~ submediant ~

~ minor 6th ~ bIV~

~ + 5 ~ augmented 5th ~ # 5 ~

~ a true and super poignant color of our minor tonality ...'

old Joe Clark

this old man

camptown races

In a nutshell. The pitch created by the minor 6th interval above our root pitch is among our dearest and deepest colors for expression in the minor tonality. A key player in natural diatonic minor, the minor 6th interval can create a rather intense sense of homeward longing, that epic sense of idealized love, of wanting to get there. Within a minor key center, the submediant is often paired with the mediant minor 3rd, which is closer to the tonic by proximity and its definer of major / minor within a purely diatonic realm.

Harmonically, we'll find the minor 6th pitch associated with tonic chords while the labeling of #5 is most often paired up with the various dominant chordal colors. In creating chord progressions, we've a few rather common and essential motions in the blues, pop and jazz stylings that feature the i-6 and the V7#5.

Theory names: the submediant, minor 6th, #5. Like all of our music intervals, their numerical name is simply based upon how many steps they are away from their root or tonic pitch. Thus we can locate our minor sixth interval six diatonic steps up from our root pitch. The minor 6th generally implies minor key and scale, so thinking our root or tonic pitch is A, the following pitches for minor 6 / #5 emerge. Example 2.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
minor 6th
A
.
.
.
.
F
.
.
sharp 5 (#5)
A
.
.
.
E #
.
.
.

no sound

 

E# = F? Admittedly yes the letter name pitch of E# is somewhat rare, but in theory yes, E# does = F. Called enharmonic equivalents, naming one pitch two ways helps keep the theory correct, maintaining the integrity of our key signatures. Even with all of the blue notes? Well ... to paraphrase Mark Twain ... , "don't let our schoolwork interfere with our education ... :)"

A minor 6th melody. The interval of the minor sixth above the root in my way of hearing things creates the strongest sense of a longing yet loving poignancy within the octave span of the minor tonality. Dig this sound in "Sky Is Blue", which features the minor 6th leap in the opening phrase and closing out with a borrowed leading tone from harmonic minor. Example 3.

Like the melody? At times minor Six is most powerful. Another of mine along these lines is part of the superhoot collection. Titled "Voices From The River."

Motion from One to Four in natural minor. As the chordal motion from One to Four is probably our most common chord progression in folk, blues, rock and pop, this flat Six position is key in creating the diatonic triad built on Four. Examine the pitches, again thinking in the key of A minor. Example 4.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
b3
4
5
b6
b7
8
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
arpeggio degrees
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
A minor arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
triads
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii
triad pitches
A C E
B D F
C E G
D F A
E G B
F A C
G B D
A C E

An essential chord progression with b6. In songs in a minor key, we'll most commonly find the submediant as part of a chord progression. Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" changes are backstopped on flat Six. Termed a deceptive cadence by theorists, this is one the rockers of all stripes can love. Examine the pitches. Example 5.

wiki ~ Bob Dylan
wiki ~ 'Watchtower' song
scale degrees
root / 1
2
b3
4
5
b6
b7
8
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
arpeggio degrees
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
A minor arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
triads
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii
triad pitches
A C E
B D F
C E G
D F A
E G B
F A C
G B D
A C E

Barre chords. "Watchtower" might have been my first jamm tune. Surely the open A minor was my first chord. Then open G and F of a different sort of shape.

Using the barre chords last idea can be a game changer. In performing chord progressions such as 'Watchtower' changes they really are handy. Initially based on the identical open E and A minor shape, we use our index finger as a sort of capo to move things around. Surely more rockin' than the open chords.

Depending on your current git they may or may not be a challenge. Acoustic guitars with big strings and high action can make barre chords very demanding. Be realistic about this. Bad action on the fretboard makes playing barre chords a bear. Careful not to wear your hands too much.

Quick review. Melodically, the minor Six interval provides an essential poignancy over tonic chords and is the minor third pitch of the minor triad built on Four. It's the flatted 5th pitch of our minor key's Two, thus ii-7b5, that wonderful darkly essential half diminished color and potential pivot chord to points beyond.

While this minor 7b5 is mostly a pop and jazz chord, blues players dig this color often as a first inversion blues tonic chord when working with a bassist. In blues tunes written in a major key, we often find the flat Six chord leading to Five as part of a song's chord progression at the turnaround. Or of course it could be something simply subbed in by the players.

Flat Six chord. As mentioned above, in American blues songs in either major or minor keys, we commonly build a dominant chord chord on flat Six which then moves to Five before resolving to One. Example 6.

Cool and often played today, the classic "Stormy Monday Blues" of the Pine Top Perkins, T Bone Walker fame likes this kind of motion. Allman Brothers live at the Fillmore version has some great ideas on this too. Flat Six becomes sharp Five just down the street too.

Pine Top Perkins
T Bone Walker
Allman Brothers Band

So getting a theory sense of Six in the natural, diatonic minor scheme of things? While there's surely a few variations with the minor scales and modes, this natural minor 6th position is surely a keeper. For ballads, the blues and beyond. Now for the flip side ...

Sharp Five (#5). As this term sharp Five implies, we've simply raised or augmented our perfect fifth interval by half step up. Commonly termed augmented, we mostly see #5 as a colortone applied to the non-diatonic V7+5 chord in songs written in minor keys.

When we employ pitches not found within our key center into our Five chords, we call them simply an altered dominant chord. Altered in that they contain a borrowed pitch from another key center.

The augmented fifth in action. Here's a few ideas representative of the basic theory sounds generated by the #5 intervals. Example 7.

blues

jazz

pop

Finding a common tone. Based on an augmented major triad, our V7+5 functions in a dominant chord capacity, usually directing the music towards resolution of a key center, to a new event, cadential motion etc. Thinking D minor, we use the #5 as a common tone between our minor One and Five chords. Example. 7a.

Same idea with 9. Working again in D minor, here is the #5 paired with tonic minor 9. Example 7b.

Minor triad with a 9th. These minor 9th chords are just super potent colors, both as tonic function and Two chord type. This last 'D-9' chord shape might lead this pack. If you're just evolving to this level in the chords and getting an understanding of their theory, congratulations as you're on a path surely to broaden your sense of creating 'emotional environments.'

The augmented 5th. Of course anytime we augment our perfect fifth we enter into the magical world of the whole tone colors. And while not widely used in any of our styles excepting in jazz of course, where all options are more thoroughly explored, the whole tone color is essential in some very special spots in the music. A most common spot in pop music is the tonic motion to Four via the augmented chord in the major tonality. Here working it in C major. Example 7c.

Can make the tune. There are times when such a chord progression 'makes' the tune we're writing. This last idea is such a lick. In the case of "Because" by Dave Clark Five, it's chock full of augmented colors and other coolness too of course. Great hook.

wiki ~ "Because" / Dave Clark 5

In the blues. In the blues we can have everything. All 12 pitches will always find a welcome home in the blues, somewhere. A perfect spot for this V7#5 rascal is as the closing chord in a chorus of blues. Example 7d.

Yet again "Stormy Monday." This last idea is the tail end of the turnaround quoted in the above changes. We'll each find certain tunes that not only speak to us but ones that contain a lot of the cool marbles we end playing with again and again. "Stormy Monday" is surely worth a closer look in this regard.

wiki ~ "Call It Stormy Monday"

Diminished chord on the augmented 5th. A last idea here finds a diminished chord built on the half step between our diatonic positions of Five and Six. This is a rare bird indeed. Here we use the diminished color to get us to the relative minor via Two / Five. So a deceptive cadential motion with a 'helper' of sorts. Example 8.

Into the top 10. This is a 'hen's teeth' sort of motion in our American songbook for sure. It's in here because it can be and that the song I found it in was part of the movie credits at the close of the picture show. From the song "Go Now", which was a big hit for a couple of groups back in the early mid 60's and forward.

wiki ~ "Go Now"

Review. The interval of the minor sixth above our root provides some key essential components in our American songbook. A melodic leap it can be very effective in setting the emotional tone of the music. In the harmony, building on flat Six is a core color for the rockers as the deceptive cadence motion finds its way into a lot of essential songs. The #5 colortone is most often added to V7, creating quite a sonic force and accelerator of forward motion towards an impending resolution in both major and minor keys.

'So ... what do the last four letters of American spell ... ? 'I can !'
US together :)
1
#1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
b5
5
#5
b6
6
b7
7
8
b9
9
#9
-10
10
11
#11
12
b13
13
b14
14
15
#15
Footnotes:
(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.