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Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip

Robert Strait (6660) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Advanced · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

It is usually a good idea to analyze a piece of music either before you arrange it, or as you go along. Let's take a moment to look at the harmonic analysis for this first 8-bar section.

The song is in the key of F major:

Imaj7 vi-7 | ii-7 V7 | Imaj7 vi-7 | ii-7 vii-7b5 [ V7/vi ] |

vi-7 iv-6 (M.I.) | I iii-7 (P.C.) | ii-7 V7 | iii-7 vi-7 ii-7 V7 ||

The chord changes are all diatonic to the key of F major, with these exceptions:

- measure 4 contains what is known as a "secondary" dominant. A secondary dominant is a non-diatonic dominant chord having a leading tone relationship to another chord within the key other than the tonic. Often times, a secondary dominant chord will be "altered" (IOWs, it may contain altered fifths or ninths).

An altered chord is a chord containing at least one tone that is foreign or chromactic to the current key. In a dominant chord, these will be altered 9ths (b9, #9), fifths (b5, #5), or the b13. A rule of thumb to remember for later: whenever you encounter a functioning dominant chord (i.e. a dom7 chord which resolves to a chord whose root lies either a perfect fourth above or a perfect fifth below it), you can freely use any altered tensions you like on the dom7 chord. However - use care! Sometimes altered sounds will work and sometimes they won't....just use your ears to guide you! Also, be cautious of how melody notes function...often times a melody note will be a fifth, ninth, etc...so take that into account. For example, You wouldn't want to necessarily harmonize a melody note which functioned as a natural 9th with a dom7b9 chord...there is a very good chance that it won't sound very nice! If this is a bit confusing right now, don't sweat it...just continue on with the lesson, and it will probably make more sense to you later.

Using secondary dominants results in the tonicization of the chord of resolution. IOWs, the chord of resolution is percieved by your ears to be the current tonality or key center. For example, if you take the progression Cmaj E7 | Am7, your ear will percieve the A minor chord to be the new tonality or key, even though the phrase began in the key of C major.

Tonicization is the process of emphasizing a chord by making it temporarily seem like the tonic for a relatively short period of time. Usually this is accomplished by embellishing the harmony with a chord that has a dominant or leading tone relationship to the new tonic (a secondary dominant).

Since V7 chords make the chord whose root is a fourth higher (or fifth lower) sound like the tonic, we would say that it is a V7 chord of the vi- chord. The proper way to indicate this is with the following symbol: V7/vi. We would label that chord: V7/vi and call it "five of six". All secondary dominants are labeled as the V7/ of some other diatonic chord from the key, such as the V7/V, or the V7/iii.

The iii-7 chord in Fmaj is Am7. A secondary dominant is created by "altering" the b3 of the chord. C is raised to C# to create a leading tone to D, the root of the following vi- chord (Dm7). The chord now has the notes A-C#-E-G, which spell A7, a dom7 chord. If you analyze the entire last two beats of measure 4, considering E-7b5 and A7 together, you will notice we have a ii-7b5 - V7/vi change in the key of D minor. The A7 is a secondary dominant, and the E-7b5 could be analyzed as it's related ii-7b5 chord from the key of D harmonic/melodic minor. The E-7b5 is the vii-7b5 chord in the key of F major, but it is also the ii-7b5 chord in the key of D harmonic/melodic minor, so it can be analyzed either way. Even though the piece is in the key of F, we are temporarily modulating to the relative minor (Dmin) by way of a secondary dominant (A7). IOW, we are altering Am7 (which would be the iii- chord in the key of F) by raising it's third to create C#, which acts as a leading tone to D. The result is that Dmin now is made to sound like the tonic chord (the I chord), but it is a temporary modulation which only lasts half a measure.

- measure 5 contains a iv-6 chord, which is "borrowed" from the parallel, F Aeolian mode. This device is known as "modal interchange", and it refers to the use of chords in a progression which are derived from a parallel mode to the parent key. The iv- chord is often encountered as a cadence (ending), and has even been referred to as the "Beatles" ending. Of course, they didn't invent it!

- measure 6 contains an Ab-7, which is analyzed as "P.C.", which stands for "passing chord". Some may argue that this is a biii-7, which is modal interchange and is borrowed from the parallel mode of F Locrian. While this may be "technically" correct, the practical application in any progression is it's function, and it clearly functions here as a passing chord between A-7 and G-7.

So, for the most part, the first 8 bars stay very diatonic to the key of F.

Let's now take a look at the voicings used in each measure:

- Measure 1 contains an Fmaj7 and Dmin7 in the harmony. Even though the melody begins on the "and" of beat 1, don't forget that the tune still starts on the 1! Therefore, the opening Fmaj7 chord sounds on beat 1, and then the melody begins on the upbeat. The Fmaj7 voicing used allows us to easily play all three of the indicated melody notes while sustaining the chord. Notice the E note is played as the open E string. If you try to find ways to incorporate open strings in your arrangements, they will naturally have more of a pianistic and ringing quaility. You will find that you may need to finger chords slightly differently from time to time in order to allow playing of the melody notes while sustaining the chord. A common fingering device to use is the "barring" of a particular finger (usually the index) across the strings at a single fret. Try it througout this lesson (you will have to use it here in measure one on the Fmaj7 and also on the Dm7 chords). Speaking of the Dm7, you will notice two different voicings for the Dm7 chord. The reason I chose to do this is the G melody note. This note is the 11th, and this voicing allows me to place that melody note on the top of my chord while still retaining a b3 in my voicing (which characterizes the chord as "minor"). Had I chosen to use just the second voicing for all four melody notes, the G note would have temporarily "replaced", or "suspended", the b3. This is perfectly acceptable, but at this point I prefer to hear the intended chord quality (minor) before making any harmonic changes (i.e. changing minor to suspended). It also allows for some additional voice-leading possibilities.

Ahhh...voice-leading. Let's pause here for a moment to discuss this concept. If you remember, on page one, I asked you to pay attention to the way the notes moved in a stepwise fashion while playing the harmonized major scale. When each of the voices of a chord moves in a stepwise fashion, independent lines are created for each voice. IOW, the progression of chords contains many independent lines which can stand melodically on their own, or they can combine to form the chord changes. When the voices of a chord lead smoothly, in a stepwise, linear fashion without many large intervallic jumps, the result is a very smooth sounding passage. The application of this concept is called "voice-leading", and it is exactly that...you are "leading" each voice to the next within the chord progression. Try to imagine that the voices of each chord are being played by different brass instruments within a horn section. In order to make a passage sound smooth, you wouldn't want any of the horns jumping all over the place playing notes. You would want each horn to play it's own melodic line that, when combined with the lines of the other horns, helps to create the harmony (the chords) in the music. This is the same type of orchestration that you should bring to your guitar playing. If we look for ways to lead the voices of each chord to the next, your chord-melody arrangements will be more playable and will take on a smoother, more sophisticated sound. There are many devices we can use to help us acheive this, as you will see in the coming pages as I continue to develop this chord-melody arrangement.

- measure 2 is harmonized using Gm7 and C7 voicings which are directly from the harmonized major scale voicings on page 1.

- measure 3 is identical to the phrase in measure 1.

- measure 4 contains 2 beats of Gm7, followed by an Em7 on beat 3 and an A7 on beat 4 (we are heading toward Dm, as discussed in the analysis above). The first Gm7 voicing is from page one's harmonized major scales. The second voicing is one which was introduced on the previous page, and you should recognize it as the same shape we have used for the Dm7 in measures 1 and 3. The Em7 on beat 3 also uses this shape. The A7 is a new voicing:


I'm sure this voicing is obvious to you as a bar chord shape. It has the b7 as the top voice. Stop for a moment and check out another set of voicings for the harmonized major scale which utilize bar chord fingerings and the use of the fretting hand thumb (for the root of the maj7 chords):

(in the key of F)


- measure 5 has the now familiar Dm7 voicing, which is followed by an interesting chord: Bbmi6/Db. Let's talk about this one for a moment. Often times when a lead sheet contains one or more "slash chords" (a chord over a bass note), the writer is trying to imply a bass line. Such is the case here. The main harmonic quality of the chord is min6 (the iv-6 as we discussed in the analysis), but in order to facilitate a chromatically descending bassline, the b3 of the chord is voiced in the bass. The resulting chord changes are Dm | Bbmi6/Db | F/C, and the implied bassline is D-Db-C. To play a Bbmi6 would be perfectly acceptable, and would also create the correct harmony, but the composer intended to utilize that specific bassline. The actual voicing I've used looks like this:


Bb-6 contains the notes Bb-Db-F-G, and this voicing contains all of them voiced b3-6-R-5, respectively. Although this is probably more along the lines of what the author intended, you could freely choose to use this voicing instead:


This voicing still contains the correct melody note in the top voice, and is perfectly acceptable if you prefer it's sound and the bass note movement it provides.

-measure six has an F/C chord, intended to facilitate the chromatically descending bassline as discussed. The voicing is:


It is voiced 5-R-5-R-3, respectively, and it will require that you bar your first finger across the strings at the 3rd fret to facilitate the additional melody notes.

Moving from the 6th measure into the 7th measure, the F/C chord is followed by another chromatically descending sequence, Am7 | Abm7 | Gm7. These voicings are directly from the harmonized major scales on page 1, and accomadate the melody (which also chromatically descends) perfectly. Remember, Abm7 is a passing chord between Am7 and Gm7.

-measure 7 has familiar Gm7 voicings followed by another familiar C7 voicing. The second C7 voicing is new (the melody note actually makes it a C9):


- measure 8 has Am7, Dm7, Gm7, and C7 voicings which are all very straight ahead and should be very familiar to you by now.

Whew! This tune has such a beautiful melody and harmonic structure that it sounds very pretty with our simple arrangment we have created thus far. Some may prefer this arrangement, but let's work out some variations that will demonstrate some concepts which you can apply to any harmonic sequence or arrangement.

On to the fun variations!!