Contemporary Composition Part 1

I wanted to start a new series this week in the Arranging/Composing category. If you check out the drop-down menu on the homepage you will find previous posts from various categories. This will be the first one in the Arranging/Composing category. In this series on contemporary composition we will be looking at a way to creatively compose a harmonic progression and let it become the foundation of the new composition. This is how I write my contemporary charts. I don’t do them all this way, but if I’m needing a spark for my creativity…this does it every time! I will be breaking up this process into a multi-week series, so you’ll want to check back  each week.

The first part of this process is not something I came up with, but rather one I learned from a professor at the Lamont School of Music (University of Denver) where I received my Master’s. This was taught to me by jazz pianist/composer Eric Gunnison. The other parts of the process would be what I do to finish out the composition. We’re going to build from the ground up a composition I wrote specifically to be premiered at Dazzle Jazz (930 Lincoln St Denver, CO) on September 24th 2012 called Back and Forth. If you go to my Facebook page you can get access to this chart and others that will be played on 9-24-12.

Let’s get started! The first part of this process is to build a list of any arbitrary two-note pairs. They can be of any interval distance. In the example of the song I wrote called, Back and Forth, I decided to make 4 sets of two-note pairs as seen below:

These two note pairs are now going to our Guide Tones (3rds, 7ths or any other chord tone) for coming up with our harmonic progression. Let’s take the first pair (the F & Bb). You can decide on how many different ways those two notes could become a guide tone. I typically start with the first note and move up chromatically looking at how each of those two notes fit with it’s new “root.” Here’s an example of what that might look like:

You can make your list as complex or as simple as you like. For me, in this process I don’t extend the chord quality past the 9th because those can be changed later. Notice how the F and Bb fit into each one of those chords. They are in some way or another a part of the guide tones or chord tones. Let’s continue the process with the next 3 pairs:

Now that we have a lot of different chord options, we can narrow down our choices for our new harmonic progression. Next week, we will look at how you can choose which ones to throw out and which ones we will keep to build our progression. In the meantime, if you haven’t checked out my books Breaking the Monotony or Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose then go to my Digital Store and take a look!

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About the Author jasonklobnak

Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground.  The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).

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