Join Julian Velard for an in-depth discussion in this video Passing chords, part of Songwriting Techniques with Chords.
- [Julian] In the last harmonization in House You Call Home, we looked at what the song sounded like with a harmonic rhythm of two chords per bar. The result was, at times, restless chordal accompaniment. There are two main reasons for this: The first, as I mentioned in the last video, is the rapid harmonic rhythm. After a few bars this gives the song a monotonous feel. The fact that we had a new chord occur with each melody note made it harder for our ear to separate the two. The second reason, is that I was only using chords from the key of the melody.
Now there are countless great songs that have been written with chords from a single key. But when we are dealing with a more frequent harmonic rhythm having chords modulate the key center of the song can help the harmony be more distinct, which can lend clarity to the melody. Now I want to be clear here. This is not a music theory course. We don't have enough time to show you all the different ways modulation can work within a chord progression. The ways we can move in and out of a key of a song with a chord progression is truly an art. It's an important tool for a song writer, and like all art forms, requires a lifetime of study and practice.
So let's return to our song example and look at a few ways we can use chords that lead the key to make rapid harmonic rhythm more musical. Let's hear the version of House You Call Home with a harmonic rhythm of two chords per bar. Again, I'm going to focus on just the first eight bars of the song. ♫ I worked hard for fifteen years, ♫ I gave you my blood, sweat and tears.
Did you notice how the chords started to feel insistent after awhile? And maybe even vague at times, like you couldn't really tell where you were? So now I'm going to create a new harmony for this song, with the same melody, but this time I'm going to include some chords, with harmonies that leave the key. You'll see this is going to help tremendously, with the flow of the harmony, and make brisk harmonic rhythm feel more natural. We call chords that temporarily leave the key like this, passing chords. A passing chord is typically a non-diatonic chord, that connects or passes between the notes of two diatonic chords.
A passing chord can also be a diatonic chord, that helps you move between two diatonic chords. Here is a version of House You Call Home harmonized with passing chords. ♫ I worked hard for fifteen years, ♫ I gave you my blood, sweat and tears. Can you hear the difference between the two? Did you hear how the second version of the song feels a little more defined? And doesn't that make the melody seem clearer? Let's take a look at some of the passing chords I have in there.
I made a point of harmonizing the melody, as if it were the root, third or fifth of the chord below it. The first time we leave the key of the melody, which is G, is in bar three of the second syllable of the word "fifteen" I've used an E seven chord to harmonize the B in the melody. Another reason why this E seven chord works well here, is that it's the dominant chord of the A harmonic minor. So the motion from A minor to E seven then back to A minor, acts as a one, five, one, in A harmonic minor.
Let me play that section of the song for you right now and you'll hear what I mean. I'm just going to play the three words "fifteen years" and you're going to hear the one, five, one motion, in A harmonic minor. ♫ Fifteen years Can you hear that motion? One more time. ♫ Fifteen years We leave the key again in bar six on the word "blood." Here we see an A minor triad followed by a B major triad, with a D sharp in the bass, which then moves to a D major chord.
Now the B major chord is clearly not in the key of our melody, which is G. The motion of A minor to B major sets up for a resolution to E minor, and this would be a four, five, one, in E harmonic minor. So let me pick up the song from bar six here, starting on the word "my," and I'm going to show you how the progression A minor to B major with a D sharp in the bass, really wants to pull you towards E minor. ♫ My blood And you really want this next chord to be, (plays chord) ♫ My blood.
(plays chord) We have a slight problem here, and that's the melody note is an F sharp. If we were to land on an E minor chord, the F sharp in the melody would function as the ninth. Suffice to say, this harmony doesn't quite sound resolved. So I'm going to play bar six into bar seven, the words "my blood, sweat," and I'm going to play an E minor chord, instead of that D there, so you can really hear what that tension sounds like, that I'm talking about. ♫ My blood, sweat, Did you hear that tension there? That was pretty intense, right? Having the tension of the F sharp against the E minor, which is a major ninth, (plays major ninth) coupled with the presence of a G natural, (adds G natural) which is the third of E minor.
(plays whole chord) It makes for a pretty dense sound, right? Let me play it for you one more time. ♫ My blood, sweat, So in order to keep our melody as the root, third or fifth of a chord below it, the choice of D major works very nicely here. And now I'm going to play you how the song actually goes. ♫ My blood, sweat, So why does this D major work? The D major works because it's a deceptive cadence between the B major (plays B major) and the D major.
(plays D major) Now let's move on to another facet of harmonic rhythm, and that's harmonic syncopation.
In this course, musician Julian Velard demonstrates the many ways to write songs with chords, and how altering chords can change how a song sounds. He starts by explaining how chords and harmony affect a song's feel and form. Next, he shows how to harmonize a melody with chords, and demonstrates how changing the harmonic rhythm can affect the feel and sound of a song. Julian then illustrates how to form an entire song using chords. Finally, he goes deeper and shows how to use chord extensions as melody notes to create a more complex melody.
- Harmonizing a melody
- Changing the harmonic rhythm
- Treating the melody as a chord extension
- Moving from a verse to a chorus
- Transitioning from a chorus to a bridge