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A look at one type of reharmonization -- changing the fundamental harmony of a tune

From Jazz Guitar Harmony by Jody Fisher
To reharmonize a tune is to change its fundamental harmony. This is not the same thing as chord substitution, where the nature of the harmony remains the same—no matter how disguised the chords may become. For example, extending and altering dominant chords changes the flavor of the harmony, but there is always a way to justify these devices as being just enhancements.

Reharmonization throws some or all of the original changes out the window. This, however, is not simply a matter of “just playing whatever you want.” To create an artful and creative reharmonization, one must follow a general set of guidelines based on which system of reharmonization you choose.

Following is one method of reharmonization. This is a huge topic and many more reharmonization techniques exist, but the material shown here should get you started.

Symmetrical Bass Line Approach
With this technique, you start with just the melody and then add the accompaniment of an interesting bass line. Below is a melody (let’s assume its from a standard tune you already know) with an added bass line. The key to this technique is that the bass line should be symmetrical— the pattern of intervals between the notes is unchanging. (Feel free to jump octaves when necessary.) In this example, the bass line moves in minor 3rds (or augmented 2nds, which is the same distance) throughout the song.

Jazz’n Java With A Symmetrical Bass Line Listen

You need to be able to play the melody and bass together to make sure it sounds good. Once you can do this, add chord tones between the bass line and the melody. Here is where the work begins.

You can literally use any chords you find that sound good to you. Many chords won’t sound good (or may even sound downright bad). Finding the good ones gets easier with experience and once you have done this with a few tunes, you’ll come to learn what works and what doesn’t. You can try any kind of chord at all and you don’t have to stay in any particular key or tonality. This is why you must use a symmetrical bass line. It produces order in what could be an otherwise chaotic chord progression. The symmetry makes it all come together.

Other ideas for symmetrical bass lines could include all whole steps, all half steps, minor 3rd up and a half step back repeated over and over, 4ths, alternating whole and half steps and anything else you can dream up. Here is a completed reharmonization of Jazz n’ Java.

Jazz’n Java With Reharmonization Listen