I tend to be a bit obsessive when working on a technique or concept and recently diminished harmony has been filling my time.

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Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced
Lesson Overview: 
• Learn the basics of the diminished 7th chord.
• Create a series of related chords based off the diminished chord shape.
• Understand the elements of proper voice leading.
Welcome back to That Can Be Arranged. Normally, I use a piece of music for each column, however I recently discovered an ascending root movement study that I think you will find quite interesting. I have provided a video to help clarify the subtle differences between each chord.

I tend to be a bit obsessive when working on a technique or concept and recently diminished harmony has been filling my time. After a bit of consideration I realized that when the root of a diminished chord is raised by a half step an entirely new chord is formed. My next thought was that the diminished chord is symmetrical so each note in the chord can be moved up by a half step to form a new chord. I was pleased my theory proved correct!

Let’s begin with Cycle 1 and start with a basic voicing for Cdim7. In this example we will consider the C as the root of the chord. With each chord, we will move the root up a half step. If we move the C to a Db, we end up with Ebm7b5/Db. This is also known as an Eb half-diminished chord in third inversion. We now move the newly established root (Eb) up a half step to E and we create an F#m7/C# chord. Finally, we move the F# up to G and end up with an A7/C# chord. Once we move the A up to Bb, we begin the entire cycle again starting with C#dim7.

I found that each cycle revealed four chords (diminished 7th, half-diminished 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th). In considering each diminished chord tone a potential root and series, we now have a total of sixteen chords! Each root will continue to ascend until arriving at a new diminished chord a half step above the original chord.

My last step was to consider the diminished chord as root position with three inversions. In other words, I didn’t move the chord or change the order of the notes. I looked at each note on each string as my new root. In Cycle 2 I use Gb as the root, Cycle 3, I use A, and in Cycle 4, I use Eb.

Identifying the chord quality and inversion will be the biggest challenge. It helps to remember that the order of the chord (diminished 7th, half-diminished 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th). It also helps to understand the order of the inversions. Being based on open voiced chords, the order is root position, third inversion, second inversion, and first inversion. The order starts at different points considering which inversion you start with. For example, R–3–2–1 can also be 3–2–1–R, 2–1–R–3 or 1–R–3–2. Another way to look at it is that the root of each new chord moves in minor thirds.You can start ascending root movement from any of the four chord qualities but I consider diminished the parent chord.

You may say, this is interesting but why do I need to work on this? This study shows the close relationship between various chords and it helps with mapping intervals, chord spellings, as well as ear training. It’s also another approach to learning chord inversions. Anything that challenges your knowledge of the fingerboard and harmony is a good thing. This study can make your brain hurt, it did mine! In time, the concept will become simple. The video should clarify any questions you may have. In closing, it is my opinion that mastering the fingerboard and the harmonic universe would take many life times. We have one, better get busy!

Bill Piburn shares an original composition and discusses inspiration, non-root chords, passing tones, altered scale use, tonal shifts, chord substitution, chromatic bass lines and a Martin Taylor thumb technique

Click here to download a printable PDF of this arrangement.
Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced
Lesson Overview: 
• Learn the principles of quartal harmony.
• Play three-, four-, and five-note quartal voicings.
• Construct quartal harmony from E Mixolydian, E Dorian, and E Aeolian modes.
After twenty five years away, I recently went to visit my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. It seemed familiar yet strange as I thought of buildings that once stood and people that once lived. After a few days of reminiscing, the experience found inspiration in my new composition, “Farewell Tour.”

Who is to say where inspiration comes from? Is it God, intellect, emotion, or life experience? I tend to believe all of the above. I do know that art will not live or grow in a bubble.

“Music comes from life. Many times you’ll find that you learn more about music from life than from music.” Mick Goodrick

We will now take a look into some of the harmonic devices I used in “Farewell Tour.” The first four measures serve as an introduction. Measures one and two suggest the sound of Cm7 to C7 to Dm7/A which then moves into Dm7b5/A. Measure three opens with a Cm/G chord that leads into a couple of rootless altered dominant chords. Leaving out the root helps the ear focus on the altered notes. It is important however to include the 3rd and b7th. The order of the intervals (3–b7–#9–b13) moves down a whole step from A7#5 to G7#5. I almost always leave the root out of altered dominant chords. This harmonic device opens the door to many possibilities.

As we move into the A section the progression moves from C7–Db7– Em11. The Em11 in measure six functions as a C6/9. It’s interesting that if the chord is functioning in the key of C it can be interpreted a few ways. This is where the possibilities with rootless chords multiply.

A bass line theme that uses an F# passing note occurs in measures 6, 10, 22, 46, and 50. Other half-step passing tones in the bass happen in measures 9, 12, 16, 24, 28, 40, and 48. Passing tones in the bass line are very common. Guitarists such as Joe Pass and Martin Taylor use this device in practically every tune they play. Generally, passing tones are found on the upbeats and lead to a chord or scale tone.

Speaking of Martin Taylor, I use a technique in the bass line in measure twelve that I picked up from listening to one of his albums. For the first two notes in the measure I use the top of the thumbnail and move in one continuous motion across the lowest two strings. Martin uses a similar technique when playing triplets on the bass strings. He begins with a downstroke on the first note of the triplet and then plays the remaining two notes with the top of his thumbnail. This technique really gives you that upright bass sound. Hey, if you are going steal, steal from the best!

The B section of the tune starts at measure thirteen. I am using the altered dominant scale for the melodic content in the first two measures. In this case, the scale is G super locrian (G–Ab–Bb–Cb–Db–Eb–F). Another way to imagine this scale is to play a melodic minor scale based on a note a half step above the root. In this case, since we want the G Super Locrian scale, we will use Ab melodic minor. If we look at the function of each note in the key of G we end up with: R–b9–#9–3–b5–#5–b7. Wow! That pretty much covers it.

A tonal shift to Eb major happens momentarily in measures 17, 18, and the first part of 19. One of my favorite moments happens when on beat three where Ebmaj7 moves into A13. After analyzing this I realized that the motion was like moving from Ebmaj7 to Eb7 except using an A bass. This becomes A7, which is the tritone substitution for Eb7. Very cool!

The A section repeats at measure 21 with a variation on the last four measures. A nice chord substitution happens when Db7#9 takes the place of C7 at the beginning of the phrase. In measure 25 notice the rootless D7b9 moving to Db7b9 to C6/9/E to Eb9 to D. This creates a smooth five-note chromatic bassline. The surprising harmony has more impact because it’s anticipated ahead of the beat. It also sets up chromatic motion as it moves into D7#5 which serves as a substitution for the original Db7.

The solo begins at measure 29. At times, it is difficult to define melodic line movement with a chord symbol. Many times a chord is suggested however it is not defined with great enough clarity that an argument could not be made for more than one set of chords. This is case for the first two measures of the solo. I will say that when I played it I was only thinking of line movement. Now that I look at it my first impression is C to a rootless Bbm/Db to a D7 alt. (no 3rd) to D# major using only the root and third. Well, that is a mind full! Again, everything I play is based on line movement. Although I think of chords I really just hear them as part of the musical line. The second B section is also based around the super locrian scale however with some melodic variation. The song wraps up with another A section and an ending lick.

In conclusion and in danger of repeating myself, I stress using your ear. There is a time to analyze and a time to trust what you hear. I assure you that what you hear will grow as you play and listen to music with unfamiliar harmony.

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Syncopation or syncopated rhythm is any rhythm that puts emphasis on a beat or subdivision of a beat that is not usually emphasized.

Welcome back! In this installment, we will take a look at syncopation and use my original composition “Barcelo” as an example. Be sure to listen to the audio example a few times before diving into playing the piece. I say this because hearing and feeling syncopation is much easier than trying to count it. This doesn’t discount the importance of being able to read and write syncopated rhythms. Without a doubt, if you play an instrument, you have played syncopations. You may not have known it, been able to define it or read it, but you have felt, heard, and played syncopated rhythms.

As a secondary supplement, I have also included some short examples of simple rhythms followed by the same melodic content played in a syncopated rhythm. For those who may be new to reading syncopation it may be helpful to first study the examples before playing “Barcelo.”

Let us start by defining syncopation. Syncopation or syncopated rhythm is any rhythm that puts emphasis on a beat or subdivision of a beat that is not usually emphasized.

In other words, syncopation is a shifting of the accent to a normally weak beat. Musicians often refer to this as anticipation. Often the harmony will change at this point. Anticipating the harmony is also commonly referred to as a “push.” Syncopations can be played in the melody with the chords played on the beat or both can simultaneously be syncopated. It’s also common to have the bass note syncopated while the chord is played on the beat. Most often, a variety of combinations happen in any one piece of music.

Fig. 1 is based on a very common chord sequence. The chords are G6–Am7 A# diminished–G6 with B in the bass. The A# diminished is a passing chord since it’s not diatonic to the key of G major. Note how the chords take on new life in Fig. 1a when played with syncopation.

Fig. 2 is a classic boogie-woogie bass line over an E7 chord. Fig. 2 of course is played with straight quarter notes. While this example does outline the chord tones, it takes on a swing feel when syncopated in example Fig. 2a.

Fig. 3 is based on the first few notes of “Camptown Races.” Can someone please give me a doo-dah! doo-dah? Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. I have always enjoyed giving folk songs a jazzy twist. The first two techniques that I would apply so these tunes are syncopation and altered chords. Fig. 3a uses both.

Fig. 4 is based on the progression of C7–A7–D7–G7, all dominant 7th chords. Notice the half-step approach bass line on both examples. When the syncopation is added in Fig. 4a, it really takes on a great swing feel with the movement in the bass line. The syncopation is on the top of the chord with rests written in after each chord stab. Make sure to cut off the chords on each rest by placing your fingers back on the strings.

Fig. 5 is based in A harmonic minor (A–B–C–D–E–F–G#) and uses a i–VI–V–i progression through inversions up the neck. Fig. 5a has syncopation in measure two and three while Fig. 5a uses it in each measure. This is an example of how you can freely change to your liking where you use syncopation. Fig. 5b adds a bass line to Fig. 5a. Notice the bass line syncopation on the “and” of beat 4 in measures one and three.

Fig. 6 is a classic turnaround based on the progression of C–C7/E–F7–C dim/Gb–Db/Ab–C7/G. Fig. 6a is played with straight quarter notes while Fig. 6a adds syncopation. Both examples contain contrary motion between the top and bottom voices. Contrary motion is very attractive to the ear. I search for it in every arrangement that I do.

Fig. 7 uses a simple A minor voicing with an open B added. When played against the C on the third string you get a dissonant yet pleasing interval of a minor second. I use this voicing often. The progression takes on a nice Bossa Nova feel in Fig. 7a.

In order for your syncopations to feel good, it is most important that they are played rhythmically accurate. This is not only important for the syncopated parts but it is equally important for the notes played on the beat. You may want to check yourself with a metronome.

All music has syncopation to some degree. Most of the time, we do not realize how syncopated vocals often are when listening to a simple pop or country song. This tends to be a little less noticeable than whole chords being syncopated. Of course, musical styles, interpretation, and arrangement effect how you may choose to use syncopation. In the end, it is up to you as the artist, to feel and therefore play what you feel.

Music would be a sky without blue if not for syncopation. Thank God for both.

Click here to go to page 2 for the full arrangement, PDF, and audio for "Barcelo."

By Bill Piburn
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Full ragtime arrangement and MP3 demonstrating methods of harmonic and rhythmic surprise.

Lesson Downloads
"Kong Newman Rag" Printable PDF
"Kong Newman Rag" MP3 Audio
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Randy Newman’s music and rediscovering his genius. As most of you know, he is very influenced by ragtime and often uses a ragtime feel in his compositions. After several hours of listening to his music one evening, I watched the remake of King Kong. While ragtime music is more of a turn-of-the-century art form and King Kong, I believe, is staged in the ’30s, it all added up somehow and inspired me to write “Kong Newman Rag.” In many of my lessons, I’ve used my own compositions as examples. This time, we’ll use “Kong Newman Rag” to point out harmonic and rhythmic devices you can apply to your own composing and arranging. Download a PDF of the arrangement above, or check out page 2 for the full notation.

As I’ve mentioned before, the line between composing and arranging is very thin. That line becomes closer as the level of arranging magnifies. The harmonic examples will be listed as Levels 1 and 2. Level 1 is the most surprising to the ear, and while Level 2 will not be as shocking, it still adds interest to a musical passage that might otherwise have been more predictable. Bullet points are given for easy reference.

Level 1:
• Measure 12 offers our first big harmonic surprise as the song moves from the key of C major to Db major. Moving up a half-step is not uncommon or that surprising, yet the transition that happens here is. Notice the B7/A moving to Ab7 (the new V chord). Check out the contrary motion between the bass and melody while the middle notes of the two chords are stable. They are tones common to both chords. It always sounds good when you can move the top, bottom, or middle voices while keeping one or more notes as common tones. The common tones can also be in any voice or combination of voices. In my opinion, the chord change in measure 12 works because it is closely related in sound to Em7b5 moving to Ab7 (ii–V). This harmonic movement repeats in measure 44.

• The next big surprise starts in measure 19 and reaches its finale at measure 21 as we move into the key of Gb. This series of chords is basically a ii–V–I in Db, which would be Bbm–Eb7–Db. However, I have replaced Eb7 with A7b5 and Db has been replaced with Dbm7b5. The latter is not only surprising, but it works well to move us into the key of Gb major for the tune’s B section. Although this is not a true V–I movement, it works because of the strong voice leading. Again, notice the contrary motion.
Level 2:
• Measure 18 basically outlines the sound of Gb major to Gb minor. However, I wanted to not only move the bass line, but also outline the sound without being predictable. In this case, I’ve moved from Gb to Gbm6 with Bb in the bass. You can also think of this chord as an Ebm7b5 with the b5 in the bass. To tell the truth, this is how I most often think of it.

• Measure 24 moves from Gb to Db+. This is a harmonic device I’ve often heard Randy Newman use. It certainly fits the style.

• Measure 26 is basically the same as measure 18, but this time the Ebm7b5 is approached from Bbm instead of Gb. It is really the same sound with a different approach. Bbm is really just an extension of Gb major.

• Measure 33 has an interesting chord substitution in the second half of the measure. The typical boring IV to iv minor is replaced with IV to #V7. The Cb is the IV chord in Gb, which leads to D7—the #V of the home key (Gb). Note that the D7 has an A in the bass and is played on the upbeat of beat 2. This works as a substitution for the iv minor, because you still have the Eb melody moving down to D, which sounds like a major 3rd moving to a minor 3rd. I have heard this chord change in early 20th-century music before, but I’m not sure where.

• Measure 34 is based around the expected sound of Bbm7 to Eb7 (iii –VI7) in the key of Gb. In this case, the surprise happens when Cb7 with the b7 in the bass replaces Eb7. The b7 in the Cb7 gives use a nice half-step movement into the following Abm7 in measure 35.

• Measure 40 moves from C7–B7–Bb13 and then resolves to A7 in measure 41. This is the same harmonic makeup as measures 8 and 9. The surprise comes in measure 40 when I play B7 with D# in the bass and the melodic line moves up in pitch instead of down on both the B7 and Bb13 chords.

• A bit off the subject, but notice the melodic variation in measure 38 compared to measure 6.
Rhythmic Surprise
In its simplest form, rhythmic surprise happens when the melody, bass notes, or even whole chords are pushed or anticipated ahead of the downbeat. When rhythmic surprise is mixed with harmonic surprise, it is always a winning combination.
• Pushed bass notes are first seen in the four-measure introduction. Notice that each pushed bass note is tied over the barline. Often, though not in this piece, I will push the bass note and cut it off on the downbeat. This is a common technique in jazz. Remember harmony only needs to be implied. Other pushed bass notes can be found in measures 20 and 36. Notice measure 36 is in 2/4. This also adds to the rhythmic and harmonic surprise of moving from Gb major to C major in measure 37.

• An example of a pushed bass in combination with a pushed melody can be seen in measure 33 on the upbeat of beat 2.

• Whole chords are pushed in measure in the following measures:
o 32 on the upbeat of beat 4
o 42 on the upbeat of beat 2
o 47 on the upbeat of beat 2
o 48 on the upbeat of beat 2

• Two-note pushes can be found in measures 2, 3, 4, 12, 24, 26, 35, 44, and 45. See if you can spot them.
In conclusion, I want to make it clear that there is a time for analyzing and a time to just play without over-thinking. I have found that for the most part, if you trust your ear it will not let you down. Most likely, it will surprise you.

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