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Harmonic function of triads with diff root notes


sudeep

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Hi Guys,

 

My harmony theory is coming along pretty well (so i thought), but the other day I was asked to play a piece from Aladin, "A Whole new world" by Alan Menken (i think the disney dude). He uses ALOT of standard maj and min triads but playing different root notes (belonging to that triad)...and it sounds really cool! But i dont understand how or when to use them in my own composition. Its not mentioned in any of the theory books I have (mainly Jazz focussed). Can anyone help?

 

btw i undertand for example, that playing an Ab triad over a F root note gives you and Fmin7 etc, but these songs use chords like F/A, Cm/Eb, Bb/D and Gm/F. THey sound cool...i just dont know when to use them!!!

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Originally posted by sudeep:

... but these songs use chords like F/A, Cm/Eb, Bb/D and Gm/F. THey sound cool...i just dont know when to use them!!!

Well, you're basically using the 3rd of the chord as the root... me thinks you're thinking way too much about it. :) I don't think there's more to it than that.... but I'm not a theory cat, so someone correct me here.

 

Using a mixture of 3rd and roots for the bass works quite well when you want to ascend/descend a bass line, and you see a lot in rock. I used this for one of my songs right before the chorus.. worked really well.

 

G/B Cm Bb/D Eb

(Song is in Cm - the G/B really breaks the mood in the right place)

 

Or something like this to stay with diatonic chords

 

D A/C# G/B A

 

It works great. It really depends on the style. Brazilian MPB uses a lot of jazz voicings, so something like this would sound 'poor', but you start getting too fancy with pop-rock, and it just doesn't sound right. I'm all about breaking rules, but I still think you have to follow the style a bit...

 

They like to use a lot chords like Bb/C, which I'd call a Csus4(9), with the 5th removed.

 

Gm/F would be a Fsus4(6)add9, or something like that ;) I'll leave it to the theory guys...

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BTW, I think their work is pop-rock writing at its best... so many clichés but it works soooo well.. ;)

 

I really enjoy playing 'part of your world' - such a simple song, but the harmony works so well.

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Playing chords with other than the root in the bass (inversions) simply can spice things up a bit. If you have to use the same chord for more than four beats (or even less), using an inversion can make things less boring and more interesting to the listener (and to you as well).

 

Play a C major triad in root position - C, E, G. Take the root ©, place it on top. The E or the third of the chord is on the bottom. That is called 1st inversion. Take that E which is now in the bass, place that on top and now you have the G on the bottom - or second inversion.

 

Under most circumstances, the 1st inversion of a chord is regarded as the harmonic equivalent of the 'parent' (or root position) triad.

 

There are only (at the keyboard) 12 major and 12 minor triads. Have fun playing all of them in various inversions.

 

(Elton John's Take Me To The Pilot uses a first inversion C major triad which places the E in the bass. That's also the lowest note on most bass guitars and I remember the first time I heard that on my home stereo - it sounded great. Elton John uses lots of inversions in his chords to make things even more interesting than they would have been.)

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Mark Levine calls these chords "slash chords", because of their notation. He's written a chapter about them in his "The Jazz Theory Book", which I certainly would recommend. For instance, he uses Herbies Maiden Voyage to illustrate the use of slash chords.

 

These slash chords can for instance appear when a bass note is sustained (sometimes notated as "pedal C" or "pedal D" etc), while the chords change.

 

In pop (especially ballads), these chords are used very often. For instance, IV/V resolves to I (of Imaj7). Or the progressions

* I(maj7) I/III IV(maj7)

* IV IImaj/#IV V (dunno if I notated this correct, guess you understand what I mean, F - D/F# - G for instance)

and lots more of these usable and nice "clichés" contain slash chords.

 

Nice material for composing, arranging or comping, I'd say. Use what suits your ears... I'm not very much into harmonic theories, maybe some mr. M.O.D.E.S. Diatonic BA can contribute more in depth remarks. (I'd like to read them as well...)

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Like Rod S said, this technique works well for ascending, descending scalewise in the bass. Say, for instance you have a progression Cm - G - Eb . . . you could play those roots in the bass, or you could walk up from C, D, Eb. The D is a chord tone of G, so it will work. As long as you use chord tones for whatever chord you are playing, you can make some smooth transitions in the bass. Elton John does it all the time!
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Arguably one of the best examples of the use of first inversion chords is the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight sonata.

 

Amazingly, some of the hammond solo from Deep Purple's Highway star is not that different, chord-wise.

 

Study those progressions!! It pays dividends!

Tom F.

"It is what it is."

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For instance, he uses Herbies Maiden Voyage to illustrate the use of slash chords.

 

These slash chords can for instance appear when a bass note is sustained (sometimes notated as "pedal C" or "pedal D" etc), while the chords change.

I understand what you mean by slash chords but I feel we should recognize that when you refer to a C/D it is not a triad inversion. It is a hybrid or slash chord and the harmonic function is changed. It actually becomes a a dominant 7th with a sus4. I think what the original post was harmonic function of triads over Bass notes. A triad in innversion essentially functions the same as if it were in root position although its less grounded to that root. so the harmonic function really doesn't change. However, if we talk about Herbie' Maiden Voyage thats different. It is a slash or hybrid chord with a different function that the major triad itself. As I said before it is a dom7sus4. Anyway I respect Mr. Levine, in fact I own two of his book which I've read, practiced, studied, ect.. anyway I find the term slash chord to be a little vauge and confusing. I prefer triad over bass note. Because you can also use slashes to indicate polychords. i.e. two triads or 7th chords on top of each other. Anyway I could go on and on here, but I'll spare you all. Just my $.02

"Learn the changes, then forget them."

 

-Charlie Parker

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I'll continue:

 

Berklee College of Music calls these chords "Upper Structure Triads" in their advanced Contemporary Harmony classes. But as the previous person was trying to explain, we are talking about two different sets of circumstances here.

 

In the original post, the chords in question were composed using a " Traditional Harmony technique " (or Classical music style) technique whereby all the chords were simply triads with the third in the bass. Think of it as just another type of voice leading or inversion of the triad in the right hand. Simple enough, right?

 

However, there's a completely different Contemporary Harmony technique involved when you're talking about the song "Maiden Voyage". In this case of a chord like C/D, DO NOT think of it as a triad with the ninth (or second) in the bass. It's a D chord with a flatted seventh, a ninth and a Sus4. The only reason that people use the "slash notation" in Contemporary Harmony is as a type of shorthand, so that the reader can quickly understand the physical voicing that the writer had in mind. How about E/C? It's a Cmajor Seventh chord with an augmented fifth or #5. If you're working in the Contemporary realm, it really helps your ears to start conceiving things this way. Until you do, the usage of these types of chords will continue to be a mystery.

 

Do not try to reconcile the rules of Traditional vs Contemporary harmonic techniques. They will often completely conflict with each other. That's why Berklee teaches them in completely separate courses, and makes the distinction very clear. Hope this helps.

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Never knew the names of these two categories, but I understand the difference after reading the previous two posts. Thanx for clarifying this to me (and some others perhaps): a new insight is always welcome - although it's on a theoretical level and IMHO, the "right" use of this chords doesn't demand this theoretical framework per se (this holds at least for my own modest playing/voicing/comping purposes).

 

Question: what would a D/C be (for instance in a D - D/C - Bmi - Bb chord progression)? Guess it wouldn't be a C-root chord (like something with a #11): just a triad with another root? Or a D-root chord nonetheless?

 

I like to learn/read more about this :idea:

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This example seems to be more of a Traditional technique (even if it's being used in a contemporary tune). I know little or nothing about traditional harmony, but I would surmise that it's just a decending bassline that uses the flatted seventh as a passing note to connect the D chord to the B minor chord.

 

To learn more about the contemporary use of Upper Structure Triads, may I suggest calling the Berklee College Of Music Bookstore on Boylston St. (call area code 617 information), and ask them to guide you to Contemporary Harmony books that focus on Upper Structure Triads. If no one in the bookstore can help you, then call the College itself and ask one of the faculty members to point you to the right book. Hope this helps.

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Well, you're basically using the 3rd of the chord as the root... me thinks you're thinking way too much about it. I don't think there's more to it than that.... but I'm not a theory cat, so someone correct me here.

Rod S, that slipped by me. Just so we don't confuse the initial poster, you are interchanging the word root for bass (or bass note or bass tone). A C major triad will always have a C as the root of the triad (no matter where it is positioned), but the note in the bass might be the third or the fifth (or the root).

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

Rod S, that slipped by me. Just so we don't confuse the initial poster, you are interchanging the word root for bass (or bass note or bass tone). A C major triad will always have a C as the root of the triad (no matter where it is positioned), but the note in the bass might be the third or the fifth (or the root).

Duh, you're right :) - I mixed the terminology there a bit. I had just been posting at a brazilian keyboard forum and I was trying to get the terminology right in my head. Thanks.

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cool thanks for that guys. No, i didnt get confused at all. Im pretty sure i understand. I did actually have a look at that chapter in Mark Levines book but I did think it was different to what I was getting at. There is actually a section in Mark Harrisons pop piano book which talks alot about playing triads and varying the root noets, but i didnt think it explained the harmonic functions that clearly. I have this classical "fake" book which i have been playing through, its giving me lots of great ideas for using triads with different root notes.
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Like cnegrad said:

 

quote:______________________________

there's a completely different Contemporary Harmony technique involved when you're talking about the song "Maiden Voyage". In this case of a chord like C/D, DO NOT think of it as a triad with the ninth (or second) in the bass. It's a D chord with a flatted seventh, a ninth and a Sus4. The only reason that people use the "slash notation" in Contemporary Harmony is as a type of shorthand, so that the reader can quickly understand the physical voicing that the writer had in mind. How about E/C? It's a Cmajor Seventh chord with an augmented fifth or #5. If you're working in the Contemporary realm, it really helps your ears to start conceiving things this way. Until you do, the usage of these types of chords will continue to be a mystery.

_______________________________________

 

As a jazz player, these are all useable major triads over a C:

 

Db/C

D/C

E/C

Gb/C

G/C

A/C

Bb/C

B/C

 

Also some less obvious minor triads:

 

C#-/C

F#-/C

Bb-/C

 Find 675 of my jazz piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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Here are four of my favorites.

 

(1) A major triad with a root a fifth lower than the triad's root.

 

Example: D/G

 

This works like a Gmaj7 or Gmaj9 chord, except that it's more open because of the lack of the third (B).

 

(2) A major triad with a root that's a minor seventh lower (a whole step less than an octave lower) than the root of the triad.

 

Example: D/E

 

This works like an E7 or E9, but again, it has a more "open" feel.

 

(3) A major triad with a root a whole step lower.

 

Example: D/C

 

This is equivalent to a D7 third inversion, a very forceful version of a D7 chord. It's good when leading to the tonic in the first inversion

 

D/C -> G/B

 

or just to the tonic

 

D/C -> G

 

(4) A minor seventh chord with a root a fifth lower.

 

Example: Cm7/F

 

This is harmonically equivalent to an F9 chord with a suspended fourth, a beautiful substitute for a dominant seventh.

 

Cm7/F (is equivalent to) F9sus4

 

Which is easier to read?

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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I think we may have given Sudeep more information than he bargained for. He really was just interested in simple triads with the third or fifth of the chord in the bass and their use in composition.

 

Sudeep, since you're starting at the beginning, it might be more beneficial for you to take a look at a traditional theory text book where the traditional way of looking at the basics is discussed in detail. Everyone here who has studied theory has their own favorite text book, but why not go to your library of a local music school and ask around.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

I think we may have given Sudeep more information than he bargained for. He really was just interested in simple triads with the third or fifth of the chord in the bass and their use in composition.

Just being a bit selfish, but I do enjoy when these types of threads go beyond their original scope ;) I always end up learning something new.

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Originally posted by sudeep:

But i dont understand how or when to use them in my own composition. Its not mentioned in any of the theory books I have (mainly Jazz focussed). Can anyone help?

You can discover your own chord tricks. Here are two theories you can use.

 

1) This one has been mentioned. It's the idea of a melodic, or walking bass. For example (all examples in C Major for convenience) a classic progression is C, C/Bflat, F/A, Fm/Aflat, C/G, G7 C. You can also use ascending chromatic bass lines as in C, C#dim, Dm, C#dim, C/E, etc.

 

2) The allusion, "close counts" principle. This is like chord substitution for color. C/E works "like" Em in progressions like C, C/E, F, G. Simply, it's only one note different (the note c instead of the note b). You can make very complex transpositions using slash chords as pivot points. Take the following example:

 

Cm, G+/B, Cm/Bflat, F/A etc. You will recognize it as the minor version of the first progression I mentioned. Well that (harmonically correct G+/B is the same notes as a B+, so using it as a pivot chord you could slide the whole tune into E major the second time around. As in:

 

Cm, B7+5, E/B, B7, E

 

This may be more than you asked for, but hopefully it will give you two theories to extend your ideas with. Cheers,

 

Jerry

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As a jazz player, these are all useable major triads over a C:

 

Db/C

D/C

E/C

Gb/C

G/C

A/C

Bb/C

B/C

 

Also some less obvious minor triads:

 

C#-/C

F#-/C

Bb-/C

As someone mentioned at Berklee these are called Hybrid Chords. Very useful, and a cool way of re-harming a section. I memorized the most common ones for different chord types. i.e. major 7 #11, dom7 sus4, and many others. Best way to learn them is to practice your favorites in all keys.

"Learn the changes, then forget them."

 

-Charlie Parker

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