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.
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!