Jazz Guitar Lesson by Tony Corman: Half-diminished Cadences for Guitar

Half-diminished Cadences for Guitar: By Tony Corman

For jazz guitarists, chord reuse is essential. Restricted as we are to six notes at best, we need to make the most of every voicing available to us. Perusing Mark Levine and Randy Vincent’s books, I came across a motherlode of wisdom about the many uses of half-diminished chords (we called ‘em minor 7b5 chords at Berklee). Both these wise men point out that these chords can be used not only in II-V cadences but as dominant 7th and tonic minor 6 chords. For example, Dmin7(b5) can be used in front of a G7 chord cadencing to a minor chord (though not always: see the standard I Wished on the Moon for an example of a bittersweet IIm7b5 – V7 cadence to a major chord), as a Bb7(9), E7 altered
(with b9 and b13) or Fmin6. Here are the eminently playable inversions of a m7b5 chord on the top two string sets. I practice them this way, running the inversions so I don’t get dependent on one or two stock voicings.

I find it most useful to learn new voicings in context, that is, using the voicing as part of a chord progression rather than learning the voicing in isolation. In trying to get these half-diminished voicings under my fingers, I noticed something cool: by moving up a minor third, you obtain a lovely cadence to a minor chord. Here’s what I mean: play a Dmin7b5 and follow it with an Fmin7b5, then a C minor. The Fmin7b5 in fact stands in perfectly well for a G7b7b13, leading beautifully to a tonic C minor 6. The tonic minor6 provides yet another opportunity to use these voicings – the whole cadence is in fact composed of them.

For example: Playing the voicing and sliding it up three frets works fine, but another, more graceful and voice-led approach is to practice them more or less in place, as follows:

Here are all the cadences in position.

The positionality of the guitar can be a liability if we’re not a little inventive, leading to blocky, obvious productions, but with a little cunning it can be an advantage, enabling us to get additional mileage out of the basics!

Jazz Guitar Life would like to thank Tony Corman for his contribution.


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