Tip #161 – Cheat-Sheet for Building Large Eight-Part Chord Structures

Previously, we have talked about reimagining the idea of eight-part chord structures. Instead of thinking the chords as one big harmony, we can mentally divide the chord into two different chords at smaller harmonic density – and then from there, arrange the two chords into unique voicings.

Below is a cheat-sheet on how to build these large chord structures:

To read the cheat-sheet, start by deciding what chord harmony/family you want to do in the left-most column. Then, you will notice that each selection is made up of two horizontal rows. The bottom horizontal rows are chord harmonies that work best for the bottom half. Likewise, the upper horizontal row is of chord harmonies that work best for the upper half.

If the chord is highlighted in light blues, that means that it is most optimal to use if you want the root to be in the melody.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Tip #159 – Reframing Thoughts on Eight-Part Chord Structures

Say that you are being extravagant and want to incorporate a chord like this into your composition:

This is a D7(b9 b13) chord with the doubling of the root at the top.

Instead of thinking of this as one big chord, you can divide it in half and get this result:

Now, you have a D7 chord on the bottom with an Ebmaj7 chord above it.

Thinking of large chords at a micro level can help with voicing. Now that we know that the D7(b9 b13) chord is really just a combination of the two chords (D7 and Ebmaj7), we can essentially “divide and conquer” with solving how we want to voice the chord harmony:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

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!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

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:


Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Tip #79 – Cheat-Sheet to Movable Inner Voices under a Stagnant Melody

This long title may seem intimidating as to what I’m going to explain – but it is some common sense that you were probably aware of.

Say you have a composition with a beautiful legato melody and lush harmonies to accompany it. However, it lacks in motion and you feel that some of the inner voices need to move. At the same time, you don’t want to take away focus from the melody or change the harmony too much.

Below, I have provided a cheat-sheet on inner voice movement possibilities:

To read and assess this, first find what chord quality you have. Then, determine from your composition what is your melody note in relationship to the chord harmony. That will be on the left-hand side of the cheat-sheet. From there, look horizontally across to see the advised subtle inner voices that can be moved chromatically or diatonically.

Play around and see what best fits your musical work.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Tip #78 – Trying Some Chromatic Approach in Harmonization

How would you harmonize the melody below?:

It can most certainly be done it a multitude of ways, but for today’s tip, let’s talk about using 4-way close harmonization. That would look like as such for the chord tones:

However, we have one note left out. The non-chord tone in a passing motion.

Because this non-chord tone is approaching the next note (which is a chord tone) by a half-step, we can consider using a chromatic approach technique to the harmonization.

Simply, have the entire harmonization be an approach by half-step to the landing chord tones. It would look like as such:

Sure, this may go against some principles of avoiding parallel harmony, but…

  1. It sounds good.
  2. You are the composer; so do what YOU want


Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Thinking Out Loud – Appropriation of Jazz Music

Forewarning: I am not here to go in-depth on the cultural appropriation of jazz music. Mostly, because jazz – like any form of music – is a shared musical experience for EVERYONE to enjoy.

However, I do want to use this time to speak my mind about how in some cases we have taken the jazz idiom and chained it in shackles to the normality of Western European musical standards.

When people learn a jazz tune for the first time, it might go in one of two ways:

  1. Out of the Real Book, with a fake sheet giving the lead lines and approximated chord changes. From there, the jazz ensemble would follow the typical form of playing the head (once or twice), followed by everyone taking a solo, and ending with the top of the head again.
  2. From an arrangement, usually intended for a school jazz band. This gives the ensemble “training wheels” for learning the typical form of the jazz tune while predicating how the “improvisational” part will sound.

But at some point, the training wheels do need to come off.

While abnormous amount of annotation (including notation of the chord structures, melody, repeat signs, markings, structure, accents, etc.) might be needed if the composition is a lengthy/complex jazz tunes that need these confinements in order to maintain sense of unity, it is truly superfluous to the roots of jazz.

If a performer cannot read from a lead sheet and talk to the band about the structure of who while take the first rounds of soloing, then this is a shame to how literal jazz has become – being reduced from the previous art form it was to now a commodity in the lenses of Western European music.

Just thinking out loud.

Bryan Waring
Bryan M. Waring