In our quest for chord soloing freedom, I thought I would jump right into the deep end and begin a series of articles about harmonizing melodies. This harmonization is sometimes called block chords. The term “Block chords” is borrowed from piano players. It is used to describe a locked hand style that harmonizes a melody and usually sounds best in the middle register of the piano. There are an infinite number of ways to harmonize a note so we will have to make some choices along the way. The first chord type we will look at is the minor chord. So our goal here is to harmonize any note that may be played over a minor chord (in theory any note from the chromatic scale.). As you have probably realized by now, the study of comping and chords is more about melody than anything else. The melody you interact with and the melody of the comping. So let’s begin:
Chord Tone Harmonization
Step one to is to harmonize the chord tones. So here are the 4 tones of a Gminor7 chord on top.(in melody position.) Note that I have added a leading tone(the natural 7) to the scale we are working with. This is sometimes called the minor be-bop scale.
Chord tension harmonization
Let’s look at the non-chord tones. We have some choices here. We can treat these non chord tones as chord tensions, meaning we can build Gmin9, Gmin11, Gmin13 in order to include these notes.
Gmin Chord Extensions
Another way to deal with these chord tensions is to use passing diminished chords. The diminished chords imply a dominant7 and we achieve a 5 to 1 resolution between each non-chord tone and chord tone. Check out Wes Montgomery!
Gmin with Diminished Passing
As a rule of thumb, if I am going to land on a chord tension and stay there for a bit, I usually choose a Gmin with the tension. If my line is moving I use the diminished passing for harmonization. This is not a hard fast rule. You should do what sounds good to you.
Chord Alteration Harmonizations
So how do we harmonize a note that is not a chord tone or an alteration(i.e. not from the minor scale)? Well, chromatic material is most often used in passing. This means you shouldn’t stand on a chromatic note. They are used in passing. The easiest way to deal with these other notes is to choose the voicing above or below the chromatic note, and to use that voicing displaced. Here is an extreme example:
Gmin7 Chromatic Alterations
Aeolian and Dorian
We need to also be aware of the type of minor scale we are harmonizing. The natural minor(aeolian) or the dorian mode (which contains a natural 6). The Aeolian sounds a bit better when using passing diminished so you can choose to harmonize the dorian’s natural 6 as a minor6 chord instead of a passing diminished like I did. It is a matter of taste. Here are the differences.
Gmin7 Dorian and Aeolian
Miles Davis So What solo harmonized with Block chords
As an example, I have transcribed Miles Davis classic solo over “So What” from the album Kind of Blue (Which I am sure you own.) I am using all the techniques above. Doing work like this is great because you get familiar with changing voicings fast, and you can build up lick and material that you can use. The solo I am playing along with is 80% of the original tempo.
The mp3 here.
You should start working with harmonizing melodies that you like over minor chords. Transcribe or look at transcription books if you need inspiration. Practice in all keys and focus on getting this material into you playing.
All 6 parts here under:
- Soloing with Block Chords – Part 1(Minor Chords)
- Soloing with Block Chords – Part 2 (Unaltered Dominant)
- Soloing with Block Chords Part 3 – Half-Whole diminished
- Soloing with Block Chords Part 4 – Whole Tone Scale
- Soloing with Block Chords Part 5 – Altered Dominant
- Soloing with Block Chords Part 6 – Major
from the excellent site: ChordAddict