Tip #142 – Mindfulness of Harmonic Intervals in Two-Part Density

Two-Part Density, as we have talked about before, is two different melodic lines (either in counterpoint or in compliment to each other) played together at the same time.

For those that are nitpicky about everything that they write, here is a way to look at your two-part density in mindful reflection of what note to choose.

First, are the two notes chord-tones to the harmony (either the root, third, fifth, or seventh) or tension tones? Mixture of both?

Second, do the harmonic intervals between the two melodic lines give the desired effect?:

  • Unions – overlapping consonant blend
  • Seconds – dissonant
  • Thirds – consonant, especially if it is a chord-tone
  • Perfect Fourth – hollow, and slightly dissonant
  • Perfect Fifth – hollow, consonant
  • Tritone – very dissonant
  • Sixths – consonant, especially if it is a chord-tone
  • Sevenths – dissonant, but can work well if it is a chord tone

Being conscious of these two ideas of chord-tones and interval effect can help strengthen your two-part density writing.

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Tip #138 – Using Random Modulations in Length

Say you wanted to get from one key area to another in a certain amount of measures:

What would you personally do? Keep in mind that there are many different possibilities on filling in those empty measures.

One way is my using any random pairs of chords, moving by root of a fifth or a step in motion – with ending by a fifth or half-step motion in the bass at the key change.

It would look like as such:

Once again, keep in mind that this is simply a tip as well as an option for an interesting way to modulate. Personally, when I first read about this idea, I wasn’t fully convinced. However, it is still worth experimenting with.

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Tip #137 – Simplifying Harmony to a Pedal Point

Say you have a beginning of a new musical work like this below:

As of right now, there is nothing wrong with it, but it can sure use some development and expansion.

However, what if you didn’t like the idea of the harmony jumping from chord to chord each measure? What can you do?

One tip I learned is that you can reduce the harmony down to a single melodic (or harmonic) pedal point based on either the first of fifth scale degree of the scale/mode.

So, a revised version of creating a stagnant pedal on those two scale degrees look as such:

Play both examples above, and listen to how they both sound “complete” in a way.

Still, the pedal point does not always have to be in the bass. Take a look at what is done here:

A pedal based on the arpeggiation of a harmony built on the fifth scale degree is play continuously over the same melody. And even though the melody itself suggests chord changes to that of the original, the simplified pedal works great harmonically with everything.

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Tip #136 – Plurality in Chord Substitution

In Western classical music theory, there are three groups of “harmonic areas,” that being:

  • Tonic
  • Pre-dominant
  • Dominant

Jazz theory expands upon this by assigning a specific chord/function to each of these harmonic areas:

  • I for Tonic
  • ii for Pre-dominant
  • V for Dominant

Not only do these chords and types word as specific harmonic areas, but they can also be used as diatonic passing chords in certain harmonizing situations.

That being said, it seems a bit boring that music is reduced down to the I, ii, and V chords. What about the other diatonic chords? Do they fit any purpose?

Well, here comes the idea of plurality – that because certain chords share multiple notes with each other, that they can be interchangeable. Take a look below:

See how both the iii and vi chord can function as a tonic I. Plus, the IV works as a pre-dominant because it shares a lot of chord tones with ii. And vii is interchangeable to V.

So now, we can potentially revise this as:

  • I , iii , and vi for Tonic
  • ii and IV for Pre-dominant
  • V and vii for Dominant

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Tip #132 – The 373 or 737 Voice Leading

In situations where you want to use smooth voice leading over progressions that utilize the circle of fifths movement, the 373 (or 737) voice leading can help.

It can be used as a melody or inner voice. Regardless of what you choose, you start by putting the 3rd (or 7th) of the chord in the top voice. From there, place below the 7th (or 3rd), and then repeat the top note.

Usually, the lowest note is the root, and occasionally the 5th or 9th of the chord can be added for extra color.

From there, you resolve the chord into the next harmony within the circle of fifths progression by doing as such:

Try it out and feel how it sounds. This words great for open parallel movements.

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Tip #127 – Cheat-Sheet for Harmonic Lead-Ins

Say that you have a repetitive chord progression in your composition. Everything sounds good, but you want an introduction that is harmonically new… but at the same time leads into the main chord progression harmony.

Below, I have included a condensed “cheat-sheet” of options on what chords you begin a composition with and what are the best lead-ins before it:

Of course, these are just options that I have read about in discussion. They may or may-not work with your composition. Still, it is worth a try.

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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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