Welcome back to part 3 in our Contemporary Composition series! In part 3 we will talk about how I go about choosing the meter, harmonic rhythm and melody. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and that it adds value and benefit to you!
Let’s take a quick look at the chords that we chose from part 2: Db6/9, Amaj7, Bbmin7 & Bmaj7. There is no magical formula for determining the meter…you just need to make a decision! Do you want it in 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 5/4, etc.? You can make your decision on the style (i.e. swing, straight-eights, latin, etc.) and go with a meter choice. I’ve decided that for Back and Forth that I wanted to make it 4/4 swing.
The next step is either choosing the harmonic rhythm (when and how often the chords happen in time) or creating the melody. Some charts I choose to work with the melody first and others the harmonic rhythm. In the case of Back and Forth, I chose to start with the melody first.
To do the melody, I sat down at the piano and played through the chord progression slowly and let it influence my melodic decisions. While playing through the progression, I will sing ideas that come to mind over the changes. These are my first attempts at improvising over the changes. I will take some ideas and throw out others. I will do this over and over until I come up with something concrete that I can sing more then once over the progression. If your ears like it…keep it! There was a short melodic fragment that kept sticking that I decided to keep and transpose through the changes. It looked something like this:
This became my melodic fragment that I used throughout the composition and decided to transpose through the progression. Now I need to decide the harmonic rhythm. Do I want the changes to happen on every bar, every other, or? I played through the melodic fragment over and over and wanted the melody to help suggest the harmonic rhythm. To me, the melody suggested the C# in the second bar be held out before the phrase repeated. This ended up creating a series of 3-bar phrases. This made my “A” sections into a 12-bar form. I now have my “A” section created.
In part 4 we will look at the overall form and creating contrasting sections. 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. Tonight (9/24/12) I will be premiering Back and Forth at Dazzle Jazz Club. If you’re in town, come check it out! We play from 7-9pm.