A good way to begin working on basic reharmonization is to practice harmonizing a tune and coming up with a different chord for every note of the melody. Let’s take the first 8 bars to the tune “If I Should Lose You” as an example. Here are the basic chord changes and melody as you would see in a lead sheet:
Similar to how a big band arranger would use soli techniques to harmonize a melody, as solo piano arrangers we can utilize the same harmonization techniques to harmonize a melody to a tune. In order to come up with a new chord for each melody note, you must exhaust all available tritone substitutions and exploit all available chromatic approaches. Let’s put that into practice over the first 8 bars of “If I Should Lose You”:
Here are some guidelines to basic reharmonization for more movement:
- Analyze the melody
- look for where the melody resolves so you can adjust your harmonic rhythm & cadences accordingly
- look for what options the melody gives you and most importantly, don’t clash with the melody (for ex: no V7 chords on a maj7 melody note).
- Before a V7 chord, add it’s related iimin7
- Chromatically approach chords from a half step above
- the half step above chord more often than not works best as a dom7
- however, it can also be a Maj7 resolving to a Maj7 or a min7 resolving to a min7 depending on the context and whether it works with the melody
- You can even insert a chromatic 2-5 from a half step above as long as it works with the melody (for ex: the last 4 bars of “Stella by Starlight”)
- Look for any 5-1 motion to exploit secondary dominants and altered harmony
- Secondary Dominant: Any 5-1 motion can become a V7-I as long as it doesn’t clash with the melody (for ex: Gmin7-C7 can become G7-C7)
- Altered Harmony: Once the 5 becomes a V7, you can incorporate altered harmony (b9, #9, b5, #5) to make it a V7Alt for a richer harmonization
- Rather than resolving to imin7 in a minor 2-5-1, resolving to the imin(maj7) can also richen the harmonization
It’s crucial that you are familiar with these more “in” reharmonization techniques before exploring more out of key, modulatory, advanced reharmonization Techniques such as: Constant Structure, Chromatic Bass Motion, Planing, and Extreme Tonicization. Practice applying these 5 Basic Reharmonization Techniques over standards to get familiar with the way they move and the way they sound.
Bijan Taghavi is a pianist, composer, and educator currently based in New York, NY. For more information visit: BijanJazz.com.