Tip #120 – Writing and Building Polychords

Polychords are when multiple chords (particularly triads) are played at the same time. They are used to expend the harmony and offer an interesting blend of acoustic colors.

While there is no limit to the combined chord qualities of the number of chords used to build a polychord, typically people make polychords just out of two triads.

Below is a representation of a poly chord with the proper notation (similar to a fraction sign):

Notice how this polychord above can also be written as a Bb13 chord with no 7th.

That being said, some polychords can ultimately be jazz chords (and this term is used lightly, as no chord belongs exclusively to a genre of music) with upper extensions. So, that is up to you, the composer, to play around with triadic combinations.

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Tip #116 – Key Change with a Predictable Melody

Once you established an “earworm” melody in the listener’s… ears of course, you have the ability to pull out the rug from underneath them and do a key change.

How?

Well, first take a look at the composition below:

Say that the first four measures is the original motif/chorus/theme… whatever you want to call it. We know that on every repeat the second measure of the four measure pattern the melody is an A4.

However, that pitch can be harmonized in a multitude of ways. Looking back at the example above, the pitch is now harmonized with an A major triad instead of an A minor triad. This chord then acts as a IV chord in a IV-V-I progression taking us to the key of E Major.

This sounds smooth to the ear because we were already expecting that A to happen… just not the other notes around it.

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Tip #115 – Altering the Fifth of a Chord

One thing you can do to make a simple harmonic progression more interesting is by altering the fifth of the triad chord.

Most people think adding upper extensions like the 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th, are the only way to make a chord harmony more interesting, but altering the inner core of the triadic chord itself is a great way.

Take a look at the progression below:

Notice how the simple I-ii-V-I progression was repeated again but with a b5 of a #5 (or both!).

Some alterations way not work, so an in-depth discussion on what is the correct way to alter certain types of chords will be done in the future.

Till then, experiment!

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Tip #109 – Key Change with Chromaticism

In the past, we have talked about using a key change by transposing an entire section of the song by an interval. This interval can usually range from a m2 to a m3.

Today we will go more in-depth with the similar idea of using chromaticism to create a key change.

Study the example below:

As we get to the V chord of the composition, we get a pull back to the tonic. However, that pull is “redirected” an is instead used in a chromatic pull towards a new chord outside of the original key – that also become the new tonic as well.

So for today’s tip, experiment with the resolving tendencies of the V chord and how with chromatic motion a composition can get to a new key.

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Tip #107 – Dominant Chords Resolving Onto Themselves

I noticed this interesting chord progression idea in some heavy metal riffs.

Usually, a V chord resolves to I – that is something we know happens commonly in music.

However, for today’s tip, we will talk about how the dominant chord can resolve to a minor chord version of itself, containing the same root.

Observe the progression below:

Notice how we set up for a cadence in F# minor with the C#7 chord. However, it resolves to a F#7 chord. We think that we have possibly modulated to B Major/minor, or started a circle of fifths progression – but no! Instead, the F#7 chord resolves to a F# minor triad.

With good voice leading, this can work very smoothly. Most of the chord notes are kept the same – only difference being the change from the major third to a minor third, which is just a half-step.

This creates a “deceptive” resolution (and I use this term loosely because there is already a term for a “deceptive cadence”) while smoothly creating momentum back to the minor tonic area**.

**Note, this progression only works if the tonic is in minor.

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Tip #105 – Weird Minor Chord Substitution

Here is another fun/interesting/odd/useful tip I learned from a professor:

Say you have these chord progressions below:

What you can do for minor chords acting as a ii, iii, or vi chord in the progression is replace them as a major chord one whole-step below while keeping the bass. So, the substitution would look like such:

Now, if we were to alter the progression from before – changing the minor chords functioning as a ii, iii, or vi – we would get these new progressions:

Some of them sound odd and funky. Personally, I preferably like the ii substitution better than iii and vi, but that is just my opinion. Feel free to try it yourself and see if it expands your harmonic pallet.

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Tip #104 – Negative Harmony Reflection Over Tritone

This is the second part to the concept introduced the other day about using the idea of negative harmony, but reflecting it over a different way.

In a certain key (major in this case), you will have a tritone distance between the seventh and fourth scale degrees.

By locating the middle focal-point of the tritone (which will be the second scale degree of the major scale), you can use that as a point of reflection for a new kind of negative harmony.

So, as you can see chromatically, the second scale degree fits perfectly in between the raised seventh degree and fourth degree (assuming we are in the C major key):

Using that pitch as the centered point of reflection, we use this pattern as a way to create an alternative negative harmony:

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