Tritone substitution progressions

Guitar background progression indicatedThe tritone substitution is a relative common feature in especially jazz. How this feature are used and why is explained by various analyzed examples.

Tritone is the name of the interval made up of three whole steps. For example C to G# (Ab) or G to C# (Db).

Substitution means that a chord is substituded (replaced) for another that normally isn't involved. For example is G7 often followed by C7, but by suing a tritone substitution C7 would insted be C#7 in this case. This change can also be written as I7 - #V7.

Some examples of a progression inclduing a tritone substitution:


C7 - G#7 (G#7 is the tritone substitution chord)
D7 - A#7 (A#7 is the tritone substitution chord)
E7 - C7 (C7 is the tritone substitution chord)
G7 - C#7 (C#7 is the tritone substitution chord)

In a song the tritone substitution may consist of a half bar and it could look like this:

G7 C#7 C7 G7  

C#7 can be seen as the tension chord that is resolved by C7 before turning home to the I chord.

Or as a part of a turnaround:

Am7 C#7 G7  

Here, C#7 replaces the more expected D7.

The tritone substitution can also be used in a progression with a chromatic motion:

Dm7 – C#7 – Cmaj7 (iim7 – #I7 – Imaj7)


Dm7 is the tritone substitution chord in this case (and replaces the more exppected G7).

ii - V - I with tritone substitutions in all keys

The V chord is substituted for another V chord, which root is a tritone interval away.

Key ii V I
C Dm7 Db7 Cmaj7
E F#m7 F7 Emaj7
A Bm7 Bb7 Amaj7
D Em7 Eb7 Dmaj7
G Am7 Ab7 Gmaj7
F Gm7 Gb7 Fmaj7
B C#m7 C7 Bmaj7
Bb Cm7 B7 Bbmaj7
Eb Fm7 E7 Ebmaj7
Ab Bbm7 B7 Abmaj7
Db Ebm7 E7 Dbmaj7
Gb Abm7 A7 Gbmaj7
C# D#m7 D7 C#maj7
D# Fm7 E7 D#maj7
F# G#m7 G7 F#maj7
G# A#m7 A7 G#maj7
A# Cm7 B7 A#maj7

Only seventh chords are mentioned in the table and in other examples, but it is possible to use 9th and 13th chords instead as well as altered chords.

See also ii - V - I progressions

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