Tip #87 – Using a Break, Be it Three Kinds

Break can mean a couple of different things in music, depending on the genre’s jargon.

One can use a break as an idea of a rest. A break – a sudden pause – in the music that can be used for dramatic effect or a place for breathing.

A break can be literal, using sounds of something crashing or breaking apart. This can be performed live, or used as sample.

Or, the most conventional meaning – where the rest of the ensemble stops playing (or holds back greatly in dynamics) while a single instrument takes a solo line. This can be used to surprise the listener while bringing attention to a specific sound source before the rest of the ensemble returns.

Try putting it into your new composition!


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Tip #86 – Backbeat Inclusion

This will be a short tip today.

In most music, especially those in the cannon of classical music, there is a hierarchy of which beats within a measured grouping get the most emphasis – and that tends to be beats 1 and 3 of a 4/4 time signature.

As blues, jazz, R&B, soul, etc. became more popular, so did the use of a backbeat – which is emphasizing beats 2 and 4 instead.

Funk came around, and the primarily emphasis on beat 1 returned back into the prominence of popular music.

And then disco/EDM with the classic snare hits on 2 and 4 revamped the backbeat.

So…

Point being, not all music has to tend to the “classical” pattern of emphasizing beats 1 and 3. And, one can even experiment with the backbeat as well. How about you just emphasize beats 2 and 5 within a 6/4 measure? Play around with it.


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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 #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


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Tip #77 – Borrowing Chords from Parallel Keys

Take a look at this diatonic progression and harmony below:

How can we spice this up a bit and make it more interesting?

One way is by borrowing chords from its parallel major or minor key. Simply, if it is a major triad – make it a minor. And vice versa.

Note: it doesn’t have to be done to every chord. Be tasteful about where you want to add a borrowed chord. Also, in some cases too, you might need to alter the melody to fit more in-tune with the harmony around it.


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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