Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 22: replacement of chords by tones.

Sometimes it is convenient to replace a chord by a single note. We already talked about bass lines and a second part, but this approach is different. There are several reasons for a replacement.
  1. The sound of the instrument gets more attention. Compare a singer with a choir. It depends on the nature of the music and the quality of the sound whether it is an improvement, but at least one can not always say: the more voices, the nicer the music.
  2. Playing a note is usually easier than playing a chord
  3. The previous point results in a better rhythm. Don't think of complex rhythms. The mere ease of playing gives a more flowing music. The little hesitations which can not be expressed in staff notation, but which makes the music woodenly, swinging or subtly, can be performed less like a robot now.
  4. Another result is that a chord halfway a measure no longer has to be omitted now, as a single note is easier to play and to remember than a chord.
  5. Single notes as a replacement for chords can be inserted in a second part and in bass lines.
  6. Overtones of a bass note lie in the audible area and make a major chord. That's why it is not nice to have low bass notes close together to form a chord. The sound is growling. Check: if you hit the (low) notes c, e and g simultaneously, the overtones of c are g and e, of e are b and g#, and of g are d and b. Actually you hear together: b+c+d+e+f+g+g#. Not to speak of the overtones of the overtones. This effect is the stronger the lower the notes.

Here are some examples of notes replacing chords:

In the previous lesson we left the chord Cdim7 out in the song Shine, as it stood halfway a measure. We may replace it by the note e-flat. This notes helps also the chord before that, Cm (in the original key Ebm), as e-flat is typical for the difference between C and Cm.
Click to hear how e-flat replaces Edim7.

The song Stormy Weather (in C) has the scheme: C C#dim7 Dm G7 C... Here C#dim7 may be replaced by the note c# and Dm by the note d. This gives also an upward melody in the accompaniment.
Click to hear how c# and d replace C#dim7 and Dm.

This way of replacing the chords by single notes may be used for all kinds of music. A Mozartlike melody, accompanied by a so called Alberti bass, can sound acceptable if some chords are replaced by single notes.
Click to hear an example.

It is worthwhile to be prepared for improvisation. Considering which chords might be replaced by which notes belongs to that. Try them beforehand. In the example of Shine, I didn't get them by luck, but by trying them out, one by one. After I missed the Cdim7 chord I tried out all the notes in the chord (c, e-flat, g-flat and a) before I decided to choose for e-flat. The same holds for the notes I selected for the dim chord in Stormy weather. The difference with the bass lines in one of the previous lessons is that here the chosen note is important.
HOMEWORK: Would you have chosen the same notes for the chords as I did? Check how the other notes of the dim chords would have sounded in the songs Shine and Stormy Weather.
<< Homepage / Index of the course / Next page >