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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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January 31, 2013 | Best of JM: The road to harmonic sophistication

Enjoy the popular archive material below.
February 7, 2008 | The road to harmonic sophistication


Time for a little philosophy here. We're going to go out on a limb and suggest the most effective way to "broaden" a folk/bluegrass musician to more harmonically complex music, and that would include Pop, Broadway, Classical, Cerebral Folk, Brazilian and Contemporary Praise and Worship music, would be to pick up a jazz chord "vocabulary." It's there in the extended chords (Maj7, +11, m7b5), the poly-tonalites (Am7/D, F/G), and the rapidly changing tonal centers and cadences (ii V7 I). Jazz can actually be a broad genre category, and it's influence is felt in all these other classifications, as well.

Think your typical three chord Rock and early American Folk. The 'IV V I' cadence so common in the pristine diatonic nature of this simple music is closer to jazz than you might think. So you're playing in the key of A, your main chords would be D, E, and A, already a 'IV V7 I' (Roman Numerals based on the notes of the A major scale). Chord tones would be:
IV = D F# A
V = E G# B
I = A C# E

If it were jazz, we'd spell this out as 'ii V7 I':
Ii (ii7) = B D F# A
V (V7) = E G# B D
I = A C# E

Note in the first two chords how similar the chord tones are.

Ever play though any Bach compositions? What is profound here is how jazz-like his music can be, transparent frequent tonal center shifts with all kinds of variations on the 'ii V7 I" cadence. You can clearly detect aurally and visually (music notation) shifting tonal centers. Brazilian Choro (and American Ragtime) is similar, and both genres can be invaluable in sharpening harmonic analysis skills.

We mentioned the varieties of suspended chords in a MandolinSessions article, see Keeping in Suspense: A look at "Sus" chords and variations. Those who are playing contemporary Christian music churches today know all too well the Sus4, the Add9, the x2 chords. Today's cerebral folk artists are no strangers to these chords either, the "anything but a 3rd" approach to folk.

You'll notice a bit of a paradigm shift here at JazzMando as we retool the website for broader significance in today's music. While our first love has been, and remains the basic of jazz vocabulary, we will continue to reach out and try to extrapolate its significance to other genres as well.

It's all part of our master conspiracy; making mandolin mainstream!

The ii-V-I chord progression
Middle ground; reading jazz fake books
'ii V7 I' Home Positions
Secondary Dominants

Posted by Ted at January 31, 2013 8:55 AM

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