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Lesson 109: Harmonization

Bemsha Swing by Thelonious Monk

Let's look at a very catchy, hummable/ singable melody. Let's look at Bemsha Swing by Thelonious Monk, a 16 bar miniature AABA tune:

Now let's pretend that you have just come up with a melody like that and want to harmonize it to make it a complete song/ tune. Many melodies strongly suggest harmony and you really have to fight if you want to go against nature, so to speak. Bemsha Swing, on the other hand, has a melody that can be harmonized in a lot of different ways.

Different Ways to Harmonize Bemsha Swing

1) A I-VI-II-V type cadence

2) Rhythm Changes

3) Cmaj7 Ebmaj7 | Abmaj7 Dbmaj7#11 |

4) C7 Bb7 | Ab7 G7 |

In the above cases you have to modulate to F for bars 9- 12.

5) The A part of One Note Samba by Antonio Carlos Jobim

6) The harmonies of St. Thomas by Sonny Rollins

7) II-V-I type cadences

Dm7 | G7alt | C | / |
Dm7 | G7alt | C | / |
Fm7 | Bb7 | Ebmaj#11 | / |
Fm7 | Bb7 | C6 | / |

8) Freer Harmonization #1

C | G7 | C | / |
Ebmaj7 | Bb7 | C | / |
Fmaj7 | C7 | Fmaj7 | Ab A Bb B |
C | G7 | C | / |

9) Freer Harmonization #2

C7 | Bb7 | C7 | Dbmaj7#11 |
C7 | Bb7 | C7 | Dbmaj7#11 |
F7 | Eb13 | F7 | Dbmaj7#11 |
C7 | Bb7 | C7 | Dbmaj7#11 |

10) Freer Harmonization #3

F | Fm | C | / |
F | Fm | C | / |
Bb | Bbm | F/A | / |
Dm7 | Fm/G | C | / |

11) Freer Harmonization #4

C | Abmaj7 | C | Dm7 G7 |
C | Abmaj7 | C | Dm7 G7 |
F | Dbmaj7 | F | Fm7 Bb7 |
C | Abmaj7 | C | Dm7 G7 |

12) Freer Harmonization #5

C | Dbmaj7#11 | C | Ab A Bb B |
C | Dbmaj7#11 | C | Db D Eb E |
F | Gbmaj7#11 | F | Ab A Bb B |
C | Dbmaj7#11 | C | Ab A Bb B |

13) The harmonies of Beatrice by Sam Rivers

C | Dbmaj7#11 | C | Bb6/9 |
Am | Bbmaj9 | Am Am/G | Fm |
Em | Fmaj7 | Bm7b5 E7 | Am |
Dm7 | Dbmaj7#11 | C(m) | Dbmaj7#11 |

14) The Blues

I took the liberty of leaving out four bars, bars 5- 8, and came up with this:

15) Starting with a Bass Line

Another way to go about harmonization is to start with a bass line. Try the following strong/ singable bass lines for a start ( modulate to F for bars 9- 12.):

16) Counterpoint

Yet another way to go about this is to write another line that goes nicely with the melody line. I have not written out any examples of this - do it yourself as an exercise, you may come up with some very interesting stuff...

17) Monk's Harmonization

So, how did the maestro himself do it? I am not going to give it away here - you can find it in several of the good old fake/ "real" books. Check them out - every version has different changes! Go figure... :-) The very best thing you can do is to get a recording of Monk playing the tune himself and lift the changes yourself...

Exercises

As you can see, there are very many possibilities. Take another melody, for example:

  • Beatrice by Sam Rivers
  • St. Thomas by Sonny Rollins
and (re)harmonize it the way you like. And what next - see you at next year's Thelonious Monk Competition? :-)

2007 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.