[Sheet Music]

Lesson 147: The Same Melody over a Changing Chord Progression

What's the Idea?

I have had this idea for a long time. I have thought:

  • why is it that improvisation always is that the chord progression stays the same and the soloist improvises on it?
  • how about trying the opposite - to have the melody stay the same and improvise the harmony in some controlled way?

Listen to Wayne Shorter's composition Nefertiti as played by Miles Davis' band. In that performance the melody stays the same and the rhythm section improvises around it.

Other Wayne Shorter compositions performed in the same way are

  • Fall and
  • Sanctuary, also played by Miles Davis' band.
  • Pinocchio, as played by Weather Report.
In the performances of these pieces the melody is also present throughout and the rhythm section improvises around it.

A Strong Melody

First, you have to come up with a strong melody. Let's try this concept with a short and easy melody. This is a melody I wrote a while ago for a tune I called Scary Tune. You can listen to it here.

Harmonizing the Melody

There are always a lot of possibilities to harmonize a given melody. Check out lesson 109, where I look at different ways to harmonize the melody of Thelonious Monk's Bemsha Swing.

Harmonization Using maj7 Chords

We can for example decide to use maj7 chords exclusively. Let us use the chords Cmaj7, Dbmaj7, Ebmaj7, Fmaj7, Gbmaj7, Abmaj7 and Bbmaj7. Now, let us "splash" chord colors underneath the melody in order to get interesting sounds.

This is one possibility:

This is another possibility:

Now, how could we make it possible to improvise the harmony? It is important to leave it as open and free as possible in order to leave room for improvisation/ interpretation.

2015 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.