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©2000 James Walker

(This lesson is the second of three lessons dedicated to the subject of reharmonization.)

Last month's lesson focused on "non-functional" ways to embellish existing harmony.  This month's lesson delves into the topic of functional harmony, presenting ways to reharmonize a passage by adding chords to a progression.

One common reason to add chords is to harmonize melody notes which are defined as "non-chord tones" in relation to the original harmony.  This simple passage is a perfect candidate for such reharmonization:

ex. 1

In relation to Cmaj7, the second note of this line ("F") is clearly a non-chord tone.  While it still functions melodically (as a passing tone), the fact that it does not fit harmonically offers one a clear opportunity to change the harmony.  

The process involved here is known as "tonicization," or "targeting" - the chord corresponding to a certain melody note is "targeted" for approach by some other chord.  The chord which is introduced must 1) suit the melody note in question, and 2) logically approach the chord which follows it.

There are many chords which may approach a tonic chord, utilizing a variety of root movements.  For the moment, let's look at two common options:  dominant chords and diminished chords.

In this example, the second pitch is reharmonized with the V7 chord of C, which is G7.  What was a non-chord tone is now a chord tone, relative to the G7 chord:

ex. 2

play MIDI file: download MIDI file

Note the root movement as the G7 resolves to the Cmaj7:  up a perfect fourth.  Another common resolution for a dominant chord is down by minor second:

ex. 3

play MIDI file: download MIDI file

Another option is to insert a diminished seventh chord, again resolving to whatever the targeted sonority is.  Here, a B diminished 7 chord is used prior to the targeted chord; note that once again, the pitch "F" is now transformed into a chord tone, relative to the new chord:

ex. 4

play MIDI file: download MIDI file

Tonicization may be implemented not only with a single chord, but with a series of chords.  As before, the targeted chord is selected first, and the progression is worked out in a backwards fashion, starting at the end of the progression and working back towards the beginning.  As with the one-chord tonicization demonstrated above, the original melody pitches will indicate some of the harmonic options inherent in a phrase.  Take this melody for example:

ex. 5

Even though the melody notes preceding the final pitch of the phrase may be analyzed as chord tones relative to the existing harmony, one may make the creative decision to reharmonize them.  Here, the phrase is reharmonized with a series of ii-V's:

ex. 6

play MIDI file: download MIDI file

Thus far, the reharmonization examples have utilized fairly standard resolutions.  However, deceptive cadences are fair game as well.  Here are some examples of deceptive resolutions of V7 chords; one may find even more deceptive cadences by examining the standard jazz repertoire, as well as the practices of "classical" theory and harmony.

root movement


up perfect fourth

G7  Cmaj7

up major second

G7  Amaj7

up minor second

G7  Abmaj7

down minor second

G7  F#maj7

down minor third

G7  Emaj7

Now, here is the same melody used in the last example, but with a more colorful reharmonization:

ex. 7

play MIDI file: download MIDI file

Once one has decided on a given progression, the voice leading inherent in that progression is the next concern.  Observe this example:

ex. 8

play MIDI file: download MIDI file

Notice that the melodic movement of the inner voices is acceptable, but it could be better.  Remember that interesting melodic motion in the interior voices is a crucial element of harmony, and (in your author's humble opinion) is more important than a mathematically-selected chord progression.  Here is the same example, with the harmony altered to enhance the melodic movement of those voices, as well as the bass line:

ex. 9

play MIDI file: download MIDI file

Compare the melodic lines of the inner voices of this example. compared to the previous one.  While the top two lines are unchanged, the next two (middle staff) have stronger melodic integrity.

One may choose to use harmony which is as dissonant or consonant as one wishes.  It is common, however, to balance the dissonance of one's reharmonization against the dissonance or consonance of the existing melody.  Usually, a very diatonic melody lends itself well to active harmonies, while a very dissonant melody requires the stability afforded by simpler harmony.

The more one explores the art of reharmonization, the more readily available these options become, whether one is composing, arranging, or improvising.  As with all other music theory, the final success or failure of this work will be determined by how good the music sounds.

(NOTE:  July's lesson will explore reharmonization techniques accomplished by substituting new chords in the place of the existing harmony.)

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