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Lesson 102: Subdominant Minor Chords

Subdominant Minor Chords

Chords with the subdominant minor sound in a major key are very common and important in jazz. In C major, the subdominant is F, which makes F minor the primary subdominant minor chord. But, there's a lot more to this subject than that. In fact, in C major, all of the following chords have the subdominant minor sound:

  • Fm, Fm7, Fm6, Fmmaj7
  • Bb7
  • Fm/G or Gsusb9
  • Abmaj7
  • Dm7b5
  • Dbmaj7#11
  • Ab7
Note that every single one of these chords contains
  • Ab, the minor third of the subdominant
and that
  • F, the root of the subdominant, is if it isn't a chord tone at least available as an obvious higher degree of the chord
  • C, the perfect fifth of the subdominant, is if it isn't a chord tone at least available as an obvious higher degree of the chord

Subdominant Minor Chords

So, what's the point? The point is that many of these chords may seem a little odd or out of place whereever they occur. It may seem hard to on the spot identify a suitable scale to draw from when improvising over a chord from this group. If you, on the other hand, can identify a chord as a subdominant minor chord, the scale choice is often obvious.

In ( traditional diatonic western) functional harmony, there are three basic sound groups: tonic, subdominant and dominant. When we add the subdominant minor sound group as a fourth group to this, we get a very rich palette of harmonic sounds that covers a lot of the ground explored in traditional tonal music.

The subdominant minor sound group consists of three different main sounds. Again in C major, we have

  • Fm6 which is the F Dorian mode
  • Fm7 which is the F Dorian mode ( but which can also be the F Aeolian mode)
  • Fmmaj7 which is F melodic minor ( jazz minor)

Subdominant Minor Chords and Pentatonic Scales

Very often, there is a pentatonic scale that fits a particular subdominant minor chord. Some examples are:

  • Fm7 - F minor pentatonic
  • Fm6, Bb7 - F hybrid or Bb dominant pentatonic
  • Fm/G or Gsusb9 - F minor pentatonic
  • Abmaj7 - F or C minor pentatonic
  • Dm7b5 - F hybrid or Bb dominant pentatonic
  • Dbmaj7#11 - F minor pentatonic ( or C minor pentatonic)
  • Ab7 - Eb hybrid or Ab dominant pentatonic

Examples

Example 1: From Beatrice by Sam Rivers ( in F major)
Gm7 - Gbmaj7#11 - Fm - Gbmaj7#11
The Gbmaj7#11 is a subdominant minor chord.

Example 2: From A Child Is Born by Thad Jones ( in Bb major)
Bbmaj7 - Ebm6/Bb - Bbmaj7 - Ebm6/Bb
The Ebm6/Bb is a subdominant minor chord.

Example 3: From Night and Day by Cole Porter ( in C major)
Abmaj7 - G7 - C
The Abmaj7 is a subdominant minor chord.

Example 4: From Stella by Starlight by Victor Young and Ned Washington ( in Bb major)
Eb6/9 - Ab7#11 - Bbmaj7
The Ab7#11 is a subdominant minor chord.

Example 5: A typical latin vamp ( in C major)
Cmaj7 - Fm/G
The Fm/G is a subdominant minor chord.

Example 6: A generic fanfare ( in C major)


The Fm/C is a subdominant minor chord.

2006 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.