What's A Tritone?

Q: What's a Tritone?
A: An interval composed of three whole tones.
In music, the interval of the diminished fifth, exactly half the octave, and considered in the Middle Ages to be the moral antithesis of the octave's perfect consonance, or ‘diabolus in musica’ (devil in music). Its prominence during the late 19th and early 20th centuries helped to undermine the remaining foundations of tonality, as in Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1894).
Sounds scary? Hear for yourself and find out why Tritones were banned from Christian music several hundred years ago and why they have now been embraced by contemporary gospel musicians and used in almost every modern song!

My friend, Willie Myette, wrote a great article on Tritones. He says "Tritones definitely add spice to your playing. But, many people are confused when it comes to using them."


Tritones are the 3rd and 7th of a chord. The most efficient and musical method of right hand fill for any 7th chord is to add the Tritones below the melody. The left hand only has to provide the root of the chord. Have
a listen:


In this free video series (there's 16 videos!), watch as expert piano player Ryan Larson teaches how to play tritone substitutions. Tritone substitutions are often used in jazz music, in which a chord progression of a dominant 7th chord that is three whole steps from the original dominant 7th chord, creating a chromatic root movement in popular jazz chord progressions. Have a look:


What I learned about Tritones is that to use a tritone in a ii-V-I, first start by finding the tritone of the V7 chord's root. 1. What is the V7 chord? [It is G7]
2. What is the root of G7? It is G
3. What is a tritone note of G? The tritone is Db
To find the tritone easier, first find the 5th (D), then go down a 1/2 step (Db). I think it is easier to think of it this way rather than sharping the 4th.
Tritone Substitution
Each dominant seventh chord has a tritone. For example in the G7 chord:
We find the tritone between notes B and F.
In the Db7 chord:
The tritone is found on notes F - Cb. As you may have noticed, these chords share the same tritone (F = F and B = Cb):
Because of the fact that they share the same tritone, one chord can substitute the other. This is called in jazz music theory tritone substitution. Note that the chords are one tritone apart (G - Db).
A friend shared this with me. I hope you find this useful!
Finding a passing tritone:
Here’s a useful shortcut for tritone work today. Lots of people are/were confused as to forming a decent sounding tritone.
The tritone is basically two notes 3 whole steps apart from each other e.g. F and B played together form a tritone. Tri meaning 3.
The tritone can be used as a passing tone in gospel and jazz movements. It’s usually that dynamic sounding chord you usually hear especially in spacious movements i.e.
"2-5-1" may become "2 - WOW! - 5 - WHAT? - 1"
The Dynamic chord i.e. passing tone tritone is formed like this:
1. The basic structure to give the potent sound is basically a ditone (2 notes played together 2 whole steps apart). Added harmonics are formed by playing them at least one octave apart though. The major chord (right hand) is the right most note in the ditone. Whereas the tritone you'll play with the major chord is based on the left most note.
So basically for an A-Major passing tone you'll play the A-major chord with your right hand with the F tritone.
2. Form the tritone. Remember F + (3 whole steps) = B. So the tritone is F+B. Play this with your left hand.
3. For the major chord, I advise you play your major chord one inversion down- but play what you're used to. So right hand plays E+A+Db.
4. The final result would thus be: F+B // E+A+Db. Quite dynamic.
Bearing all of this in mind, you should be able to figure any tritone (passing tone) you so wish e.g.
C tritone (passing tone) would be Ab+D // G+C+E


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