And who better to learn from about this than Stevie Wonder and his massive hit Sir Duke, a benchmark for many musicians.
Sir Duke is definitely on my “must record for electric guitar list”, but I’m so excited I thought I’d reveal a few tricks all ready now.
Who knows, one of you guys might record it before me!
Sir Duke Tritone Substitution
Let’s dive in to the wonderful world of Stevie Wonders chord progression and analyze a master piece, Sir Duke, a song with tritone substitutions used in three out of four parts of the song!
Sir Duke Intro/Verse
This progression tells us we are in the key of B, the tritone substitution is the bVIx which if switched back would spell C#m, this would have been chord II.
Try this out by playing: B (I) G#m (VI) C#m (II) F# (V) instead.
The melody takes advantage of the substituted chord by hitting the note D, the 5th of the G chord, but more importantly, the m3rd of B.
Listen to the melody of the verse (0:23) as it goes “language we all” Stevie hits that D and makes us feel as we go into B minor for a while.
Sir Duke Bridge
As the bridge enters with its chromatic dom9 chords, we get a classic tritone substitution trick!
Compare E9 Eb9 D9 Db9 with E9 A7 D9 G7, which would have been a classic cycle of 4th movement starting on chord IV.
Other theory resources might want to explain the tritone substitution in the numbers, personally I feel this takes it too far.
Sir Duke Chorus
The final tritone substitution trick of Sir Duke we find in the Chorus.
Here the Fm7 is a tritone substitution from chord I in order to lead more heavily towards chord IV:
B (I) Fm7 (bVm7) Emaj7 (IV) C#m7 (II) F#7 (V)
What’s interesting with this substitution is that it is only the root, the F, that is out of the scale, the melody hits an A# and G#, both notes from the B major scale.
If you play your Fm7 as an Am shape you’ll find the melody on the second string as you switch between the two chords F7sus4 and Fm7, he’s clever Stevie…
Sir Duke Instrumental section
The dreaded instrumental section is almost only B major pentatonic, there is one little chromatic note in there.
Who will record a video example of Sir Duke first, you or me?