Is the b7 really there?

In the audio track for Playing Activity #5, on this page:

is the b7 of the 5D chord (tonal note 4) actually present and sounding?

I’m interested if others hear it or not ( I don’t ), and would also be interested in IFRs confirmation (as the originator) yea or nay.

I ask because my perception when I play that note on my instrument is that it is not matching a tone that is already there in the audio’s harmony, but rather is adding a completely new and clashing sound. It seems important to me to determine if my perception is correct or erroneous here.


Maybe a good idea to tag @ImproviseForReal on this?

Hi @sj1, note 4 is present in the audio track for playing activity #5, but it doesn’t appear in every measure. If you just listen to the strumming guitar and the bass outlining the reggae rhythm, I’m not sure that note 4 ever appears in these two parts. So in some measures, note 4 is absent and so you could imagine these chords as 2- and 1, since we’re only hearing the triads of the chords. But at the end of each line, you’ll hear a low melody line made up of the notes 2, 3, 4, 3, and in this moment the harmony is unequivocally defined as chords 6- and 5D.

If you like, we can dig more deeply into the mystery and try to figure out exactly what you’re playing that doesn’t sound right to your ear. Could you make a short recording of yourself playing the scale over this track so you can show me exactly which note doesn’t sound right to your ear? Our ability to resolve these mysteries through text comments alone is quite limited. But if you make an audio recording so that I can hear the sounds you’re referring to, then we’ll be able to instantly figure out what’s going on. So if that would be valuable to you, please feel free to post again with a short audio recording and I’ll be happy to listen to it.

Thanks Steve!

Thanks for your answer, and your offer to listen to audio!

While I get the time and tech together for that, I’ll just add that the track’s groove is really sounding like Fm to Cm ( 6- to 3- ) to me. Which is to say that when I play those chords on the guitar it sounds spot-on to me. So, if that is a mis-perception, that is where I need to correct and advance.

OK, I’ve recorded the backing track with some guitar and comments overlaid. I think this will illustrate what I’m getting at. Looking forward to your further comment @ImproviseForReal when you get a chance to give a listen.

P.S. Please excuse my tongue-trip when I said “constant” instead of “consonant” just before the 2 minute mark !

@sj1 Wow, fantastic Steve! Great ear and great explanation. Now I understand exactly what you mean. So the first thing we should acknowledge is that 5D and 3- are very similar chord concepts. Because they are separated by a diatonic third, the four-note chord of 3- (notes 3, 5, 7, 2) actually includes the complete triad of the 5D chord (5, 7, 2). So in deciding which of these chord concepts more accurately describes the sound of that moment, here are some questions to ask:

  1. Is the root note 3 or 5 being played especially prominently, giving us a reason to favor that interpretation?

  2. Is note 3 present in the chord, giving us a reason to favor the 3- interpretation?

  3. Is note 4 present in the chord, giving us a reason to favor the 5D interpretation?

  4. Does the overall sound and feel of the chord remind us more of our personal experience with the 5D chord or the 3- chord?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, labelling the chord will always be problematic. Any chord can be extended to include all seven notes of the scale, so the presence or absence of any single note doesn’t necessarily force one interpretation or the other. But we’re just looking for the best label to describe what we feel, so all of the above questions are relevant.

Before going any farther, the first thing I want to acknowledge is that your ear is perfect and I actually agree with you. I didn’t create this jam track myself, and now that I’m listening to it more closely I agree that the harmony of that 5D chord is way too ambiguous, and I’ll explain why.

What we can all agree on is where we are in the key of the music. We all agree that the first chord is the 6- chord. I was worried that this was your point of confusion. I thought that maybe you were hearing some other scale which would make that opening chord the 2- chord, for example, and so that’s why I directed you to the riff which sounds at 0:21 (in which note 4 is clearly present). This riff situates us clearly in the key of the music, making that first chord the 6- chord. And so when you asked if note 4 was truly present in the backing track, I directed you to this riff as a confirmation that note 4 is indeed present. But that doesn’t require us to interpret that second chord as either 5D or 3-, so I now understand that this observation didn’t address your concern.

The backing track was indeed intended to illustrate chords 6- and 5D. But it was composed by a friend of mine who did some of our early jam tracks. (In the new line of IFR Jam Tracks, I have created every single jam track myself with the exception of a handful which were created by Mireia. So in all of our core learning materials, I think we’ve done a much better job of making sure every moment of every jam track illustrates precisely the notes and scales required. But in some of our early jam tracks, the harmony wasn’t always as clear as I would have liked, and these tracks for this free lesson series are a perfect example of that.)

In general, that backing track does capture the feel of chords 6- and 5D pretty well. But you’re right that it’s WAY too ambiguous, as that second chord could just as easily be understood as 3-. And in fact, I think we can make a stronger case for 3- than for 5D! So you’re exactly right about that.

Here are the two unfortunate choices that my friend made in creating that early jam track for us. First, note 4 is not present in the strumming guitar chord that plays during the 5D measure. The choice to express the 5D chord as just the triad (5, 7, 2) was unfortunate because this is what allows us to feel that chord as an extension of 3- instead of the 5D chord. (Theoretically, you could include note 4 in the extension of the 3- chord as well, but this is almost never done because of the dissonance of the b9 over a minor chord. So if we had included that note 4 in the guitar part, then I think your ear would have latched onto that chord as 5D right from the start.)

The other unfortunate choice made in the creation of that track was a bass riff at the very end of every line. In order to give the harmony a boost (almost like the concept of a turnaround), the bass part goes down to note 3 at the very end of each line. This wasn’t necessarily a “musical” mistake, because that note choice is certainly very beautiful and it makes perfect sense to the ear. But it was absolutely a TEACHING mistake, because this only reinforces the feeling that this second chord is in fact 3-.

So in short, the jury has returned to the courtroom and their verdict is that you’ve proved your case on all counts. We’re guilty as charged, and I have to thank you for bringing this to light. I think the best solution would be to simply replace that backing track with one of our newer jam tracks that uses chords 6- and 5D. But as luck would have it, I also hate the backing track that I made for chords 6- and 5D for IFR Jam Tracks Level 2, and I’ll be changing it as soon as I have a chance. So what I really need to do is make a nice groovy backing track that truly brings out both the character and the precise harmonic character of both of these chords, and use this new track to replace both my lame track for IFR Jam Tracks Level 2 (which is harmonically correct but just not much fun to solo over) and also this audio track for the lesson series on Song for My Father (which I agree with you is actually harmonically misleading if not downright wrong).

All I can offer is my apology for the confusing audio track, and my thanks for the GREAT discussion about it. The fact that you can hear these subtleties and talk about them so precisely in terms of the underlying harmonic concepts demonstrates that you’ve already learned all the lessons we were trying to teach in that lesson series, and more! So thank you for the wonderful contribution to our forum and to our community!


Thank you very much David (@ImproviseForReal) for your most detailed response.

It’s certainly a relief to get your confirmation that I have not totally mis-perceived the chords here! Your deeper dive into the aspects of ambiguity present rounds out the topic with extra rigor and value.

Indeed, the lack of note 4 in the guitar part, and the presence of note 3 in the bass line are the very things that led me to Cm (3-) as being the 2nd chord in the pattern.

Two other tributaries to my doubting about 5D there were listening to Horace Silver’s recording, and listening to iRealPro playback of the tune. Neither of these cases of Fm7 to Eb7 as the first two chords of the tune sounded/felt the same to me as the IFR exercise. (ala your list item #4 above)

But you know, it was actually finding the IFR lesson on Song for My Father that put me on to it again after all these years. So, thank you for that as well!

P.S. Re: the riff (low vocal line, right?) at :21, I’m hearing that as notes-in-order (1 2 4 3). You as well?

I’d like to add that I think the tritone deserves a mention here. It’s deeply ingrained in me that the presence of a tritone is (supposed to be!) detectable and used to identify when a dominant chord is sounding. I am far from perfect at that, as spending some time with chord recognition apps has shown me. Nevertheless, I do consider the idea to be valid, and the onus on myself to improve my own perception.

The relevance here is that I was not hearing a tritone in the 5D chord in the IFR exercise.

Which leads me to a question about seventh chords vs. triads.

I play mostly jazz (lots of seventh chords), but also rock, pop, folk (lots of triads, w/o 7ths).

But regardless of genre, a chord (or chord progression) including sevenths sounds much different than one using triads (only or mostly). In general, these chords (as chords) are -not- interchangeable, in my experience. (Though when making melodies and/or soloing over a chord/progression the possibilities expand in either direction.)

So, when I see “5D”, I think “five dominant”, where “dominant” means it is a seventh chord with a tritone in it.

To me, it would be naturally incorrect/misleading to say “5D” when only the “five major triad” is intended or sounding.

IFR does not seem to make this distiction in it’s terminology. (Or does it?)

@sj1, we definitely make a distinction between triads and seventh chords in both our appreciation of the chords and our discussion about them. (I must have mentioned this distinction a hundred times in my chord melody video course, for example.) But you’re right that we don’t make any distinction in our notation of the chords, because this difference between triads and seventh chords is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s also not the same to play just the root and fifth vs. including the third in the chord. And it’s not the same to play just the root, 3rd and 7th, omitting the 5th. And it’s not the same to extend the chord to the 9th. And it’s not the same to include suspended notes or even outside notes as tensions. Etc, etc, etc.

The only way to capture all of the details of any particular grouping of notes is to write out every single note on a music staff. And that’s not what we’re trying to do in IFR at all. IFR was never intended to be a notation system. IFR is a learning system. And just as soon as you learn the lessons that IFR is trying to teach you, you’ve already outgrown the IFR symbols. So I couldn’t agree more that there is an important difference between triads and seventh chords in terms of the quality and texture of the sound. But the IFR symbols aren’t intended to communicate those things. The mission of the IFR chord symbols is just to indicate the basic tonal function of each chord and to situate you in the overall key of the music. That’s why we purposely don’t include these arrangement choices (e.g. triads vs. seventh chords) in the chord symbols themselves.

I realize that this is quite different from the way most people teach music. But we felt that it was necessary to build an organized tonal universe from scratch, and to use this virtual world as a training ground for our students. This is why we created the IFR Jam Tracks and our Sing the Numbers course, and why my own video courses are so focused on the pure harmonic concepts that we find in the major scale. We understand that all of these concepts are subjected to endless abstractions and variations in modern music. But we think that the right way to learn anything complex to start with simplicity and work outward toward the complexity. Somewhere in that journey outward to complexity, it’s natural that you’ll outgrow the IFR chord symbols. The question is whether you want to expand these symbols to capture all of the additional details that are important to you, or whether that’s the moment that you decide you’ve outgrown the use of chord symbols altogether.

My own personal music practice is a bit of a hybrid. I continue making use of the IFR chord symbols to understand songs like jazz standards. But if I want to capture a musical idea more precisely, I’ll either use the music staff or I’ll write out every single note in tonal numbers. And mostly I’m just visualizing the notes directly in the tonal octave and projecting these notes onto either the guitar, the trumpet or the piano, so it doesn’t even occur to me to think about what chord symbol would best describe those notes.

But in your own music practice, I encourage you to invent your own notation system to capture whatever details you feel you want to document. I suspect that you’ll eventually come to the same conclusion that ultimately any system of notation will be hopelessly inadequate to describe the richness of music. But the process of confronting that complexity and searching for a way to document your ideas can be very rewarding.


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Thanks for the further insight into IFR philosophy and your own personal approach!