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Lesson 35: Reharmonization

On Reharmonization

Reharmonization is to substitute chords in a progression. Common devices are using alternative II-V-I and I-VI-II-V progressions, the tritone/ flatted fifth substitution and largely substituting a chord, part of or an entire chord progression with one with similar function or sound - one that kind of does the same job, so to speak.

The II-V-I Progression

Check out the following cadences:

  • Dm7 - Cdim - C
  • Dm7 - G7sus4/D - Cdim - C
  • Dm7 - E/G - Cmaj7
  • Dm7 - E/D - Cmaj7
  • Dm/C - Ddim/C - Cmaj7
  • Dm7 - Bmaj7#5 ( Eb/B) - Cmaj7
  • Dm7 - Ab7 - G7 - Cmaj7
  • F6 - Fm6 - Cmaj7
  • F6 - Bb7 - Cmaj7
  • Fmaj7 - G13 - Cmaj7
  • G7sus - G7 - Cmaj7
  • F/G - G/F - Cmaj7
  • Fm7 - Bb7 - Cmaj7 ( "Subdominant Minor Chords")
  • Dm7 - Fm/G - Cmaj7 ( Fm/G is a "Subdominant Minor Chord")
  • F/G - Ab/Bb - C ( Ab/Bb is a "Subdominant Minor Chord")
  • Dm7 - Dbmaj7#11 - C ( Dbmaj7#11 is a "Subdominant Minor Chord")
  • Dm7 - Ab7 - Cmaj7
  • Abm7 - Db7 - Cmaj7
  • F#m7b5 - B7 - Cmaj7
  • Abm7 - Db7 - Gbmaj7b5 ( Gbmaj7b5 is a "Subdominant Minor Chord")
  • Dm7 - G7sus4 - Bb6/9 - B6addb9 ( Ab/B) - C6 ( from Seven Steps to Heaven ( Miles Davis and Victor Feldman))
  • Dm7 - Eb7 - Abmaj7 - B13 - Emaj7 - G7 - Cmaj7 ( "Coltrane Changes")
and the following, which are minor cadences, but can also lead to a major tonic chord:
  • Dm7b5 - G7b9 - Cmaj7
  • Abmaj7 - G7 - Cmaj7 ( Abmaj7 is a "Subdominant Minor Chord")
  • Ab7 - G7 - Cmaj7
  • F - Ab - G7 - G7#5 - Cmaj7
They can be utilized for variety where a II-V-I occurs.

The I-VI-II-V Progression

Check out lesson 7 ( Turn-Arounds), where different ways to reharmonize this common cadence are explored. Just like the II-V-I cadence, the I-VI-II-V type cadence is also very common in jazz, and it is nice to be able to utilize less obvious variations.

Functional Harmony

In ( traditional diatonic western) functional harmony, there are three basic sound groups:

  • tonic
  • subdominant
  • dominant
If we group the diatonic chords in C major according to their sound, we get:
  • tonic sound: Cmaj7, Em7 and Am7 ( Imaj7, IIIm7 and VIm7)
  • subdominant sound: Fmaj7 and Dm7 ( IVmaj7 and IIm7)
  • dominant sound: G7 ( V7)
Reharmonization largely involves substituting a chord with another chord with the same functional sound. Most of the examples above, i.e. the II-V-I and I-VI-II-V reharmonizations, can be explained this way.

The Tritone/ Flatted Fitfth Substitution

A chord can be substituted by a chord with the root a tritone away from the original. Ex. G7 can be replaced by Db7. This is very common when the root progression is a perfect fifth downwards ( a perfect fourth upwards). Ex. the progression C7 - F7 - Bb7 - Eb7 can be replaced by C7 - B7 - Bb7 - A7 where every other chord is substituted with the flatted fifth substitute yielding chromatic downwards motion.

Some Examples Written by Me

Example 1: Reharmonization of the Last Eight Bars of Someday My Prince Will Come ( Frank Churchill and Larry Morey )

Here I have used triads for two reharmonizations of the I-VI-II-V cadence. Triads are very strong. They give a nice sense of unity to the cadence. They effectively build up the tension to a dramatic climax before going to the top of the form.

Example 2: Reharmonization of Blue Bossa ( Kenny Dorham)

This is a somewhat daring reharmonization of Blue Bossa. Warning: it doesn't go very well together with the melody... Apart from that, it's a progression that does more or less the same job as the original one.

Some Examples Written/ Played by Others

The following examples are reharmonizations of rhythm changes:

  • Pat Martino's version of Oleo by Sonny Rollins - he plays the entire A parts of the head over a Cm9/F = Fsus13 chord
  • Bob Russell's Watch This! - where moving harmony over an F pedal is employed - something like Bb6/9 Db - Db F7sus4

A Few Last Words on Reharmonization

It can be very powerful to substitute changes in standard progressions, like II-V-I and I-VI-II-V type cadences as well as in complete tunes. I like to think of reharmonization as being largely about doing the same job in a more clever, interesting way that provides more surprises and more possibilities for creating good music.

Also check out lesson 109, where I take a simple melody and look at different ways to harmonize it. There I harmonize the melody completely from scratch, without even referring to the composer's original harmonization.

2006 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.