Using Garritan Jazz & Big Band
by Chuck Israels

Lesson 4 - Harmony

Making the connection

Once the outside parts have been arranged, the next step is to fill in inner voices that provide a connecting texture between them. There are important considerations of range in fulfilling this role. If one of the inner voices descends too low, its harmonics affect our ears in a way that can create confusion with the bass notes, so the practical lower limit for an inner voice to fulfill its function in knitting together the outside voices is D or D flat below middle C. The upper limit for this function is about a 12th higher. In most circumstances, inner voices that are functioning as the harmonic glue reside in this range, more often towards the bottom than the top.

These inner voices function in a jazz context in nearly the same way that the alto and tenor voices work in a 4-part chorale. They move from one chord tone to another with maximum efficiency and the least melodic motion. The assumption here is that the listener’s attention is to be directed primarily towards the melody and secondarily towards the way the bass line interacts with it. If the inner voices move beyond the next adjacent chord tone in moving from one chord to the next, there will be a distracting excess of movement that will change the texture from one that is primarily homophonic to one that leans towards polyphony. In this instance, we are seeking to create the right kind of homophonic texture.
In comparing the way jazz inner voices work with how those voices function in the “basic training” exercises of classical 4-part chorales, one important difference emerges. The basic unit of classical harmony is the triad. The basic unit of jazz harmony is a 4 voice 7th chord. This provides additional target notes for satisfying resolutions with the result that what are thought of as correct resolutions for leading tones (the 7th scale degree) in classical harmony, are changed in a jazz context. Some pitches that resolve upwards in classical harmony resolve downwards in jazz.

Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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Since the chord roots are usually in the bass part, and the melody is free to move about using any chord tone or non-chord color tone, the function of the inner voices is to establish the sound of the rest of the harmony. In order for a jazz chord to sound complete, it needs a root, here supplied by the bass note, a 7th and a 3rd. So the inner voices are normally selected from these two pitch possibilities.
(In some major and minor chords, the 6th degree takes the place of the 7th degree.)
The simple principle is to move from one chord to the next with as little movement as possible in the inner voices. That’s the basic principle, but it breaks down when more complex chords come into play. When that happens, some voices that might stay in place on common tones as chords change, instead move to other, nearby pitches. (Suggested rules will follow.) Inner voices rarely move more than a step at a time and as simple as that principle is, it takes practice to achieve consistency in moving those voices correctly from chord to chord. Learning how the voice leading works in creating “shell” voicings (chords that contain the root, 3rd and 7th) can lead to deeper understanding of the workings of more complex and colorful jazz harmony.

Here are some guidelines for learning to create shell voicings:
  • Include root, 3rd, and 7th.
  • Omit 5ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths.
  • Keep the root on the bottom.
  • Keep the 3rds and 7ths above D, (D@)third line, bass clef.
  • Keep the lower note (of the 3rds and 7ths) within the octave below D above middle C.
  • When the root is in the melody, substitute the 6th for the Maj. 7th.
  • Tonic minor chords may sometimes appear as triads (1,3,5 or 1,5,3).
  • (Minor triads are richer than major triads because of the inherent conflict between the sounded minor 3rd and the major 3rd harmonic that is created by the root of the chord.)

Voice Leading Principles

When the roots move by 4th or 5th (including augmented 4ths and diminished 5ths), the 3rd moves to the 7th and the 7th moves to the 3rd.

When the roots move by step, all voices move by step in the same direction (parallel). The 3rds and 7ths remain in the same relative position.

Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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When the roots move by 3rds, parallel motion is most common, but switching voices is acceptable and sometimes useful in order to re-align the voicing.

When it becomes necessary to switch voicings in order to avoid range problems, it is most gracefully done within the duration of one chord.

Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score

Ignoring these principles will result in awkward and unattractive voice leading.

Adding voices

When adding pitches to create a denser inner voice texture, the first thing to realize is that the existing voice leading remains the same in all respects. The new pitches have their own added voice leading tendencies, but the original voices, (the 7ths and the 3rds), remain where they were and continue to follow the same voice leading they had before the addition of new pitches.

Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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As voices are added to the texture, the possibilities of harmonic variety and color in the accompaniment are geometrically increased.

(These are used for accompanying textures and line thickening techniques when the root is sounding in another instrument or is simply omitted. If the bass line has been well chosen, the ear will accept the logic of the voice leading even in the absence of the bass notes.)
Include the 3rd and 7th, and one extra pitch selected from: the root, 9th, 5th or 13th.

Space chords in order to avoid minor 2nds between the top two voices.
Remember to keep the lowest note above D, third line, bass clef and the highest notepreferably below G above middle C. (F would be an even better upper limit.) This register is effective for many orchestration possibilities.

When the roots move by 4th or 5th (including augmented 4ths and diminished 5ths), roots and 9ths lead to 5ths and 13ths, 5ths and 13ths lead to roots and 9ths. All other voiceleading rules apply.

In all the above and following cases, any note that stands in for a basic chord tone (6th for major 7th, #11 for 5th or major 3rd, 11th for 5th on minor chords, etc.) replaces it.

This means that an E on a G13 DOES NOT stay on the same pitch when resolving to Cmaj7, but resolves to the same place the note it replaces (D) does, which is to stay on D (9th) or move to C (root).

Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score

Chords whose roots move by 2nd:
3 to 3,
5(13) to 5(13),
7 to 7,
1(9) to 1(9).
(In other words, parallel motion.)
Chords whose roots move by 3rd:
Move voices in parallel, or as in movement by 4th or 5th.

4 note voicings are created by adding omitted pitches from the previous list (adding 11th in minor chords or #11th in major or dominant chords as an option) over, under, or between existing voices. Remember to maintain voice leading.

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Coming Next Lesson: Lesson 5 - Harmony (continued)