Learn Tritone Substitutions – Backcycling Part 3

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Hey there, and Welcome back! Today, we’re concluding our series on Backcycling for Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar. We’ve come a long way – from our Minor 7th Voicings in Part 1 to our Dominant and Altered Dominant Substitutions in Part 2. If you haven’t checked those out yet, I highly recommend it – today’s lesson will make a lot more sense if you do. And speaking of today, we’re going to be learning how to incorporate Tritone Substitutions within our Backcycling arrangements – a crucial and fun topic for Jazz Guitar. Alright – Let’s get into it!

First Things First: What’s a Tritone Substitution?

Before we get into what a Tritone Substitution is, let’s first define the Tritone

A Tritone is an interval between two notes separated by three adjacent whole-steps.

I’ve also heard of a Tritone as the following (you decide the best way to remember it):

  • Augmented fourth
  • Diminished fifth

And to illustrate, if our chord’s root is C, our Tritone of C would be F#. See below:

The C Major Scale and it's Tritone, F♯
The C Major Scale and it’s Tritone, F♯

While this interval doesn’t necessarily sound fantastic, It’s incredibly powerful, mainly when used as a Tritone Substitution. Now that we’ve established what a Tritone is, let’s talk about the famous Tritone Substitution!

Tritone Substitutions:

A Tritone Substitution is substituting the Tritone’s Dominant 7th chord for another Dominant 7th Chord. In other words, you can substitute a dominant 7th chord three whole steps above its root. Check it out:

Why does this work?

The formula for a C7 Chord is 1 – 3 – 5 – ♭7. The essential notes of this chord are the 3 and the ♭7, which dictate the chord’s tonality above all else. If we were to revisit our C7 chord example, the 3 and the ♭7 are E and B♭, respectively. Substituting our F♯7 for our C7, our 3 and ♭7 are B♭ and E. Both chords share the same notes for the 3 and ♭7!

Tritone Subs In Action!

If we were to take a ii – V7 – I progression in the key of D, we could use a tritone substitution on the A7 to achieve a chromatic descending bassline like so:

Tritone Substitution in a Jazz Progression
Play the above example of our Tritone Substitution in a Progression to hear the cool sound it produces.

Cool right? Using Tritone Substitutions, we can easily add more color to our arrangements. Alright – let’s start incorporating our Tritone Substitutions into our Backcycling arrangements!

Tritone Substitions & Backcycling: Supercharge Your Arrangements

Now that you’ve got a solid refresher on Tritone Substitutions, let’s start bringing them into our chord-melody arrangements. We’re still working on our arrangement of the lead-up notes to Autumn Leaves. Over the past two lessons, we’ve got some cool sounds. We wrote our first back cycling progression in Part 1, and explored Chord Substitutions in Part 2. Today, we’re going to “supercharge” our arrangement and create even more motion and color using Tritone Substitutions!

Step 1: The E7♯9

Let’s start by exploring what we can do with our first Backcycled Chord, E7♯9. Our Tritone of E7 is B♭:

Our first Tritone Substitution for our E7♯9 Chord
Our first Tritone Substitution for our E7♯9 Chord

Sounds great, right? Notice we have some Chromatic Lead-up going on here, and a descending bass line and ascending melody line. We can continue on this theme by adding our Bminor7 back, with the F♯ in the melody, like so:

Preceding our Tritone Substitution with a Bminor7
The Bminor7 Chord and the Tritone Substitution add a nice chromatic descending bass line

We can also bring back what we learned in Lesson 2 by substituting a B7 for a Bminor7:

Substituting a B7 for a Bminor7
Our B7 Substitution for Bminor7

Step 2: Working with our Bminor7

Let’s continue exploring our options with our B7 Tritone Substitution. We can use the Tritone Substitution of B7, which is F7 to achieve something like this:

Our Second Tritone Substitution, the substitution of B7
Our Second Tritone Substitution, the substitution of B7

In order to keep the melody note an F♯, we’ve transformed our F7 to an F7♭9. Doing so introduces some cool ii7 – V7 tonality.

Step 3: Working with our F♯7

We have a few options when working with our F♯7. We can continue with our descending bass line theme, this time on the F♯7 for this sound like so:

Descending Bass Line and Ascending Melody on the A String
Descending Bass Line and Ascending Melody on the A String

Or, we can use the Tritone Substitution of F♯7, which is C7. We have a few options for voicings, as E is in C7. I like this voicing, personally:

Using the Tritone Substitution of F♯7
Using the Tritone Substitution of F♯7 to create even more chromatic bass line movement

Lastly, we can use all Tritone Substitutions to create a cool ii7 – Valt 7 – I7 like so:

Using All Tritone Substitutions

Whew…That’s a lot of options for 3 Melody notes! I don’t know about you, but I’m excited with all the cool harmony we can create using Backcycling. With that, this concludes our lessons on Backcycling for Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar. I hope you find this incredibly useful. To practice, pick a different song and key – “Beautiful Love” comes to mind. I’ll see you next time for some future lessons. Thanks for practicing with me!


One thought on “Learn Tritone Substitutions – Backcycling Part 3

  1. Excellent. Very clear, well put over – and you chose a familiar tune, which is a great help.

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