Dominant seventh flat ninth chords (7b9) - Guitar diagrams and voicings

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Chord formulas chartDominant seventh flat ninth chords (7b9) are built by lower the ninth of dominant 9 chords by one semitone, giving the harmonic formula : 1 (root), 3 (major third), 5 (perfect fifth), b7 (minor seventh) and b9 (flat ninth). They appear in many jazz tunes as Stella by Starlight, Misty and Bossa Nova songs as Black Orpheus, The girl from Ipanema. These chords brings a little bit of tension and sadness because of the b9, making the feeling more intense.

Dominant 9th chord 1 3 5 b7 9
C9 chord C E G Bb D
Dominant 7b9 chord 1 3 5 b7 b9
C7b9 C E G Bb Db

Dominant 7b9 guitar chord diagrams

Here are the main 7b9 positions to play on the guitar respecting the voicing chart below. Because it is physically difficult to play all the chord tones on the guitar, you will notice that the fifth is omitted. This is not the most important note of this type of chord.

Dominant 7b9 chord R 3 b7 b9

 

Root on the E string

Dominant 7b9 guitar chord diagram 1

Root on the A string

Dominant 7b9 guitar chord diagram 2

Root on the D string

Dominant 7b9 guitar chord diagram 3

How to use 7b9 chords ?

Dominant 7b9 chords come originally from the V in minor keys. Indeed, when you harmonize the V degree of the harmonic minor scale you get a V7b9 chord. Here is a C minor II-V-I sequence, including a 7b9 chord.

II V I minor chord sequence

But 7b9 can be used as a V (or secondary dominant) for both major and minor keys, here are two examples :

  • They can be used to create nice voice leading, like in this example, a I-vi-ii-V turnaround in C major.

I vi ii v guitar chord progression

7b9 and diminished chords relationship

The dominant 7b9 chord functions as a dominant (V7) implying in its upper structure the tones of a symmetrical diminished chord. By taking a dominant 7 (Example with G7 : G, B,D and F) and adding the flattened ninth (Ab for G7), you built a 7b9 chord. Dominant 7b9 contains the same notes as a diminished 7th chord built on any of the chord tones including the flat 9 but without the root. So G7b9 (except the root) has the same notes as Abº, Bº, Dº or Fº. 

G7b9 G B D F Ab
Formula 1 3 5 b7 b9
B dim7   B D F Ab
Formula   1 b3 b5 b7

 

By now, you have understood that a 7b9 chord can be replaced by a diminished 7th chord (chord substitution technique) starting on the major  third (3), the fifth (5), the minor seventh (b7) or the flat ninth (b9) of this 7b9.

Example in a C major II-V-I progression where the V7 is extended with a b9 giving a V7b9. This Dm7 | G7(b9) | CM7 becomes Dm7 | Bdim7 | CM7  |  and because of the symmetry of the diminished 7th chord there can be three other possibilities :

  • Dm7 | Ddim7 | CM7 
  • Dm7 | Fdim7 | CM7 
  • Dm7 | Abdim7 | CM7

In this minor II-V-I chord melody sequence the Vb9 (G7) is replaced by Fdim7 :

Ii v i minor chord sequence 2

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Last edited: 18/04/2017

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