Tip #157 – Orchestrating to Avoid Minor Second Dissonance

Say that you are creating a closed fifth cluster (or any other cluster as a matter of fact) like the one below:

We have talked about previously about assigning the added tone the disrupts the triadic sound to another instrument family group. However, that rule is not so easy to apply to other clusters…

…especially, even when there is a m2 sound formed in the cluster.

To best resolve around the dissonance of the m2 sound, divide up the cluster chord so that the m2 harmonic interval sound doesn’t appear within the same instrument family.

So, one way of dividing this into two voices would be:

And there you go!

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Tip #155 – Building Four-Part Closed Fifth Clusters

Once again, the title of today’s tip might sound a bit intimidating… but it is a lot more simpler than you think.

Today, we will be talking about building clusters that span over the harmonic interval distance of a perfect fifth by using only four different pitches.

Basically, to build a closed fifth cluster, you take a melody and harmonize underneath it by a perfect fifth interval. Then, you “fill in the middle” with the diatonic minor third of major fifth. So, now you have a bunch of triads. Finally, you add a note a perfect fourth below the melody note. And there you go, harmonization built from closed fifth clusters:

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Tip #154 – Cheat-Sheet for Four-Part Fourth Structures

Okay, the title may seem really confusing, but this is what it is:

This post is about how to create fourth structures (harmonies built on intervals of fourths) with four notes.

To read the cheat-sheet below, take a melody note and decide what function is it in relation to the chord. Then, you add three remaining chord member notes below it. Finally, you analyze the chord in relation to the melody note being the tonic:

So, say that I have the note A, and I want it to be the m3 of a chord:

Because A is the m3 of the chord, that means the notes below it (from highest to lowest) are E as the b7, B as the 11, and F# as the root 1. We can thus analyze this as vi 11 in the key of A major:

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Tip #153 – Dropped Voices

For the longest time, I had no idea what people meant by “use a ‘drop-2’ voicing on that chord.” That terminology was unfamiliar to me at the time. However, I am here no to tell you all so that you don’t end up in the same situation as I was of not knowing.

Dropped voicing is a simple way of creating an open position chord voicing by lowering specific notes by an octave.

First, you start with a chord (usually, in four-part density with the melody note doubled) just like the examples below:

Then to do “drop-2,” you simply drop the second voice from the top an octave down:

This can also be done as “drop-3” or “drop-4” depending on your liking of the sound. In addition, you can combine certain ones together. Most typically, arrangers use “drop-2 & 4” in their scores:

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Tip #148 – Reducing Dominant Chords to Three-Note Harmonies

Tailgating on the idea of being limited to a three-part harmony; you are going to have to make some choices if you want the sound of a dominant chord, but can only voice three notes.

To remind: a dominant chord is a major triad with a b7 interval above it (and is usually decorated with extra upper extensions as well as tension tones).

So…

Whenever the root, 9, b9, #9, 11, +11, 13, or b13 is in the melody – support it with the 3rd and b7th of the chord underneath it.

Whenever the 3rd or 5th is in the melody of the dominant chord – support it with the b7th, and the remaining 5th or 3rd.

Whenever the b7th is in the melody – support it with the 3rd and 5th underneath it.

Whenever there is an alternation or substitution in the dominant chord – keep it, but make sure the distance between the two upper notes is not a m2.

And more so…

Keep this in mind as you plan how to do a harmonic arrangement and support of your musical work.

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Tip #143 – Evaluating Your Chord Voicings

So you have the chord harmony you want to play, and you have decided which instruments to play it… now what?

Well, here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Density
  • Weight
  • Span

Now, let’s take a look at these three aspects in use with the example below (remember that the guitar is played an octave lower than written):

First, density. That has to deal with how many different pitch classes there are that make the harmony. In the example above, there are 5 different pitch classes {D – F – A – C – E} which form a Dmin9 chord. Relatively, this is more dense than a simple triadic harmony.

Next, weight. What pitch class appears the most? Even though the harmony is structured to be a Dmin9 chord, the A4 pitch is sounded in all three instruments. That means there is less weight on the root of the chord, and more on the 5th.

Finally, span. Span deals with how the dense harmony is spread throughout an octave ore more. From the example above, the range of the harmonic span goes from D3 to E5, which is more than two octaves. So, we can realize that the sound of this will be spacey – and not so condensed.

Keep these in mind as you are consciously thinking about how to voice your chords.

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