Tension/resolution and the chord progression as framework...

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by vernplum, Mar 16, 2008.

  1. vernplum

    vernplum Member

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    I'm up to my 7th lesson with my totally awesome Jazz guitar teacher and I must say I'm enjoying it immensely and getting so much out of it. In yesterday's lesson he said something cryptic which I'm still trying to come to terms with in my mind and I sort of roughly paraphrase what he said thus:

    "....in Jazz at least, the chord names provide a framework that is kind of flexible - just because the chart says Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 doesn't mean that that is what might be played by the musicians at any given time. If we take a vertical slice through, we may find the bassist playing the root, but we may also find the guitarist or pianist playing some chord substitution or line outside that leads to resolve later on. Thus, the chord framework is more of a concept than a 'you must play these chords here' and provide a kind of roadmap of where the musicians should roughly go towards, i.e. the resolutions. Where they go in-between is up to them (provided it's musical) and provides, where appropriate, that interesting tension."

    I found this tension/resolution thing very, very interesting and it's really got me thinking. Does anyone have any views on this and any pointers on how I might internalise this better with examples? I wrote about the whole lesson here which gives a bit more context as to how he came to talk about this, but yesterday's hour was a bit of a milestone for me in getting to grips with this whole Jazz playing over changes thang.
     
  2. Austinrocks

    Austinrocks Member

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    Tension and resolution is improtant in playing, Music is capable of creating emotions, and that is generally the whole point of playing music, though I must confess the tension chords which the Diminshed chords really are hard to play, they really create tension, I like the pretty chords, and the voicings can make a lot of difference. When my teacher was teaching me the diminished I really hated it. I wrote a song and played it for him called

    Chords I Hate, consisting all the chords that sounded harsh to me, however if you listen to Jazz a lot those chords are used a lot, they certainly stand out IMO.

    Resolution is generally getting back to the root chord, often off of the 5th, or Diminished chord a half step.

    you can also create tension and resolution by key changes, and Jazz often does this, moving the key to the 5th or 4th actually the same thing, and tends to resolve. Miles Davis on Kind of Blue has a song So What that changes key from Dm7 to Ebm7, the tension that the key change causes is amazing, and the resolution back to Dm7. So there are ways of creating tension and resolution and know how to important in Jazz.

    Chord Substitution is good to know, there are rules and there are things that just work, typically moving up or down a half step is done a lot, or finding a leading chord to anticipate a chord change, or playing a chord that is contained in a chord, a pretty good example I found on Wikepedia is Coltrans version of a Miles Davis tune, they explain pretty well how he did the chord substitution

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coltrane_changes

    and I have a book that hopefully your teacher will recommend called "The Jazz Language" by Dan Haerle, he covers a lot of Jazz Concepts like chord substitutions pretty well, though my teacher added a whole lot more for me.
     
  3. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    Tension/resolution can be very loosely interpreted and still work. I often say that V-I can be represented by any two things that are different from one another, if handled right.

    It's also fun to experiment with pythagorean (quintal) and quartal and triadic language, moving shapes like those around with lots of parallel motion in line with the general 'shape' of the tune. You'd be surprised how little of the original harmony you can get away with playing and still evoke the tune on solo choruses, even if the sonorities you are playing don't actually align with the melody notes.

    This is one thing I actually like to use play-along tracks for at home. Set it up to where it's just bass and drums on a familiar tune, close your eyes, and just play clusters of notes--challenge yourself to not play a single 'right' chord if you can help it, just trust your ears and have fun and see how 'like the tune' you can make these 'wrong' chords sound. It's easier than you think!
     
  4. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Supporting Member

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    It can help to think about improvisation as a conversation. For instance, you can think of a song as a general topic of discussion, and each chord sequence within that song as a subject within that topic. So let's say we're talking about sports, and within that we have basketball, football, etc. So you could think of the tune as the basic topic, and we have an A section in that tune which is made up of repeating ii-V-Is in the key of C- it's still within the topic, but it's a subject within that topic. Just like in a real conversation we can choose to work specifically within the boundaries of those chords, or step outside the topic a bit, or all together. And a lot of how successful we are at this relies on how strong we come back into the topic, which is tension and resolution.

    Why stray from the topic at all? That's what gives a conversation depth. Say you're talking about basketball and really trying to explain something like a zone defense. You maybe able to get the point across using only basketball terms if you're talking to somebody that already understands the game, but if you're explaining it to someone who doesn't it can be helpful to use metaphors, terminology from other subjects, etc. And even if the audience is well versed in basketball, brining in these ideas from other subjects is how you can get to a new place. Watch a guy like Steve Nash for instance, you can see a lot of how he looks at the game is from him coming up playing soccer. I saw him in interview and he explained a lot of how he handles pick and rolls, etc through soccer terms. It really made me look at those basketball techniques in a different way- it gave the conversation depth.

    So how do you use metaphors in music? Take these repeating ii-V-Is in C, just because that's the framework doesn't mean that's all you can play. Play a basic 3 or 4 note line over the ii chord, and then slide that up a minor third and play that over the V chord. That's what we're talking about- you're making a reference to another key, another sound, another topic. It's like a metaphor as it's the same line you just played over the ii7, just in another key. So it works because it's familiar, but adds depth because it's different. You can sub out any chord in that sequence, or even the entire sequence if you want. The natural place to start is where the most tension is (which is the V7 chord) but that can largely depend on where you are in your conversation- you might end up playing the ii7 and V7 chords straight, and then subbing Dbmaj7#11 for Cmaj and not really resolving till the next sequence/subject.

    There's all different ways you can do this, and as you get better you'll realize a lot of these little things can be explained in harmonic terms, for instance the little "slide things up a minor 3rd trick" I just mentioned can be explained as subbing out the V7 chord for a V7alt chord. But I think it's important to learn and think in both technical theory terms as well as with personal opinions as to why somebody played something that deals more with emotion and intuition than music theory.
     
  5. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Judging from your blog, you've understood the basic concepts pretty well.

    I don't think the paragraph you quote above is really saying anything much deeper or more cryptic.
    The Cmaj7 in the above example is the "target", the point of rest or resolution. In theory, any tension that leads to it can be used. Dm7-G7 is simply the traditional diatonic one (the one our ears expect).
    The question then is - Can ANY tension be used? Or is the "leading" aspect crucial? In most cases in jazz, the answer to the latter has to be "yes" - which limits the tensions available.
    Also (perhaps pertaining to the above quote) does it have resolve to Cmaj7 at that point in time? Could it be delayed? Jazz, in fact, does this often. Eg, a final C note (esp at the end of the song) might not be harmonised with a C chord. You might get an Ab or Dbmaj7 (both containing C of course) preceding a final C(maj7).

    The only other point I'd make is you've perhaps taken this rule:
    "Any chord can be preceded by a chord a half step away provided that it is of the same type, or dominant."
    - a little too literally. That's OK, you need to test it literally as an experiment. But I think you'll find certain contexts suggest some substitutions and not others.
    This relates to the "tritone sub", btw, which I guess you may know. ("A dom7 a half-step above a chord is a sub for the V of that chord.")

    So when you play Ab7-G7, it's functionally the same thing as D7-G7 - because D7 and Ab7 share the essential inner tritone between 3rd and 7th (F#-C/Gb-C).
    So, while Dbmaj7-Cmaj7 (as in your example) works well, it's also worth considering Db7-Cmaj7, just to listen to the difference.

    Likewise, how does Eb7-Dm7 differ from Ebm7-Dm7? Eb7 essentially replaces A7, so Em7-Eb7-Dm7 is the same thing (functionally) as Em7-A7-Dm7. So what about Em7-A7-Ebm7-Dm7? Better or worse? Or just different?

    One route to think along is to treat each chord tone as a separate voice. Disregard the chord types, to begin with - except the final "target" chord and maybe whatever starting chord you want to look at - and work out some smooth melody lines leading from one to another. These can obviously move in various ways, in or out of key. Those horizontal voices will then combine along the way into certain vertical chord types. (But the voice moves are still paramount.)
    This way of thinking will make you choose certain substitutions over others.
    Eg, with Em7-Eb7-Dm7, you get a held G note across the first 2 chords, descending a whole step to F. With Em7-Ebm7-Dm7, it's chromatic half-step descents all the way. There are similar distinctions in all these kind of changes - and it's those details that should govern your choice. (Not to mention the small matter of harmonising the MELODY... ;) )
     
  6. Gigbag

    Gigbag Member

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    That is a lot of my "style". But, I usually don't have to challenge myself to not play a single right chord. :D
     
  7. tvegas99

    tvegas99 Silver Supporting Member

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    very cool thread, it brings to mind a DVD by Rick Peckham- Jazz Guitar Techniques- Modal Voicings from the Berklee Workshop, when I first started learning modal voicings in fourths I could not believe how free I could become compared to what I previously thought was acceptable...it changed my life:BEER
     
  8. vernplum

    vernplum Member

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    Thanks for all the cool advice - appreciate everyone taking time to offer feedback. I particularly like the 'metaphors' which I will try to use as an approach at some point. Also thanks JonR - I have a lot to think about and to work on. :)

    I uploaded a couple of recordings of me practicing some of these things here. Please remember I'm a jazz beginner with a 20 year Rock/Metal background so these are *rough*. Any feedback appreciated. :)
     

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