Composition & Improvisation: A Case Study: Part 4 of 24: Form & Harmony

The deep understanding of Form and Harmony… specifically which chords establish the key and tonality, which chords create tension, and where each chord belongs in the overall context of the piece… cannot be overstated.

That said, let’s strip away the melody from our lead sheet and play the harmony as simple block chords in the right hand over a single bass note in the left hand…

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-roman-numerals

Absorb the general sound/feeling of each chord and notice that…

  • The C (I) chord establishes the home key and major-ness of the piece.
  • The G7 (V7) chord introduces harmonic tension that craves resolution back to the C chord.

Conceived graphically, the harmonic structure look like this…

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-tension-resolution-fomula

… a general pattern that you will see time and time again in almost every kind of music!


Ear Training

It is not enough to merely listen. If you want internalizer the internalize the sound-feelings, you must SING OUT LOUD!  If you can’t sing them, you don’t know them! Sing the bass notes, and the individual chord voices, and arpeggios… slowly enough for the sound-feeling of each note to seep into your mind’s ear…

Sing the bass notes…

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-solfege-bass

Do you hear and feel how So wants to resolve back to Do?

Sing the “Do-Ti-Do” voice…

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-solfege-do-ti-do-voice

Do you hear and feel the irresistible pull of B (Ti) back to C (Do)? This tension and resolution really makes this chord progression tick.

Sing the “So-So-So” Voice…

Notice that this inner voice G (So) is common to both chords and does not need to go anywhere.

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-solfege-so-so-so-voice

Sing the “Mi-Fa-Mi” Voice…

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-solfege-mi-fa-mi-voice

Do you hear and feel the very strong attraction that F (Fa) has for E (Mi)? The resolution of this tension makes the V7-I chord progression very powerful indeed.

Since the “Do-Re-Do” voice…

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-solfege-do-re-do-voice

Do you hear and feel the unique attraction of D (Re) back to C (Do)?

Sing the chords as Arpeggios…

piano-ology-composition-and-improvisation-case-study-04-form-and-harmony-solfege-arpeggios

Reminder: Your goal is not to hear intervals, but internalize what each note sounds and feels like with respect to the key center.


The Lesson: This kind of analysis and ear training lays a rock solid foundation for conceiving and experiencing the chord changes… the HARMONIC CANVAS on which we are going to paint with sound… as you will see in subsequent postings!

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
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