How do you interpret this lick?

I have been practicing some gyspy jazz licks, and learning a bit about harmonic analysis on the way.

Found this lick, which is quite straightforward, on the A7, we play a dimisnished chord in several inversions, which creates a A7(b9) flavor.

Then on the Dm, we play a Dm with some “melody” on the highest voice, then a quarter rest and on the 4th time, there is this chord I don’t actually know.

How would you name this chord and where does it come from?

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This chord definitely comes from melodic minor. Since you’re in D minor, the raised 6th and raised 7th are B natural and c# and this chord has both. Functionally, I think it works because of a sort of delayed resolution in the upper voice paired with some ‘neighbor tone’ activity:


In the melody, you can think of high 12th fret E as being an appoggiatura. The b natural is just a lower neighbor, as is the c# (just interrupted by the appogiatura, hence the delayed resolution). To me that’s more important than ‘naming’ the chord.

If we were to name it…I guess it’s a B minor 9 (b5)? The third (d natural) is missing but implied. Since that’s such a foreign chord to the key we’re in that’s why I think it’s more important to think how it functions melodically rather than harmonically. This is why it’s ‘theory’ though.

If I were a theory professor, I’d give full marks and extra credit to the student that submitted something like this:


for no other reason than…that’s my interpretation lol! From my experience, theory professors are always fair but extra fair when the student’s opinion aligns with theirs lol

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It’s another chord functioning as a dominant chord

Just the same way that the fully diminished chords were acting like an A7b9 with no root, this chord is functioning like an A7(9/b13)

In response to @joebegly, I do think it’s VERY useful to name every chord you see because eventually you’ll find that you’ve memorized them as different voice leading combinations.

Also, when you’re doing chord melody stuff like this it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to describe the chords from the bottom up so much as how they’re functioning. Whoever was playing this was definitely thinking top down, not bottom up. In other words, they were thinking “I need a dominant chord with a c sharp on top and a b13.” The b is essentially incidental. The top two voices are already an ‘a’ and a ‘c#’ and you don’t really want to double any voices when you’re doing this kind of chord melody playing so the ‘b’ is really just there because it’s the only diatonic note that’s easy to grab with those top three notes

There are a few scales that you can get A B C# F from, but the most obvious one is d melodic minor. This chord is based on the 5th mode of melodic minor. Most people call this scale “mixolydian b6”

A quick PS This chord doesn’t actually have a ‘g’ in it which is the 7th of the A7 chord. If you drop the a on the second string down to g the passage will have a slightly stronger pull (which isn’t necessarily better or worse, just different)

I love that answer! I’m getting pretty rusty I guess!


Wait…I think I’ve got to deduct points @Imnobedhead. A7(9…) is redundant. It should just be A9(b13)

At least I think! I always thought on dominant chords with a 9th you leave out the ‘7’ in the chord name since it’s implied.

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So you have to keep in mind that not all harmony is going to be what is called functional harmony. Particularly in the jazz era, you will see a lot of things that don’t fit the mold of what was found in the common practice era, and not everything can be analyzed or put neatly into a given key signature. It can actually get pretty wild, to where there are very loose to no functional relationships throughout out an entire piece and it’s really up to interpretation.

That chord can be analyzed in a number of different ways and enharmonically produce different results. You can see it as a bm7b5add9, an A6add9, Faug#11 (common chord voicing in the bebop era) etc…. All could be argued for. Typically, in music that follows guidelines that more closely resembles that of the tonal era, you would look at the resolution of that chord to the next to make the most likely determination. Usually b59’s, 6’s (another enharmonic dominant) functioning as a dominant or secondary dominant to the resolution chord. Here it may not be so cut and dry as the next two chords can be analyzed as Fmaj7/C and then on to dmin7/C so there may not be a right or wrong answer.

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I don’t hear it as functioning as A7 dominant; we just spent the last two bars on dominant.

I hear it as DminorMaj7 with the 13 (D melodic minor). Dminor with the spooky and awesome color tones of Major6 and Major7!