Upper Extensions the Easy Way

Once you've mastered chord tone soloing and basic 7th chord voicings on guitar, you'll want to start adding upper extensions to your playing.

Let's make sure we're on the same page. Chord tones are the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th of a chord. These are the fundamental notes of a chord. Upper extensions are the 9th, 11th and 13th. These tones add color and interest to a harmony, but are not foundational to the chord the way chord tones are.

All these numbers can be intimidating, but that doesn't have to be the case. I've listed out the 7 modes of the major scale below and included a shortcut for remembering the upper extensions for each mode. The shortcut consists of remembering the next diatonic triad of the scale. Observe.

  • I chord, Ionian Mode - Major 7 chord + minor triad starting up a whole step for upper extensions (9, 11, 13)
  • ii chord, Dorian Mode - Minor 7 chord + minor triad starting up a whole step for upper extensions (9, 11, 13)
  • iii chord, Phrygian Mode - Minor 7 chord + major triad starting up a half step for upper extensions (b9, 11, b13)
  • IV chord, Lydian Mode - Major 7 chord + major triad starting up a whole step for upper extensions (9, #11, 13)
  • V chord, Mixolydian Mode - Dominant 7 chord + minor triad starting up a whole step for upper extensions (9, 11, 13)
  • vi chord, Aeolian Mode - Minor 7 chord + diminished triad starting up a whole step for upper extensions (9, 11, b13)
  • viio chord, Locrian Mode - Half diminished chord + major triad starting up a half step for upper extensions (b9, 11, b13)

    Now let's look at this concept as it applies to the key of C major.

  • I chord, Ionian Mode - Cmaj7 + Dm
  • ii chord, Dorian Mode - Dm7 + Em
  • iii chord, Phrygian Mode - Em7 + F
  • IV chord, Lydian Mode - Fmaj7 + G
  • V chord, Mixolydian Mode - G7 + Am
  • vi chord, Aeolian Mode - Am7 + Bdim
  • viio chord, Locrian Mode - Bm7b5 + C

    With a little practice, this way of thinking about upper extensions becomes quite effortless. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes for you.


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