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Harmonic Rhythm – The Natural Flow of Chord Changes

Posted by admin | Posted in Harmonic Concepts, I Got Rhythm! | Posted on 18-03-2010

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Hmm…the blog post title sounds like a mashup of my two favorite musical elements! Well, it is…but leaning more towards the rhythmic aspects of when and where chords move. In other words, harmonic rhythm refers to the rate of chord change or how often one chord progresses to another.

Most songs or compositions are written in a form in which the total number of bars is divisible by two. Hence, we naturally tend to hear and feel music in 2-bar phrases. For example, a standard 32-bar song form can be thought of as a structure of four sections with  eight bars each. Refer to the lead sheet of “Autumn Leaves below”:

This torch song has a classic A-A-B-C form, where each letter represents an 8-bar phrase. Within this 8-bar phrase, we can further subdivide it into a 4-bar phrase and then a 2-bar unit. The odd-numbered bars within each 8-bar phrase, i.e. Bars 1, 3, 5 & 7, are considered strong bars while the even-numbered ones, i.e. Bars 2, 4, 6 & 8, are considered weak bars, hence, forming a “Strong-Weak, Strong-Weak, Strong-Weak, Strong-Weak” dichotomy within the 8-bar musical phrase. This means that a chord on a weak bar will always have a natural pull back to a strong bar, or a tendency to move towards or resolve into a chord in the strong bar.

This is why it is common to see II-V-I progressions that fall on a 4-bar “Strong-Weak-Strong-Weak” phrase. Chords I and II are commonly found on odd-numbered or strong bars, while the V7 chord with its natural need to resolve is usually found on the weak bars.

Examples from “Autumn Leaves” are the following progressions: Ami7/// D7/// Gma7/// //// and F#mi7(b5)/// B7/// Emi/// ////. You will also notice the duration of each chord before it changes, i.e. Chords II and V have the exact same number of beats (4 beats each) while Chord I usually has twice as many (8 beats).

This principle also holds true when the phrase breaks down to a basic 2-bar unit.  A II-V-I progression within a 2-bar phrase usually sees Chords II and V getting two beats each while Chord I lasts for four beats. Within a 2-bar phrase, Beats 1 and 5 are the strong beats, while Beats 3 and 7 are the weak beats. Refer to the lead sheet of “Blue Moon” above.

Two-bar phrase examples from “Blue Moon” are the following progressions: Fmi7/ Bb7/ Eb/// in Line 5 and Abmi7/Db7/ Gb/// in Line 6. You will also notice the duration of each chord before it changes, i.e. Chords II and V have the exact same number of beats (2 beats each) while Chord I usually has twice as many (4 beats).

This applies to all contemporary music.  It is common for chords to change every two beats within a 4/4 bar or measure, or sometimes a chord may last for a whole bar or two. Refer to Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” below:

The 2-bar phrase with its harmonic rhythm is consistent with the “Strong-Weak” concept that we have been discussing, i.e., Eb5/Absus2/ Bbsus///, the chords on Beats 1 & 3 last for two beats each, while on Beats 5, the chord duration is twice as long, four beats.

For music in 3/4 time, it is very common to see a chord lasting for a whole bar, or if there are two chords, they will always be placed on Beat 1 and Beat 3. Refer to Miles Davis’ version of’ “Someday My Prince Will Come” above:

The whole piece has only chord changes on every first beat of the bar, except for one. Look at the last line: the first chord Cmi7 on F bass lasts for two beats and changes to F7 on Beat 3.  Also check out this classic A-B-A-C form in terms of its harmonic rhythm. The “Strong-Weak” principle is strictly adhered to.

Occasionally, you will come across some pieces that break this “Strong-Weak” rule of harmonic rhythm. However, this does not happen consistently and eventually “rights” itself along the way. For example, take a look at the very popular “Fly Me to the Moon” below:

The progressions: Ami7/// Dmi7/// G7/// Cma7/ C7/ and Fma7///Bmi7(5)///E7///Ami7/A7/. The G7 and E7 chords in both these 4-bar phrases are definitely prominently on the strong bars while the resolution chords Cma7 and Ami7, respectively, are on the weak bars. Furthermore, both dominant 7th chords occupy four beats to their counterparts’ two – truly a reverse of what we have learned. These are occasional exceptions to the rule.

You will notice that eventually at the close of the 4-bar phrase, the C7 (on the weak bar and beat) does resolve to the FMa7 on the strong bar, and so does the A7 to the Dmi7. The following next two four-bar phrases “right” themselves by employing the natural harmonic rhythms: Dmi7/// G7/// Cma7/// Emi7/ A7/ and Dmi7/// G7/// Cma7/// Bmi7(b5)/ E7/.

So make the most of this knowledge that you have about harmonic rhythms and ensure that your chord changes fall on the correct places within the bar!

(All music sheets used here are only for educational purposes.)

 

 

Top 5 Pieces For a Beginner Jazz Pianist

Posted by admin | Posted in Jazz For You | Posted on 12-11-2009

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Nicole H. E. Lee, EzineArticles.com Basic Author

By Nicole H. E. Lee

Learning how to play jazz piano for the first time is exciting yet very intimidating if one starts with the wrong songs. Selecting pieces that are melodically pleasing, rhythmically simple, harmonically easy (as in the chord changes) and all structured within a straightforward form is very important if a beginner jazz pianist is to gain any significant performance result.

Hence, the following pieces all comprise the elements just mentioned above and, in my opinion, are very suitable for any novice jazz player. Interestingly, these pieces will eventually have to be among the standard tunes in any true jazzer’s repertoire.

The five songs are: (listed in alphabetical order)

1. Autumn Leaves: Beautiful melody in simple rhythms; II-V-I chord changes in the key of G major and its relative E minor; 32-bar AABC form. This is a “must know” jazz standard, often played in ballad and/or medium swing style. It is also common to find this song represented in G minor.

2. Blue Bossa: Descending melody line with lightly syncopated latin rhythms; II-V-I in C minor and Db major; 16-bar AB form. This piece is great in two ways: it is a great introduction to bossa nova style and also chord changes in minor key.

3. Fly Me to the Moon: Another beautiful descending melodic line with a rhythm that can be interpreted in swing or latin; mainly diatonic and related chords from C major; another 32-bar ABAC form. An old Sinatra favorite and, of course, repopularized by Michael Buble, this song not only has a catchy melody, but the chord progression also moves beautifully in the cycle of fifths.

4. So What: Simple modal melody in the bass in flowing 8th rhythms; D Dorian modal chords; classic 32-bar AABA, starting with 16 bars of D Dorian, moving up a half step to 8 bars of Eb Dorian and back to the last 8 bars of D Dorian again. Miles Davis’ popular piece is an excellent thesis in modal studies. The beginner will learn the concept of “less is more.”

5. Summertime: A classic Gershwin blues melody in simple rhythms; mainly diatonic and related chords of D minor; 16-bar AB form. Another great minor piece and also a “must know,” with a bluesy tinge. There is an opportunity to learn about line clichés and applying them to chords Imi and IVmi.

For each song, learn the melody and play through its chord progression. Pay attention to the form and structure of the song. If possible, commit all these to memory. It will be well worth the effort and time and you will appreciate knowing the song inside out, especially once you start the improvisational aspect of jazz piano-playing!

I have been teaching piano for more than 20 years. Although classically-trained, I have always loved contemporary music. I grew up in a household filled with all types of music, from classical to jazz, Pavarotti to Sinatra, Goldberg to Grusin, pop, rock, etc. Currently residing in Singapore, I conduct private piano lessons in pop and jazz music to students of all ages, ranging from music enthusiasts, piano teachers to professional musicians. I also write a blog especially for pianists who find themselves rhythmically and harmonically challenged, and also on other interesting music and piano-related stuff.

http://www.MyPianoRiffs.com

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