Welcome back to our series on contemporary composition! In part 2 we will be looking at how we can decide which of our chord options stay and which ones we throw out. If you’re not sure what we’re talking about, check out last week’s post (Contemporary Composition part 1) for more information.

The next part of this process is something that you have to choose. Each person will have their own opinion and there could be a hundred different ways the progression could come out. We first have to pick a chord from our first set of chords. In the case of Back and Forth, I chose the Db6/9 chord. I personally like the quasi-major sounding quality of the chord. It’s not a major7th chord, yet not minor or dominant either. The Db6/9 is our starting point that we will build the progression from.

The next step is deciding: what chord should it go to next? To make that decision you need to sit down at the piano and play the two chords back to back (or plug the progression into some sort of sequencer like Band-in-a-Box or iRealbook OR have a friend who plays piano). Let’s review again what our chord options are for the second chord:

So we would play Db6/9 going to E7sus, or Db6/9 going to Fmaj7, etc. This is a very personal decision. You may like the sound of the Db6/9 going to a specific chord and not so much to others. In the case of Back and Forth, I liked the harmonic movement from the Db6/9 to the Amaj7.

You then continue this process through the remainder of your chord sets:

At this point you may start to have some creative ideas running through your head of what the progression sounds like. However, you may run into some options that sound “ok” to your ears, but yet don’t quite have the movement you’re looking for. That’s alright…you can borrow from the chord sets before or skip to the next one to find the right sound.

In the case of Back and Forth, I didn’t particularly like the options from the 3rd set (meaning I wasn’t liking Amaj7 going to one of the chords from that set). Instead, I ended up skipping ahead to the 4th set and using options from there. I liked the movement from Amaj7 to Bbmin7.

Then, for some reason I felt like there needed to be a 4th chord to add to this progression so I went back to the the 3rd set and didn’t like the options (Bbmin7 to x, x, etc). I decided to pick from the 4th set again. I liked the movement from Bbmin7 to the Bmaj7(#11), but liked it event better when I dropped the (#11) and made it a straight Bmaj7 (Bbmin7 to the Bmaj7). Remember, it’s all about finding a progression that your ears like and gravitates towards.

This is how I came up with the progression Db6/9, Amaj7, Bbmin7, Bmaj7 for Back and Forth. You will notice that it does not have the typical functional harmony movement (i.e. V-I), but rather jumps around in a non-functional way.

In part 3 we are going to continue building the composition by choosing our meter, harmonic rhythm and melody. If you haven’t already, please be sure to check out my books (Breaking the Monotony and Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) at my Digital Store.

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