How to Play 13th Chords

Jazz Chord Extensions: Dominant 13th Formula


How to formulate the 13th Chords

Chord extensions are a fundamental aspect of jazz piano playing, and they play a pivotal role in creating the rich and complex harmonic textures characteristic of the genre.

Mastering the extensions is essential for piano students who would like to speak the jazz language. However, learning how to play extended chords on piano can be challenging, as it involves the use of dissonances within our chord structure.


As piano students, we go look for extended chords in chord books or on the internet and we try to understand and memorize the complex shapes of these chords one by one.

The problem with that is that the process of memorizing each chord independently is daunting because there are simply too many of them for us to be able to memorize them all.

As a result, we end up just knowing one or two variations of each chord.

Perhaps we know how to play C13 and G13, and maybe A13. But we don’t know any of the others, like F#13, or Ab13. If someone asks us to play any of those chords, we end up, looking for the notes on the keyboard, one by one. Which of course is not good enough, because when we play we do not have time for that.


Instead of memorizing the shape chord, we need to learn the formula of the shape. That makes it much easier because instead of having to memorize 12 shapes, we just need to learn a single formula.

Today we are going to introduce a different approach to formulating the dominant 13th chords effortlessly in any key, without having to memorize each chord individually.

The 13th chord is one of the most used chords in jazz and it adds a distinctive flavor to our harmonic progressions, we can build any 13th chord on the keyboard using a simple 4-step formula.


  • Step 1: Play the Root of the Chord with your left hand.
  • Step 2: Locate the b7 of the chord.
  • Step 3: Play a Maj7 chord from the b7 with the right hand.
  • Step 4: Lower the 5th of the Maj7 chord, half-step.

This results in a C13 chord, which contains the b7, the 9, and the 13, it is a C7(9,13).

13th Chords Formula - Step 1
13th Chords Formula - Step 2
13th Chords Formula - Step 3
13th Chords Formula - Step 4
13th Chords Formula - Result

To practice the application of this formula, the accompanying video features a fun exercise designed to help piano students internalize this concept.

Additionally, you can download the exercise files including a PDF and an MP3 file. Download the files and start your practice! DOWNLOAD

If you seek a more in-depth understanding of chord extensions and their application in jazz piano, sign up for the course “Piano for the Modern Musician” Register for free CLICK HERE

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