Advanced Jazz Harmony – 3 Tips

Advanced jazz harmony. That’s the topic for this article. And this is going to be an article that you’ll all want to check out because we’re going to give you 3 awesome tips to use in your playing. These are tips that will not only help you achieve that pro sound in your playing, but also help you generate ideas for arranging or composing music.

Advanced Jazz Harmony: Inserting a “ii” Chord

We’re going to start in the shallow end of the pool and gradually make our way to the deep end. This tip is a basic reharmonization idea that is used very frequently in jazz. The idea is simple: whenever you see a ‘V7’ chord, you can insert a ‘ii’ chord before it and create a ‘ii – V7 – I’ progression. Why might you want to do that? Well, usually the addition of chords creates the sound of a longer chord progression. The listener gets a longer sense of anticipation or excitement as their ear waits for the resolution. Also, placing a new chord under the melody note can sometimes create more interest in the sound of the melody.

Consider the following example:

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Advanced Jazz Harmony: Moving the ‘I’ Chord Up a Half-Step

Ok, now we’re in the mid-section of the pool. This is an easy jazz reharm tip and it is also used very frequently. It can be used anywhere, but it is most commonly employed at the end of the tune, on the final ‘I’ chord. (Most tunes end on a ‘I’ chord, so that’s how we will discuss this tip). For any of you classical musicians out there, what we’re talking about here is often referred to as the Neapolitan chord (or the “flat-two” chord). It’s really as simple as replacing the ‘I’ chord with the ‘flat-II’ chord. Just get rid of that ‘I’ chord altogether and replace it with the ‘flat-II’ chord. This little trick works best when the melody note is either the root or the 5th of the ‘I’ chord.

Here’s how it works:

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Advanced Jazz Harmony: Playing a Diminished ‘i’ Chord Before Resolving to ‘I’

We’re not quite in the deep-deep end of the pool yet, but we’re getting there with this final tip. This jazz tip that is used less frequently (because it’s only possible in a limited number of circumstances) but is very effective when done correctly. Here it is: use a diminished ‘i’ chord right before resolving to a major ‘I’ chord when the melody note is the root or 6th of the major chord. Let’s break that down with our “Days of Wine and Roses” example again.

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Notice that in the 4th measure of the example above, the original chords show an F major chord (the ‘I’ chord in the key of F). In our reharmonized example we used an F diminished 7th chord before resolving to the F major chord. Notice also that we were able to do this because the melody uses the root of the major chord, which works because it is also the root of the diminished chord. The 6th of the major chord works because we can harmonize the chord as a major 6th chord, and that 6th functions as the double-flatted 7th of the diminished chord.

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Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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