THE bVII7 CHORD:
Relax! The name is actually more intimidating than the chord itself! So let's see: what is that unfriendly sounding name trying to tell us?
Simply that the bVII7 chord is nothing more than a Dominant chord (7) that is built on the bVII degree of the key (Flat Seven aka the Subtonic).
In a Major key, bVII is just a half-step below vii. If we are in the key of C, the bVII7 chord is Bb7. It is borrowed from the parallel key of C minor (bVII being the 7th degree of C Natural Minor).
Our bVII7 chord has a clearly-defined purpose in life: after a temporary modulation (usually to the IV, and sometimes to the ii) the bVII7 chord will take us back to the original key. It basically works as a short-cut: straight back into the I Chord!!!
As it is the case with most dominants, bVII7 is often preceded by its related iim7 chord. In the key of C, Bb7 may be preceded by Fm7. Nothing extraordinary so far: Fm7 - Bb7 looks like an usual ii-V in Eb. Except that here, we are not resolving to EbMaj7... but to CMaj7, the I key.
Let's look at some Standard Tunes where we can find examples of the bVII7 chord:
We will encounter 3 uses of the bVII7:
1) The bVII7 occurs after a temporary modulation to the IV (Subdominant) getting us back into the original key.
"There Will Never Be Another You" (Measure 10)
"But Not For Me" (measure 10)
"A Foggy Day" (measure 10)
"My Romance" (measure 9)
"Just Friends" (measure 4)
"Donna Lee" (measure 10)
"Misty" (measure 4)
"I Could Write A Book" (measure 28)
"I Thought About You" (measure 10)
"Cherokee" (measure 7)
You get the idea, but here are 2 more examples that might be even more familiar:
in "Rhythm Changes" (in the A section, 2nd half of measure 6)
in a Blues progression (measure 6). Thelonious Monk used that sound commonly when he played his Blues compositions. The bVII7 chord is often essential to the tune, such as in "Ba-Lue-Bolivar-Ba-Lues-Are" (aka "Bolivar Blues") or in "Blues Five Spot". By the way, while we are talking about Monk, did you know that ALL of his Blues tunes are in the key of Bb?. If you find "Straight, No Chaser" written in the key of F in some Real Books, it is only because Miles Davis recorded it in that key...
Note that the bVII7 can sometimes be played as a iv6.
Exemple: Bb7 (Bb D F Ab) = Fm6 (F Ab C D). The two chords are pretty close since they have 3 notes in common. Remember that Fm6 is Bb7(9) with the 5th in the bass.
"Out Of Nowhere" (in G) measure 28: F7(#11) or Cm6 are interchangeable. Cm6 makes more sense when continuing on to Bm7 (iiim7) because of the 1/2 step root movement.
"Rhythm Changes" (in Bb) measure 6 of A Section: Ab7 or Ebm6.
"All Of Me" (in C) measure 26: Bb7 or Fm6. Here are two common ways to handle that particular section:
FMaj7 | Fm6 or Fm7 | Em7 | A7 | etc... or:
FMaj7 | Fm7 Bb7| CMaj7 | A7 |
2) The bVII7 occurs after a temporary modulation to the ii (Supertonic). The purpose is still to take us back to the I chord-- swiftly and efficiently. Notice that ii7 happens to be the relative minor of IV...?
"Stella By Starlight" (Ab7 in measure 21)
"It Could Happen To You" (in Eb: Db7 measure 10)
"I Should Care" (Bb7 in measure 8)
3) bVII7 functioning as the bII7/VI:
bVII7 may also function as the Tritone Substitution of V7 of VI. This is the case when we approach the VI7 chord from a 1/2 step above, instead of from a P5th above. I find it easier to think of the chord as bII7 of VI.
In "The Days Of Wine And Roses" (measure 2) Eb7 goes down a 1/2 step to resolve into the VI7 chord: it is the bII7 of VI.
The tune "Donna Lee" (in Ab) will provide an example of both the bVII7 and the bII7/VI functions, as we find the chord Gb7 in 2 rather distinct situations:
--second half of measure 1: Gb7 is just a passing-chord, and it resolves into F7. We will then call it bII7 of F7 (or Tritone-Sub of V7 of F7).
--measure 10: after the short modulation to DbMaj7 (the IV chord) Gb7 goes back to AbMaj7 (the I chord). It functions as the bVII7.
And how about in "Lady Bird"? There is no real modulation here... The tune starts with 2 measures of CMaj7 immediately followed by Fm7- Bb7 (measure 10) and then back to Cmaj7.
SCALE OF CHOICE FOR THE bVII7:
The preferred scale for the bVII7 chord is MIXOLYDIAN #4 aka LYDIAN-DOMINANT. It is the 4th Mode of Melodic Minor and its extensions are as follows: 7(9 #11 13). The #11 is particularly important because it is diatonic to the key, as are the other 2 extensions. An Altered Dominant sound would not be appropriate for neither a bVII7 nor a bII7/VI.
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