The Definitive Guide to Phrygian & Sus Flat 9 Chords

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After you’ve been improvising jazz for a while, most chords are pretty familiar. You’re used to major, minor, dominant, and half diminished…but just as you thought you were getting a handle on things, a chord comes out of nowhere that makes you go “What is that?!?!” And not only do you have to figure out what the thing is, you somehow have to learn how to improvise over it…

This was my experience with Susb9 chords, also called sus7b9, Dominant 7 Sus4 b9, Phrygian Dominant, or just Phrygian chords.

I barely knew how to play over a Sus Chord and then all of a sudden this even weirder variation popped up out of nowhere. I was lost.

What does “Sus” mean? Why is there a b9? What notes do I play?!?!

These are just just a few of the thoughts that go through your head when you encounter an unknown chord like this. And, the temporary fix to dealing with a new chord usually comes in the form of a scale…

When you google it or ask a teacher, they’ll usually tell you something like, “Just play the 5th mode of the hyper-quantum-leap-do-deca-hedron scale,” and like that, you’re magically supposed to be totally fine with this foreign chord structure…As if the uber-special scale magically allows you to improvise over it…

But with the addition of this scalar approach, the problem becomes even worse…

At this point, not only are you mixing up random notes of a scale, trying to fake your way through a few bars of this chord, you’re still in the dark to what is actually happening musically – the chord sound, structure, and purpose.

Every chord has these three things:

  1. A SOUND
  2. A STRUCTURE
  3. A PURPOSE

The sound of a chord is exactly that. What does it sound like? Is it happy? Sad? Haunting? Dark? Scary? Ethereal?

The structure is NOT a scale. It’s the chord-tones within the chord and how they’re expressed in the chord-voicing. Knowledge of the actual chord-structure and ...

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