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What Are Tritone Substitutions

Tritone Substitutions in Jazz: A Complete Guide.

Tritone substitutions are a common device used in jazz, and understanding how they work and why they work is crucial for any jazz musician. In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about tritone substitutions, from what they are to how to use them.

What is a Tritone Substitution?

A tritone substitution is when we replace one chord with another chord that does the same job. The "tritone" part refers to the interval of a tritone, which is the space between two notes three whole tones apart. For instance, if we were to start on a G and move up three whole tones, we would get the interval of a tritone.

Why Do Tritone Substitutions Work?

There is something special about a tritone interval that makes tritone substitutions work. When you invert a tritone, you get the same interval. This is because a tritone is exactly half an octave. So whichever way you play that interval, whichever inversion you use, it's still a tritone. This is not true of other intervals.

How to Use Tritone Substitutions?

Tritone substitutions only work on dominant 7th chords because the dominant 7th chord is the only chord qualified for this substitution. It contains the right qualities and the tritone we need to make this substitution. You can only substitute dominant 7th chords with other dominant 7th chords when you're doing a tritone substitution. If we take our chords from our diatonic scale and put them all in the same key with the same root, we can see what's going on. There are four different types of chords: major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, and half-diminished 7th. The dominant 7th chord is the only one that contains the tritone we need for a tritone substitution. For instance, if we have a G7 chord, we can substitute it with a Db7 chord. This works because the Db7 chord contains the same tritone (Ab and D) as the G7 chord (B and F). So, they sound similar and can be used interchangeably.


In conclusion, tritone substitutions are a useful tool for any jazz musician to have in their arsenal. They can add a unique flavor to your playing and open up a whole new world of harmonic possibilities. Remember, tritone substitutions only work on dominant 7th chords, and you can only substitute them with other dominant 7th chords. Practice using tritone substitutions in your playing and see how they can elevate your jazz game.

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