EXPLORING JAZZ ARRANGING
USING GARRITAN JAZZ & BIG BAND
INTERACTIVE EDITION

by Chuck Israels




Lesson 15 - Writing for 4 or More Voices




Adding More Voices:

TECHNIQUES FOR SECTION WRITING (SAxES, BRASS, STRINGS, MIxED GROUPS, ETC.) AND BIG BAND ENSEMBLE WRITING.

Harmonize every note of a melody, or select unison and harmonized passages carefully. (Do not jump irrationally in and out of harmony and unison within the space of a few notes.) Add notes below the melody, each chord tone in turn. Start with 4 parts. That will ensure that the entire sound of the chord is present. A 5th instrument can be added to the texture by doubling the lead voice an octave lower, or a 5th part can be added by including another color tone. Faster, more rhythmically active passages often sound best with 4 real voices, while slower passages, where there is time for the ear to appreciate individual harmonies, can better accommodate 5 part chords. (Voicings may be either “block” style with the notes assembled closely together or “open” with the notes spread further apart.)

Here’s an example of a close “block” voicing, and the same chord in an open voicing created by dropping the 2nd voice one octave.




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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Once the block style is mastered it is a relatively simple matter to learn how to open the harmony by dropping one or two of the lower voices one octave, leaving an open space in the harmony.
N.B. When opening the harmonies of dominant chords, tritones may appear between the upper voices, where they can create problems of sonority and intonation (when the melody note is either the 3rd or 7th of the dominant chord). These situations can often be resolved by substituting a dominant chord whose root is a minor 3rd away from the root of the real chord of the moment. This can provide a moment of interesting harmonic color and should be encouraged in spite of what may appear to be chromatic conflict with the prevailing harmony.


Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score



There are circumstances where avoiding tritones between the upper voices is not appropriate, and there are some situations where that is the most desirable sound. The saxophone section excerpt from David Berger’s “Monkey Business” that appears near the end of this chapter is a good example of effective intentional use of tritones between the upper voices of a passage harmonized for 5 voices.

When writing for five instruments (voices) the arranger may double the melody an octave lower for the fifth part.
(This technique was used for the Glen Miller reed section to create its distinctive sound. The famous Los Angeles group, Supersax, applied the technique to the complex chromatic contours of Charlie Parker’s music. Before that time others, including Lunceford, Ellington and Basie. Benny Goodman’s band, for example, used it consistently with its five brass, and when Goodman played clarinet with the 4 saxophones, both in closed and drop positions.)




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score




BASIC GUIDELINES FOR LINE THICKENING


  1. Put the melody note on top.
  2. Use four (or 5) different notes.
  3. Do not double notes except for the melody (an octave below).Include the 3rd and the 7th on dominant seventh chords. (When the 4th is suspended the 3rd is omitted.)
  4. The major 6th or major 7th may be added to major or minor triads for the fourth part. Do not add the major 7th when the root is in the melody. (Avoid having any note 1/2 step below the melody.) Minor 7ths are sometimes added to tonic minor chords when suggesting modal harmony.
  5. If you have the 9th, 11th, or 13th in the melody or if you use those notes to color your harmony then the following pitches are often omitted, though they may be useful in cluster voicings or when the horizontal flow of a line makes them better melodic choices.

    • When using the 9th, flat 9th, or sharp 9th, usually omit the root. (The root is sometimes used with the sharp 9th.)
    • When using the 13th, flat 13th (or sharp 5), omit the 5th.
    • When using the perfect 11th on minor chords, omit the 5th.When using the sharp 11th, omit the 5th.


Few melodies are made up of only chord tones, so it is necessary to use “passing” chords to harmonize the non-chord tones. There are several types of passing chords that will handle most situations.

1. Diminished 7th or minor 7th chords whose roots are one whole step above the basic chord.




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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2. Chromatic, “planing,” chords that move 1/2 step up or down into the basic (target) chord.




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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3. The ii7 - v7 principle in which a ii7 chord occurs between each sounding of the v7 chord. (This method produces repeated notes in some lower parts – not always acceptable and superseded by other, more modern, techniques.)




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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4. Dominant 7th chords which refer to and “target” the basic chord of the moment.




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

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As more voices are added to a thickened line texture, the resulting chords become more thoroughly descriptive of the harmony of the moment, so it becomes more important to choose the right chord for the important notes in the line.
When choosing among a series of notes in order to select which ones will be treated as chord tones and which ones will be treated as non-chord tones, observe the principle that the lower the note in the harmonic series of the BASIC harmony, the more likely that it should be treated as a chord tone.
This can be a tricky process – choosing which among a group of notes are aligned with the principle harmony, and which ones need to be treated as passing tones. It takes time to do this right, and even experienced arrangers make occasional errors, but there are some things that can help to indicate the right direction.

It may seem counterintuitive to write a phrase of music backwards (we rarely compose sentences that way) but, as musicians, we are in the rare position of being in control of the future, so working backwards from a desirable resolution and joining the end of a phrase to its beginning can produce satisfying results. It would be hard to over-emphasize the efficacy of working this way. It often produces solutions to problems that are hard to envision when seen only from the perspective of the beginning of the phrase.

Here is a practical application of that way of thinking. When harmonizing a passage that invites parallel planing to a voicing that has been determined, always shape the preceding chords with the same intervallic contour as the target chord. In other words, plane towards the target chord rather than away from a starting chord. In order to do this, it is necessary to determine which is the target chord, and what its voicing will be, and then change the intervals of the chords that lead to it to match the intervals of the target chord.

Here are some examples:




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:

Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score



In these examples, it’s worth noting that in all but the first example, the B flat in the lead line is treated as a non-chord tone. It is often the case that chord tones that are higher in the harmonic series (the 6th, 7th, 9th, 13th, and sometimes even the 3rd) welcome treatment as non-chord tones when they appear in phrases that include notes that are lower in the harmonic series (the root and/or the 5th).

Repeated notes in lower parts should be avoided unless repeated notes also occur in the melody.

If repeated notes are necessary in lower parts, they MAy occur from a strong beat to a weak beat but not from a weak beat to a strong one.

Lower parts attract less (usually unwanted) attention when they do not exceed the intervalic movement in the melody. When it is necessary to leap further in a lower part than the melody moves, do not exceed the melodic movement by more than a 3rd.

This parallel harmony, “line thickening”, tradition is an identifying characteristic of jazz ensemble music, and jazz composer/arrangers spend a lot of time developing a personal approach to this texture, so much so that it can seem to be the whole story. It is not, by a long shot, but there are so many subtleties and nuances involved that serious study of this technique can reward the student with an increased sense of control and personal style.

Sectional jazz ensemble writing began to appear as interest in early swing bands began to take hold in the late 1920s. Fletcher Henderson’s band typically had a three-man reed section (saxophone players, doubling on clarinets) and a five-man brass section – three trumpets and two trombones. Benny Goodman further popularized Henderson’s musical style when he bought Henderson’s existing arrangements and hired him to write for his band. In this early instance of the development of the style, repeated notes in lower parts were permitted (while notes changed in the lead part). As the tradition developed, especially in Ellington’s music, it became clear that the texture was more fluid when the lower notes changed along with the changing melody notes, and this has remained an important element in the successful creation of passages in this style. The most famous prototype for this kind of ensemble writing is Ellington’s arrangement of COTTONTAIL.



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Coming Next Lesson: Lesson 16 - Writing for 4 or More Voices (Cont.)