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Exploring Maj7b5 – A Versatile Jazz Guitar Chord for a Modern Sound Part 3

By: Adam Smale

Welcome to the final installment of this three-part series on exploring the all-important Maj7(b5) jazz guitar chord.

In this lesson, you will dive even deeper into the rabbit hole as you learn more about chord substitution and discover some very useful Maj7(b5) voicings that you can use to expand your jazz guitar chord soloing and comping.


TOPIC 8: Reverse Conversion


The title alone begs the question “What do you mean by Reverse Conversion?”

What I’m referring to, is since you are substituting Maj7(b5) for all of these chords, Maj7, m7, m7(b5), 7, and 7alt, you should be able to turn the table and use each one of these chords to substitute for Maj7(b5).

Well, just when you thought your mind might have been slightly blown already, with all this formulaic thinking, counting on your fingers, counting frets, etc., the answer is, theoretically, yes!

But is it as practical as the previous substitutions you’ve previously covered in this series of articles?

Sort of, but it’s tricky to make it work.

You can do a reverse conversion with these chords, but it’s much more of a challenge to make it work in real-live, musical situation.

Let’s explore every other chord type that you’ve covered so far to try the reverse substitution idea in a practical situation.


Click for Example 8a Without Roots

Click for Example 8a With Roots

Click for Example 8b Without Roots

Click for Example 8b With Roots

Click for Example 8c Without Roots

Click for Example 8c With Roots



Reverse Conversion


Explanation of This Example:

1) Works fine because I’ve voiced the chords in a higher register.

1a) Probably wouldn’t work because it’s voiced too low. It may work if you are careful and the chord being played by everyone else is in fact a Maj7(b5) because the F# is heard as the b5th.

But, if you’re superimposing this on a regular Maj7, F#s are heard as a #11 tension and in this case the #11 is just way too low to be heard properly/clearly.

2) These chords work again because they are voiced in the upper register. However, there is no distinction between these chords and the examples in 1). Because even though in your head you may be thinking Am6, or Am6/9, in reality it’s the same notes as F#m7(b5) or F#m11(b5).

2a) You have the same problem as in 2). The notes are just an inversion of an
F#m11(b5). And now the A note is voiced too low for it to be heard as the 13th.

3) I am using a Dom7 chords and its inversions. once again the D note is voiced too low to be heard as a true 9th tension note. Matter of fact, as we continue, I have to use inversions to make it work.

3a) Better.

3b) Better, although a little upside down as fare as good voicing is concerned (in reference to the overtone series) but it might prove useful.

3c) Works the best of all because all of the tension notes (listed from low to high) #11 (F#), 13 (A), and 9 (D) are played above the root.

3d) Here I’ve added the E (3rd) to try to create more stability in the chord. But what do you notice? It’s just an inversion of an F#m7(b5) chord once again.

4) Here I’m using the reverse conversion, using Ab7alt to play against Cmaj7(b5). It kind of works, except the Ab really stands out and the upper voicing is just a Cmaj7(b5)/F#m7(b5).

I guess if no one else is playing the A natural you could get away with it for an “outside” sound. It may also be able to work as a passing chord.

4b) Here however, the Ab in this voicing is just way too low. It would just sound like you had played the wrong chord. That is to say, even if the chord in 4) would sound appropriate.
So what did we learn?

Reverse Conversion doesn’t produce very many good results.

It can work here and there, but nowhere near as full proof as superimposing Maj7(b5) in the ways we discussed in lessons 1 and 2.

One good thing is that you learned that you could still use this Reverse Conversion when composing an original piece of music, or a complete re-working of a standard.

Even though it doesn’t work when other people are playing the original chords while you use these as superimpositions, you can use it compositionally to swap-out these chords without changing the melody note anytime you have written a Maj7(b5) chord.

That’s cool, yes?

The other thing we learned is that everything boils down to a F#m7(b5), or a F#m11(b5).

So it’s just much easier to think F#m7(b5) or F#m11(b5) every time in a live playing situation. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.


Click to Hear These Chords Solo

Click to Hear These Chords Superimposed


Reverse Conversion 2



Trick: Play a m7(b5) or m11(b5) chord off of the b5th of a Maj7(b5) chord


Dictionary of Useful Maj7(b5) Jazz Guitar Chords


As the title of this lesson suggested, the Maj7(b5) is a very versatile chord.

It can be used to substitute for Maj7, m7, m7(b5), 7 and 7alt chords, which  makes for a pretty multipurpose chord if you ask me.

That nearly exhausts all the different chord qualities except the dim7 chord.

I’ve tried looking for a way to substitute a Maj7(b5) for a dim7 chord and I can’t find one.

So, let’s wrap up the final chapter this lesson with a number of Maj7(b5) voicings that are useful for substitution; in other words voicings not too difficult to grab in a hurry when applying the concepts we covered in this lesson to a real playing situation.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Maj7(b5) chords, their inversions, or string groupings. But not all Maj7(b5) chord voicings and its inversions are comfortable or quick to grab. Some even just don’t sound that great.

So I have compiled a reference list, a dictionary as it were, of 26 effective chord voicings for CMaj7(b5) that you can explore further in the woodshed.


Click to Hear String Group 1234

Click to Hear String Group 2345

Click to Hear String Group 3456

Click to Hear String Group 12355

Click to Hear String Group 2346

Click to Hear String Group 1245

Click to Hear String Group 2356

Click to Hear String Group 1256



Jazz Guitar Chord Voicings



I hope you have enjoyed discovering a more modern jazz sound with the versatile Maj7(b5) chord and how extensively you can utilize this hip chord.

What are your thoughts on the Maj7(b5) chord? Share your ideas in the comments section below.


About the Author

For more on Adam Smale visit
For more info on Adam’s book, New Approach to Scales for Guitarists, visit


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  1. richard a., October 11, 2012:

    Wow thanks! I’ve been learning so much from your site and this is one of my favorite chords. It has such a unique sound and now I can fully utilize it. Thanks again!

  2. Michael Herweg, October 11, 2012:

    Adam, Matt, this 3-part lesson is so cool! It unfolds a new world of sounds – thanks so much for this

  3. Matthew Warnock, October 11, 2012:

    Thanks Michael, glad you enjoyed the series!

  4. Matthew Warnock, October 11, 2012:

    That’s great Richard, thanks for checking out the series!

  5. Matthias, September 5, 2013:

    You won’t believe, where I found this chord: It is the second last chord in Christina Aguillera’s “Beautiful”. Obviously, also Linda Perry is a visitor of your website!

    Anyway, I found it’s sound so interesting, that I wanted to find out, where it (theoretically) is coming from. Great stuff, Matthew (even though – up to now – I only got half of it :-))

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