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Topic: Question about harmonizing non-diatonic chords while improvising/composing  (Read 809 times)

Offline tomp86

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Hi everybody I have a question for some of the music theory experts out there. Songs often use borrowed chords, sus/dim chords, or permutations on 7th/9th/11th/13th chords and so on.

When a borrowed chord is used, it contains a note or several notes that are outside of the key you are currently in.

So lets say we are in D major scale and we used a borrowed chord - D minor.

When harmonizing a melody when playing a D minor chord I understand it sound unusual to use an F# instead of F.

As for the other notes in the melody, do we still use the D major scale notes to harmonize this chord as a general rule of thumb?  If not is there any general rule of notes to use to harmonize a borrowed chord while in another key?

I understand it would sound okay to use a C instead of a C# when harmonizing this chord as it would suggest a D dominant seven chord C being the 7th

But if we changed the examples borrowed chord to E Major (instead of the D minor)  then would it be appropriate to use a C or C# and why?

I understand it's really up to the composer to use whatever pitch you feel suitable in the piece I just wanted to know if there is a general rule of thumb when improvising when you don't really have a chance to experiment

Offline quantum

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If you are looking for a generalized rule, think of borrowed chords as belonging to another key.  The question to ask is which key?  Use that key to inform what other notes to bring into the picture. 

So we have two general categories of chords: ones that belong to the key, diatonic harmony, i.e. scale tone chords, and ones that belong to another key. 

Example: D major.
You come across an E major chord, it does not belong to D major tonal centre because of the G# accidental.  So what key could it belong to?  What about A major.  So how do we use this?  We are in the tonal centre of D major and need to use a chord from the key of A major.  One possibility is to use the E major chord as a dominant of A major, and lead to an  A major chord - a secondary dominant.  Can we use the notes from the A major scale, such as C#, yes!  The tonality has shifted for the time being to A major and a C# would appropriately fit. 

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline tomp86

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Hi quantum. Thanks for your reply it was very interesting.  If it's okay I did have a couple of quick follow-up questions relating to this. 

So when I play the E major chord (while in the D major key)  you mentioned a good suit would be the A major key as the E major 7 happens to be it's dominant.

However, if we were to suggest we are taking the E major chord from the E major key itself or the IV from the B major key would we able be able to temporarily change tonal center to the E or B keys respectfully? (attached image to help show with keys that have  us E Major  -I've neglected minor scales for now)



My second question was to do with changing back to the D major key if we only want to use the borrowed chord for a very short period of time. But I guess this could be just done by using any of the D major diatonic cords and reverting the melody back to the D scale. I know you will say A major 7 would be a good chord choice for a smoother transition? (using a comon chord between both keys as a bridge)

Offline ranjit

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It depends on the context.

If you played F# over D minor, I might think of D blues.

In terms of jazz, a common approach is to pick a scale based on the chord tones. This could be a church mode or any other fancy jazz scale, octatonic, whole tone etc.

Offline quantum

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However, if we were to suggest we are taking the E major chord from the E major key itself or the IV from the B major key would we able be able to temporarily change tonal center to the E or B keys respectfully?

Yes, you could change the tonal centre to either E or B major.

Example chord progression, passing through E major:
D, B7, E, E7, A, D.

Start at D major. Shift to E major using a B7 chord, only requiring one accidental of D#, using V7/II. Take that E major chord adding the 7th  to create an E7 chord easily leading to V7/V.  Once at A major chord, easily lead back to D major. 


Example chord progression, passing through B major:
D, F#7, B, E, C#m, F#, B, E/B, A, D

Start at D major.  Move to B major via F#7 chord using V/VI.  E major chord is encountered within a IV-ii-V-I progression in B major.  Use the note B as a pivot tone to create an E/B chord (now shifting to A major), rule of the octave voice leading towards A major chord.  A major leads back to D major.

Can also lead back using Augmented 6th chords:
D, F#7, B, E, C#m, F#, B, Bb7b5, A, D

German 6th with cadential 64:
D, F#7, B, E, C#m, F#, B, Bb7, Dm/A, A, D

Smoother voice leading at the beginning, with Italian 6th leading back to D:
D, A7/E, D/F#, F#7, B, E, C#m, F#, B, Bb7(no 5th), A, D

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline quantum

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My second question was to do with changing back to the D major key if we only want to use the borrowed chord for a very short period of time. But I guess this could be just done by using any of the D major diatonic cords and reverting the melody back to the D scale. I know you will say A major 7 would be a good chord choice for a smoother transition? (using a comon chord between both keys as a bridge)

It's not really necessary to shift tonal centre.  You can just use a borrowed chord for a short period of time to create additional harmonic colour.

Example:
D, E, Bm, Em/G, A, D


Or you could treat it modaly, where chords do not feel like they need to resolve to one another. 

D lydian:
D, E, F#m, Bm, C#m, D

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline brogers70

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It's not really necessary to shift tonal centre.  You can just use a borrowed chord for a short period of time to create additional harmonic colour.

Example:
D, E, Bm, Em/G, A, D


Or you could treat it modaly, where chords do not feel like they need to resolve to one another. 

D lydian:
D, E, F#m, Bm, C#m, D

Yes. I agree, you can just consider those notes as "color"; that's what "chromatic" means etymologically. The dominant way of thinking about these things in classical music is mostly based on tonal center and modulations and functional harmony, and if you think in that mode, you can very often come up with a rationale to explain most anything in those terms. But it's not the only way to think about it.

Faure went to a music school, the Niedermeyer School, I think, which taught music theory based on church modes and considered all non-diatonic notes just to be forms of color. And you can hear bits of the modes in his music. The tune of one of his chansons, Lydia, is punningly in the Lydian mode - but my teacher, brought up in a musical environment where functional harmony was the thing, insisted it was just a brief shift to the dominant and had nothing to do with modes. 

Offline tomp86

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Quantum. Fantastic answers. Thank you for putting so much effort into the reply!

I am still digesting some of it like the modulation using chromatic chords will let you know if I can't figure it out. Thank you again so much and for all replies.  Very insightful information

Offline tomp86

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It's not really necessary to shift tonal centre.  You can just use a borrowed chord for a short period of time to create additional harmonic colour.

Example:
D, E, Bm, Em/G, A, D

Hi quantum. I improvised with your progression and tried to stay in key of D major with the borrowed chord E and noticed every pitch in D major sounds good with the chord except for G. that is because the major 3rd in E major is a g# and it conflicts with this tone of the D major key. And D instead of D# in the melody will only sound weird if you first use G#. Almost as if using a G# or d# instantly causes a modulation. What's your thoughts on this

Offline quantum

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Hi quantum. I improvised with your progression and tried to stay in key of D major with the borrowed chord E and noticed every pitch in D major sounds good with the chord except for G. that is because the major 3rd in E major is a g# and it conflicts with this tone of the D major key. And D instead of D# in the melody will only sound weird if you first use G#. Almost as if using a G# or d# instantly causes a modulation. What's your thoughts on this

If you have a borrowed chord you might need to change the melody slightly to fit the harmony.  That is, unless you are trying to go for a modal mixture or polytonal feel to the music.  You need to decide what is more important: a melody that is consistent with the home mode, a harmonic progression that takes priority (thus the need to modify the melody), polytonality where melody and harmony act independently, or somewhere in between these general approaches. 

Just because you are working with a specific tonal centre, say D major, does not mean you strictly have to make the melody conform to it.  The melody can also temporarily diverge from the tonal centre, just like the harmony can. 

Certain scale degrees tend to be more reactive than others: the 3rd can determine the major or minor modality, and the 7th can be used as a leading tone.  We are talking about conventional diatonic use of the scale.  If we use the scale in other ways, these generalizations might not apply.

As an exercise, you can improvise by starting at a home key.  Then intentionally insert a wrong note or wrong chord, basically anything that would require an accidental.  Musically apply this wrong note or chord and navigate your melody and harmony back to the home key.  If you like the sound of this wrong note, you might even want to repeat it or use it as thematic material. 


Also practice using harmony modaly, in a manner that avoids the specific gravitational resolutions encountered in diatonic harmony.  It will give you a feel of how to make chord progressions avoiding strong resolutions.  Examples of how to use this kind of harmonic progression can be found in the organ accompaniments to Gregorian Chant. 

An Example:



Notice how the harmony just floats in the background without any strong resolutions.  It allows the melody to be prominent.


Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline tomp86

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If you have a borrowed chord you might need to change the melody slightly to fit the harmony.  That is, unless you are trying to go for a modal mixture or polytonal feel to the music.  You need to decide what is more important: a melody that is consistent with the home mode, a harmonic progression that takes priority (thus the need to modify the melody), polytonality where melody and harmony act independently, or somewhere in between these general approaches. 

Just because you are working with a specific tonal centre, say D major, does not mean you strictly have to make the melody conform to it.  The melody can also temporarily diverge from the tonal centre, just like the harmony can. 

Certain scale degrees tend to be more reactive than others: the 3rd can determine the major or minor modality, and the 7th can be used as a leading tone.  We are talking about conventional diatonic use of the scale.  If we use the scale in other ways, these generalizations might not apply.

As an exercise, you can improvise by starting at a home key.  Then intentionally insert a wrong note or wrong chord, basically anything that would require an accidental.  Musically apply this wrong note or chord and navigate your melody and harmony back to the home key.  If you like the sound of this wrong note, you might even want to repeat it or use it as thematic material. 

Understood. Thank you for explaining this so well. I notice when I improvise and play and accidental, the flow of the music automatically pulls to a chord or melody tone that includes the accidental. Like if I play a melody against a C major chord and on the melody I chromatically move up from F to F# the music wants me to play a D Chord or F# f#(min) chord or something similar next.


Also practice using harmony modaly, in a manner that avoids the specific gravitational resolutions encountered in diatonic harmony.  It will give you a feel of how to make chord progressions avoiding strong resolutions.  Examples of how to use this kind of harmonic progression can be found in the organ accompaniments to Gregorian Chant. 

An Example:



Notice how the harmony just floats in the background without any strong resolutions.  It allows the melody to be prominent.
I have tested using the d lydian scale (added g#) with the chords you posted above (D, E, F#m, Bm, C#m, D) and all harmonizes perfectly. Iím just trying to determine if you have used any particular formula that is avoided using G#dim (iv dim) and A (V) when using the d lydian mode. Did you avoid these chords because they want to resolve back to the tonic?  I think yes just wanted to confirm

Offline quantum

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Understood. Thank you for explaining this so well. I notice when I improvise and play and accidental, the flow of the music automatically pulls to a chord or melody tone that includes the accidental. Like if I play a melody against a C major chord and on the melody I chromatically move up from F to F# the music wants me to play a D Chord or F# f#(min) chord or something similar next.

When working with conventional diatonic harmony, accidentals can have that gravitational pull.  But they don't have to!  You can also use an accidental in a short temporary manner that does not fulfill its functional diatonic expectation. 

Example:
D, G, Em, A, D, Eb7b5, D, Em/G, A, D.

The chromaticism is used in a very temporary manner within a clearly established tonal centre of D.  It's not really a French augmented 6th either, because it is not functioning as such.  It's simply added harmonic colour.


I have tested using the d lydian scale (added g#) with the chords you posted above (D, E, F#m, Bm, C#m, D) and all harmonizes perfectly. Iím just trying to determine if you have used any particular formula that is avoided using G#dim (iv dim) and A (V) when using the d lydian mode. Did you avoid these chords because they want to resolve back to the tonic?  I think yes just wanted to confirm

Good observation.  Avoiding the strong characteristics of conventional diatonic harmony, also helps to avoid gravitational resolutions.  The V-I cadence is a pillar of diatonic harmony.  Tritones are also suggestive of tritone resolutions, remember the V7 chord contains a tritone.

Yes you can use the V chord in modal treatment of harmony, just don't make it into an obvious cadence.

Example D lydian:
D, E, Bm, A, F#m/A, Bm, D
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline tomp86

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Thank you very much quantum. Everything you said makes perfect sense and I'm still improvising.   Right now I'm marveling over a piece of Bach literature and was wondering if
 you would be able to help me solve a couple of things.   I want to know what was going through his head while composing a piece like this. What is he doing from a theoretical and harmonic perspective?

Offline brogers70

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I think you'll find the harmony easier to make sense of if you focus on the left hand. There are a lot of suspensions and passing tones in the RH that confuse things a bit.

For example, I'd call the first beat of the second bar a g7 chord with a suspension in the RH which resolves from C to Bb. The last beat of that measure is a Bb major chord with some passing tones in the RH. The whole progression from the last beat of the first measure to the first beat of the fourth measure is what's called a circle of fifths progression it goes d7-g7-C7-Fmaj7-Bb-e7-a7-d7-g7-C7-F. You can just follow the bass line. All the chords in that circle of fifths progression are in root position.

https://musictheory.pugetsound.edu/mt21c/CircleOfFifths.html

Offline quantum

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Thank you very much quantum. Everything you said makes perfect sense and I'm still improvising.   Right now I'm marveling over a piece of Bach literature and was wondering if
 you would be able to help me solve a couple of things.   I want to know what was going through his head while composing a piece like this. What is he doing from a theoretical and harmonic perspective?



Can you give a clue as to the identity of the piece. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline tomp86

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I think you'll find the harmony easier to make sense of if you focus on the left hand. There are a lot of suspensions and passing tones in the RH that confuse things a bit.

For example, I'd call the first beat of the second bar a g7 chord with a suspension in the RH which resolves from C to Bb. The last beat of that measure is a Bb major chord with some passing tones in the RH. The whole progression from the last beat of the first measure to the first beat of the fourth measure is what's called a circle of fifths progression it goes d7-g7-C7-Fmaj7-Bb-e7-a7-d7-g7-C7-F. You can just follow the bass line. All the chords in that circle of fifths progression are in root position.

https://musictheory.pugetsound.edu/mt21c/CircleOfFifths.html

Hi brogers. Great answer very well explained. Thanks.  I knew in my head I was hearing a circle of fiths progression cause it all resolved so strongly.  All the no chord tones were confusing me but you explained it well. He keeps the root position of each chord which makes it resolve so well. Very cool the way its composed.  Thanks!

Offline tomp86

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Can you give a clue as to the identity of the piece.
Yes sure! It's BVW 974. Would love to hear your analysis! brogers pretty much explained it all though! https://musescore.com/user/30191403/scores/5361595
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