If we take the note D# and play a dom7 chord, ie D#7 we have tritone substituted.

The notes of an D#7 are:

D#7: D# – G – A# – C#

In relation to A these are:

A Tritone substitution: D# (b5) G (b7) A# (b9) C# (3).

We get the same pulling effect using this method as we would extending our A chord to A7#5, A7b9 or any of the other slightly bonkers sounding combinations.

Tritone substitute when soloing

When soloing, if you want the “outside sound” the augmented/diminished notes have you could instead of learning those arpeggios just tritone substitute.

Try it by playing a lick over A, using Mixolydian or major pentatonic, then just before you move to the D chord, add the arpeggio of D#7.

Here’s some TAB indicating how this could be done, first with the chords there, then without.
Jeff's Jazz Blues 1

And here’s the same idea, now without the leading tritone substituted chords: Jeff's Jazz Blues 2Conclusion

Tritone substitution is a great tool to use when you want to achieve an “outside sound”.

It highlights notes like #5 and b9

You can do this with chords but also when soloing.

For more about music theory, learning arpeggios and scales, check out the Guitar Conspiracy.

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