Tip #92 – Common-Tone Pad Moods

When scoring a film scene or just writing a legato section in your piece that calls for sublime changes in mood, it might be a good idea to try and use a pad built on common-tone relations to achieve this. Not only does it make transitions between chords sound smoother, but it offers a new pallet of harmonic progression possibilities that best fit the feelings you are going after.

To do so, start off with any chord in mind:

Then, take a note from the preceding chord:

And make it the root of the following chord. (For this example, we are making it the root of the triad, but it can be any chord tone – even the seventh if you want to get experimental!)

Continue this process, and don’t be afraid to change up the chord qualities or adjust the inversions of the chords to best fit.

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Tip #90 – Carousel-ing Harmonic Progressions

Sometimes, it seems that popular music stays with the same chord progression and all the radio-hits are born the same way. Times, you may feel like your harmonic progressions falls into the “norm” category.

One way to break free as well as find something new and exciting is to treat your progression like a carousel.

When looking at a carousel, you see the painted ponies chasing each other in a circle. But which pony is the first? Who is ahead of this race.

Point being taken here: nothing in a cyclical pattern can be defined as being “first” or “last,” so everything can be adjusted in framework to appear as first of last.

Now, let’s take this into practice. Take this common repeated progression below:

So, like the painted ponies on a carousel, let’s imagine that a different church of the cyclical progression is really the start. We would get possibilities from the original like this:

Out of one common chord progression, we have just created three new ones to experiment with and see how they can work with your song. Play around and see what else you can come up with!


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Tip #89 – Crafting Modal Interchange from a Tone Drone

Going back to an early topic of borrowed chords and altering a harmony by changing a chord quality to its parallel major/minor – here is another way on how to view it:

Say you have a melody that you want to craft around a single note drone. In this example, the tone used will be E.

So, E what?? E major? E minor? E Dorian mode? E Mixolydian mode?

Well… why not all give them a shot?

With keeping the tone drone constant in the harmonies (either as a chord tone or upper structure tension), try changing each section of the melody to be in a different mode. Below is the example with every measure changing to a different mode corresponding to E as the center tone.


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Tip #88 – Breaking a Chord Rhythmically

Say you have a chord and a really good voicing too for a measure. It sounds great… but it is lacking a sense of motion that you desire.

Without disrupting the harmony, how do you accomplish it?

One way is by breaking apart the chord so that each of the chord members sound at different times within a period of length. You see this already in stuff like “boom-chuck” guitar accompaniment, Travis picking, arpeggiating, etc.

Besides breaking it apart, try to come up with a pattern as well for it. Below is a common pattern found in ragtime music used to break-apart a chord:

Notice that there are a few arpeggiations of single notes, and broken parts of group chords as well.


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Tip #85 – Basic Cheat Sheet to Jazz Style Harmonic Substitution

“It’s just a ii-V-I”

I heard that phrase a lot whenever I took a class in jazz or played with a jazz group. And rightfully so, as there are a lot of ii-V-I chord progressions found in jazz standards.

That being said, would jazz music get boring over time if it uses this progression over and over again? Maybe “predictable” is a better word, but the great jazz composer’s & arrangers new how to use harmonic substitutions to create interesting progressions that still resembled the original.

In the famous ii-V-I progression, the ii is the pre-dominant area. The V is the dominant area. And that leads into the I that is the tonic area.

A crash course in harmonic substitutions:

The I tonic chord can be replaced by bIII , III , IV , bVI , and VI since they all share a common tone on the tonic scale degree. In addition, minor and diminished versions of the I chord can work as well.

As for the dominant chord, they can be replaced by the dominant or major chord versions of the bII harmony. Also, they can be the dominants or tritone substitutes of the tonic area’s substitutions acting on the original.

Pre-dominant areas are more open, being the ii, iv, and tritone substitute in relation to the dominant area harmony.

Below is a compromised (but still relatively large) sheet of various combinations of the harmonic substitutions mentioned above with a few extras, based in a starting key of C:


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Tip #84 – New Paths with Multiple Harmonic Functions

You can probably recall a bunch of stories, television shows, movies, etc. where some character is on a journey. And on that journey, they come across a fork in the road that seems to lead into multiple directions. That one spot the character is in – the center of it all – branches into different pathways on where to go.

The same thing appears in music, as chords have multiple functions and various chord quality overlaps in different keys.

For example: If I play a C major triad chord, what would come next? Or better question; what key are we in? Because, a C major triad appears in multiple keys – all with different harmonic functions.

Below is a “cheat-sheet” of common chords found in music and the possible diatonic harmonic functions found in various keys:

Experiment, and see where it leads you to!


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Tip #82 – Pros of Stagnant Harmony

This will be a short & sweet tip for today; but nonetheless, an effective tip.

Composition does not always have to be about finding original harmonic progressions and innovative uses of harmony. Are they good things to do every now and then? Yes, but it is not the end-all-be-all of writing music.

Remember, using stagnant harmony (say, like a piece just using one chord) is a fair option when composing.

By writing music according to a single harmony – it allows you the composer to explore the other variable aspects of music, such as rhythms, phrasing, performance, melodic movement, lyrics, etc.

Also, it is an effective technique to convey certain emotions as well! So don’t be afraid of trying it every now and then.


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