How To Add More Color And Tension Using Backcycling (Part 2)

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Hey everyone! Thanks for joining me for part two of my series on Backcycling for Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar. If you’re new to this lesson, I highly recommend checking out part 1 before proceeding with this lesson – we discuss how to write Backcycling Arrangements and create our own progressions.

In this lesson, we will be expanding on what we learned in Part 1 and adding some more color, motion, and interest to our arrangement. Keeping things simple, we will use the same leading notes and chords from Part 1. Today, I want to focus on using the following:

  • Chord Substitutions for a unique sound
  • Altered Dominant Chords for color and tension
  • Tritone Substitutions for chromatic baselines (Part 3…coming up!)

Using both of these techniques, we can transform our arrangement into something that truly stands out. Let’s get started:

Using Chord Substitutions in Backcyling

To fill out our arrangement in our last lesson, we used Minor7th voicings exclusively. However, there’s a lot more color to explore with Chord Substitutions.

Our First Example of Backcycling Autumn Leaves with only Minor 7 Voicings
Our First Example of Backcycling Autumn Leaves with only Minor 7 Voicings

Let’s start simple. Let’s change all of our Minor 7th voicings to Dominant 7 Voicings and Altered Dominant Voicings!

Recap: What’s An Altered Dominant Chord?

Altered Dominant Chords are a great way to add tension and color to our Jazz Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangement. They introduce a bit of tension that, when resolved correctly, sounds very satisfying.

An altered Dominant Chord is a Dominant 7th Chord containing “altered’ notes. Altered notes refer to a #9, b9, #5, or b5.

A classic example of an Altered Dominant Chord is the “Hendrix Chord”, an E7#9, which looks like this:

An E7#9 Altered Dominant Chord
An E7#9 Altered Dominant Chord

Our First Chord Substitution:

We can use this E7#9 chord instead of our Emin7 leading chord for a simple, yet powerful chord substitution. The difference between the chords is subtle – one note. Instead of a minor 3rd, it has a major third (G → G#). The entire arrangement so far looks like this:

Our First Altered Dominant Chord Substitution, an E7#9, adds more color and tension than our previous substitution.

Wow! Just literally one note difference changes this arrangement from something that already already sounded good to something that sounds interesting and intriguing. Notice how the Altered Dominant adds color and tension, and when resolving, sounds even more satisfying than our previous chord progression. Let’s move on and work on some substitutions for our Bmin7.

Our Second Chord Substitution:

Let’s start working on chord substitutions for the Bminor7 chord preceding our E7#9. A good first step would be to simply change this chord to a Dominant 7:

Our Second Chord Substitution, Changing our Bminor7 to a B7.
Our second Chord Substitution, changing our Bminor7 → B7.

That sounds great as well! We can even add some more color to it by changing our B7 → B7(9) for a “cooler” sound. A quick way to add this color is by playing a “Minor7(b5)” voicing starting on the 3rd of the Root Chord. In this case, we’re starting on Eb. I’ve shown the “shadow root” below:

Substituting our B9 chord → for our B7 Chord for a cooler sound
Substituting our B9 chord → for our B7 Chord for a cooler sound. A note on the above image: the Square in the fretboard diagram indicates the B Root, which can be hard to grab using this voicing, but try it with your thumb.

We can also substitute our B7(9) chord for an altered dominant chord. We can use our Diminished 7 Voicing, starting on the 3rd of B7, Eb. Again, the Square indicates the Root B, which will help identify this voicing in the future. Check it out:

Substituting an Altered Dominant Chord - B7b9  - for our B7
Substituting an Altered Dominant Chord – B7b9 – for our B7

Now we’re getting even more interesting! We have a lot of color to work with now. Let’s finish this lesson by showing some chord examples for our F#minor7.

Our Final Chord Substitutions:

Lastly, let’s begin working on our F#minor7 Chord Substitution. We can begin by changing the Minor7 voicing to a Dominant 7th Voicing:

Substituting our F#7 → F#minor7

Another Example:

Another idea involves using Chord inversions, which are handy, especially in Chord Melody Jazz Guitar playing. Since the Melody Note, E, is in the chord of F#7 (F# – Bb – Db – E), we can use the First Inversion of our F#7 to achieve this sound here:

Using our First Inversion of F#minor7 to add some Chromatic Bass Note movement
Using our First Inversion of F#minor7 to add some Chromatic Bass Note movement

Notice I switched the B7b9 back to our original voicing – a Bminor7. Well, sometimes too much color isn’t a good thing. The whole point of this lesson is to make our arrangements sound great. If something doesn’t sound right to you, consider your options! We have learned so many chords in these two lessons that we have an excellent library to draw from and find what sounds best to you. Speaking of color, let’s explore one last example for our F#7.

We can substitute an F7 Altered Dominant (b9, in this example) to precede our B. To achieve this, we can use our Diminished 7th Chord Voicing starting on the 3rd. Since Diminished 7th Chords Invert every three notes, we can achieve the same sound like so:

An Altered Dominant Substitution for our F#minor 7.
An Altered Dominant Substitution for our F#minor 7.

Does that sound good to you? To me, it’s just okay. I like to keep it a bit more simple, but alas – you have a lot to choose from. Feel free to mix and match all of these voicings and see what works best for you.


Whew! That’s a lot of chord substitutions for Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar. We just learned a lot, and I understand if you’re overwhelmed. However, practice these slowly, and importantly, always associate the chord’s root with your voicings. Doing so will help you find where chord substitutions are and how to find them easily. Okay- see you next time for our conclusion on Backcycling for Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar!

Tyler Avatar
A guitarist for over 20 years and an instructor for over 5 years, I'm passionate about Jazz fingerstyle Guitar. Knowledge is meant to be shared, so let's learn together!

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Lesson Categories: Backcycling | Chord Melody

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