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I thought a general discussion about -7b5 or half diminished chords might be interesting and useful...

In terms of thinking or visualizing, do people tend to see them as dominants with the 3rd in the bass?
(i.e E-7b5 = C7/E or C7#11/E).

Or as -6 chords with the 6 in the bass?
(i.e. E-7b5 = G-6/E or G-Maj7/E).

Or just simply as -7b5 chords (E-7b5)?

In terms of Chord Scale theory, does anyone tend to prefer:

Locrian (7th mode of the major scale...-7b5 with b9 and b13)?... E-7b5 = F major starting on E.

or 6 mode of melodic minor (-7b5 w natural 9 and b13)?... E-7b5 = G melodic minor starting on E.

or 2nd mode of harmonic major (-7b5 with natural 9 and natural 13)? E-7b5 = D harmonic major starting on E.

Or 2nd mode of harmonic minor (-7b5 with b9 and natural 13)? E-7b5 = D harmonic minor starting on E.

Or just the -7b5 chord with freedom to choose between the different 9s and 13s?

Thoughts?
 

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Great question! I think this will be a nice discussion. My 2¢: I think how you think of it totally depends on how it's used in relation to the tonic.

If you're in C Major and have a F# min b5 chord, I often think of it as a substitution for a dominant two chord. I guess technically that would be a locrian scale starting on F#, but I hardly ever think of that scale. I just think of what I would play over a D9. (I often like to hint at a #11 over a II7 chord so that makes G# or G work, depending on how you use it - G# works great as a leading tone to A and G works as an upper neighbor to the F#.

Another common use of the half dim chord is as the ii7(b5) of a minor tonic. I personally like the diatonic sound of the natural minor of the tonic key (C natural minor over a Dmi7(b5) - but not emphasizing the Eb or Bb). Then when the V7 comes, the Eb, Ab, and Bb that was so consonant makes for a great dissonance against the B natural of the G7 (V7). Since C natural minor is the same as Eb major, this would technically be D locrian, but I never think of it that way.

These are two of the most common ways I see the half dim chord. I look forward to seeing some other interpretations.
 

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I heard that Monk used to actually write C7/E for the ii chord in a minor key on his scores... could be just made up but I find it's a good way to think of it.

As far as chord/scale, I usually think of it as locrian, especially in a minor key (which is where it is most commonly found), but there are situations where 6th mode of mel. minor is useful too. I have learned not to be TOO strict about chord/scale because then you get into stupid arguments with *jazz theory pedants* which are among the most obnoxious people with whom to have arguments.

:mrgreen:
 

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I do think of them as actual m7b5 chords. I remember once, in my first year of learning improvisation, re-thinking of a chord as a m6 chord because I hadn't progressed to the point where I could think of half diminished chords easily. But I soon got the hang of them and never though of them any other way.

By default, I use the Locrian mode. You generally see a half diminished chord as part of a minor ii-V7's or ii-V7-i's and the most basic way for me to play them is to use the modes of the natural minor for the ii and i and 5th mode harmonic minor for the V7 to account for the major 3rd.

I do use the 2nd mode of both harmonic major and minor, but when I do that, I'm probably thinking more of the following V7 chord rather than the actual half diminished chord. I tend to be more comfortable with having various scale/extension options over a dominant chord than I am over a half diminished chord.

If you're in C Major and have a F# min b5 chord, I often think of it as a substitution for a dominant two chord. I guess technically that would be a locrian scale starting on F#, but I hardly ever think of that scale. I just think of what I would play over a D9. (I often like to hint at a #11 over a II7 chord so that makes G# or G work, depending on how you use it - G# works great as a leading tone to A and G works as an upper neighbor to the F#.
See, I never really think of the half diminished as being a dominant chord starting on the 3rd, though I do think of some fully diminished chords as V7b9 chords starting on the 3rd, using 5th mode harmonic minor instead of the diminished scale. And I too like to use the #11 on V7/V chords so I'll likely give this a try.
 

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I "think" m7b5. I guess I typically use locrian. I like b9s on a m7b5 chord & natural 9s on a regular m7 chord.

According to Dizzy's autobiography, Monk thought of it as a minor chord with the 6th in the bass (ex. Eb, Gb, & Bb would be an Ebm chord - put the C in the bass, and its now Cm7b5)

Dizzy also said Monk was the first person he heard actually use this chord & Monk taught him how to use it in context (for minor ii-V7s)

This harmonic influence led to tunes like Woody n' You.

I imagine jazz musicians before Monk were using this - I'm sure someone here on the forum can give us some good examples to check out.
 

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I find it difficult and counter intuitive to think of half diminished chords as inversions of some other chord or slash chords. If a chord is functioning as an altered IIm7, that's how I want to think of it. Otherwise all ideas of voice leading and a sense of the harmony functioning within it's logical context go out of the window for me.

So I think of a IIm7b5 as a IIm7b5, its seems the easiest thing to do. I know that some guitarists prefer a Cm6 to Am7b5, but that doesn't help me.

OI also can't cope with the concept of locrian. When a Dm7b5 is a IIm7b5 (usually) the tonic is C, the key centre is C (major, or more often in my case, minor) so thinking of D as a tonic of a D locrian is very counter intuitive, and doesn't help me think about how that chord is functioning within the context of what went before and after, and how to best use it for creative impro.
 

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When Barry Harris is teaching he let's you play a "Scale Outline" on tunes. He says that C7, Emi7b5, Gmi7 and Bbmaj belong together. Over the first two bars of Woody'n You he let's you play F7 up and down to the third of D: F G A Bb C D Eb D C Bb A G F#.
A major nine on Emi7b5 is like a #11 on C7. C7, Emi7b5, Gmimaj and Bbmaj+5 belong together in that case.
http://www.barryharris.com/instructional.htm
 

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Looking at my post, it looks like I'm saying that I think Cmi over a Dmi7(b5), which is not quite the case. I still think of it as a ii7(b5) chord, I'm just saying that if I use passing tones or scale-like melodies, those non-chord tones often fall in the tonic's natural minor scale. However, If a tune is real fast, and there's lots of quick minor ii-Vs, I do often find myself just thinking of melodies in the general minor key (natural, harmonic, melodic, and Dorian are all up for grabs).

Here's another question. Does anyone else find the 4th of a mi7(b5) to be a particularly colorful and favored note to play? For example, in the key of C I love playing the B over F#mi7(b5) (maybe because that is kind of like the 13th of a D9). Also, in the key of Cmi, that G over the Dmi7(b5) works nicely, maybe because it implies the V.
 

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I try think of it in each of those ways. For each way you 'think' about it, you will play differently. i.e. If I 'think' C7 for Em7b5, the line comes out way different than if I think G-Maj7.
 

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Great question! I think this will be a nice discussion. My 2¢: I think how you think of it totally depends on how it's used in relation to the tonic.

If you're in C Major and have a F# min b5 chord, I often think of it as a substitution for a dominant two chord. I guess technically that would be a locrian scale starting on F#, but I hardly ever think of that scale. I just think of what I would play over a D9. (I often like to hint at a #11 over a II7 chord so that makes G# or G work, depending on how you use it - G# works great as a leading tone to A and G works as an upper neighbor to the F#.

Another common use of the half dim chord is as the ii7(b5) of a minor tonic. I personally like the diatonic sound of the natural minor of the tonic key (C natural minor over a Dmi7(b5) - but not emphasizing the Eb or Bb). Then when the V7 comes, the Eb, Ab, and Bb that was so consonant makes for a great dissonance against the B natural of the G7 (V7). Since C natural minor is the same as Eb major, this would technically be D locrian, but I never think of it that way.

These are two of the most common ways I see the half dim chord. I look forward to seeing some other interpretations.
This isn't being critical (We just probally learned this different) but I read this 3 times to understand what you are saying at which point I realize that this is the way I think of these( not always,but a lot of the time) only I think of a minor V7(b5) t0 v7 b9 as a regular ii-v7 up a minor 3rd.
Example: F#-7(b5)- B7(b9) becomes A- D7
just a different way of thinking to get to the same place
 

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I think I have a head ache now ...
Try not obsessing about a scale being played over a chord, and think about the chord itself and its function/contect in the key. Locrian nat. 9 is very common for boppers on -7b5 chords btw.
 

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This isn't being critical (We just probally learned this different) but I read this 3 times to understand what you are saying
That's ok. I welcome criticism. I read through that and realized it sounds very confusing. Sometimes I feel that the thought process of improvisation just isn't meant to be put in writing. However, as I begin to teach and write more about this stuff, I appreciate the ability to put things out there clearly.
 

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In terms of thinking or visualizing, do people tend to see them as dominants with the 3rd in the bass?
(i.e E-7b5 = C7/E).
I think this is the default sound and quite a nice one. Some will complain about the F not being consonant and it's not, but it makes a nice passing tone.

Or as -6 chords with the 6 in the bass?
(i.e. E-7b5 = G-6/E or G-Maj7/E).
Another nice one. The F# is consonant over an E bass, but it IS the major 3rd in a D minor tonality, so can sound a bit crunchy if you're not careful with it.

In terms of Chord Scale theory, does anyone tend to prefer:
Locrian (7th mode of the major scale...-7b5 with b9 and b13)?... E-7b5 = F major starting on E.

...or 6 mode of melodic minor (-7b5 w natural 9 and b13)?... E-7b5 = G melodic minor starting on E.

...or 2nd mode of harmonic major (-7b5 with natural 9 and natural 13)? E-7b5 = D harmonic major starting on E.

...or 2nd mode of harmonic minor (-7b5 with b9 and natural 13)? E-7b5 = D harmonic minor starting on E.

Or just the -7b5 chord with freedom to choose between the different 9s and 13s?

Thoughts?
Honestly, that's a lot to think about. Generally I decide whether I want to play scale-like (stepwise 2ds) or chord-like (skips 3rds, 4ths). If I play stepwise through it I will play the diatonic locrian mode. If I skips and arpeggios then I will put the F# in there.

If I play a motive over it and the next A7alt chord, I will substitute an F#7alt lick for Em7b5 and then transpose the lick up a minor third for the A7alt that comes next...

Of course all of this assumes a D minor context, lots more to consider in the 23 other keys.
 

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In terms of thinking or visualizing, do people tend to see them as dominants with the 3rd in the bass?
(i.e E-7b5 = C7/E or C7#11/E).

Or as -6 chords with the 6 in the bass?
(i.e. E-7b5 = G-6/E or G-Maj7/E).

Or just simply as -7b5 chords (E-7b5)?

In terms of Chord Scale theory, does anyone tend to prefer:

Locrian (7th mode of the major scale...-7b5 with b9 and b13)?... E-7b5 = F major starting on E.

or 6 mode of melodic minor (-7b5 w natural 9 and b13)?... E-7b5 = G melodic minor starting on E.

or 2nd mode of harmonic major (-7b5 with natural 9 and natural 13)? E-7b5 = D harmonic major starting on E.

Or 2nd mode of harmonic minor (-7b5 with b9 and natural 13)? E-7b5 = D harmonic minor starting on E.

Or just the -7b5 chord with freedom to choose between the different 9s and 13s?
This seems to be an incredibly confusing and complicated way of dealing with a m7b5. I don't understand why it has to be any of these, it's just a m7 chord with the 5th altered. Am I missing something?

It's important to me to know the chord's function. Where it's come from and where it's going.
 

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Too many kids look at chord symbols as "instructions as to what to do" instead of learning to conceptualize harmony as a linear event.
 

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I agree with JohnGalt (for once! - we're not talking about reeds :) )

If the tune is modal in nature, then the Locrian mode is (one of) the correct one(s).

Otherwise, you have to look at each note in the chord in two contexts:

1) Where is it going, harmonically? Does that Em7b5 go to an A7 (or A7b9 or A7 alt)? If so, the D goes to C#, the Bb goes to A (or stays where it is), and the G and E both stay put. Other chords can be treated the same way (for example, it might be going to a Ebm7, in the key of Bb...).

2) What key are you in? In C major, Em7b5 has one note that is not in the key, the Bb, so that note has some role to play, harmonically speaking. What is the role? In D minor, however, it's just natural the II chord. Sure, the Bb will want to go toward the A, but that is a natural tendency of the 6th in a minor key, so it's no biggie and you can ignore the tendency (and ignore the Bb if you wish), if it makes sense in that part of your improvisation.

In other words, you cannot divorce a chord from its surroundings. That's why I think the chord-scale approach is not very useful.
 

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You could also think of it as a fully diminished 7th chord with a raised seventh....
 

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I tend to think of it like this: E G Bb D

But then maybe I'm being too simplistic.

One question, if you think of it as C7/E, where is the D in that chord? Or am I misunderstanding? I like to play these chords on the piano and see how they sound. Emi7b5 sounds different than C7/E (which lacks the D).

I totally agree with those who are saying you need to know where it's going in the progression to decide what to play over that chord.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Thanks for the replies and perspectives. It seems that most of us agree, music theory only attempts to describe sound and the process of creating sound, but, since theory is not actually sound or process itself, advocating the adherence to, or use of theory to generate improvisation is not necessary...

FWIW, I mostly play by ear over the -7b5 chords, however, when I listen back, the melodies I play tend to come from one of the aforementioned categories. The key center and the horizonal context of any individual chord in a progression is a major influence over what I hear in the moment.
 
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