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Thread: Any tips when using 'outside' or passing chords?

  1. #1
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    Talking Any tips when using 'outside' or passing chords?

    Hello all,

    As a budding arranger, I have been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out how to effectively understand or utilize 'outside' chords (chords that are not diatonic to the main key center).

    In general, would the use of any obscure 'outside' chords (regardless of how good or weird it may sound) be possible at any moment of a song's arrangement as long as your lead melody makes the necessary adjustments to fit into these chords? For example the repeated use of a Eb Major or Ab Major chord in a primarily C major song progression?

    In regards to passing chords, how about, say, the use of a C#dim chord to bridge a movement from C Maj to D min? In some cases, depending on the lead melody, there could be some inevitable clashing of the melody and the brief moment that the C#dim makes an appearance. A similar predicament occurs in the verse of "Till there was you" by the Beatles. In such cases, do we just simply let such clashes happen as long as they sound good?

    I know there are no hard and fast rules, but just wondering how some of you view such cases?

    Thanks for any tips!

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Coming from a bassist angle on this. You mentioned chromatics. Movement to a new chord using a chromatic run to get there can be effective. Simple approach used quite often is target the new chord's root - miss it and walk to it chromatically being on the root by the 4th beat.

    My point - a leap out, then a chromatic run back in, can be effective.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 01-04-2011 at 01:07 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sugarfreeze View Post
    Hello all,

    As a budding arranger, I have been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out how to effectively understand or utilize 'outside' chords (chords that are not diatonic to the main key center).

    In general, would the use of any obscure 'outside' chords (regardless of how good or weird it may sound) be possible at any moment of a song's arrangement as long as your lead melody makes the necessary adjustments to fit into these chords? For example the repeated use of a Eb Major or Ab Major chord in a primarily C major song progression?
    Vice versa usually. The reason for using a chromatic chord would be because the melody demands it.
    But yes, if you start with the chords, then of course any melody present should fit the chords.
    Minor key "borrowed" chords - such as Eb or Ab in key of C - are common in rock, often as part of a riff. (Eg Brown Sugar, which features Eb, Ab and Bb, all from C minor. In that case, they are independent of the vocal.)
    In Layla, you get bVI and bVII chords (C and D) behind the line "waiting by your side". The melody continues using the key scale (E major), but the notes in question happen to fit the chords OK (F#-E on the C chord and F#-G# on the D chord).
    Quote Originally Posted by Sugarfreeze View Post
    In regards to passing chords, how about, say, the use of a C#dim chord to bridge a movement from C Maj to D min? In some cases, depending on the lead melody, there could be some inevitable clashing of the melody and the brief moment that the C#dim makes an appearance.
    Well generally there shouldn't be.
    C#dim in that context is a "secondary leading tone" chord. IOW, vii of D minor, and a common sub for the secondary dominant (A7).
    But it shouldn't clash with any vocal melody at that point.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sugarfreeze View Post
    A similar predicament occurs in the verse of "Till there was you" by the Beatles.
    Can you specify where you mean? There are various dim7 chords (and others) in that tune, and one or two do feature what we might class as clashes with the melody, but I want to be sure we're talking about the same things.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sugarfreeze View Post
    In such cases, do we just simply let such clashes happen as long as they sound good?
    Of course, that's the main rule! But it can be good to understand why some clashes sound good and others don't. There's always a theoretical explanation for the ones that sound good.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sugarfreeze View Post
    I know there are no hard and fast rules, but just wondering how some of you view such cases?
    Always let the melody rule. The melody IS the song. Never change a melody to fit the chords. Unless you're writing the song, that is...(not just arranging someone else's). But then it's only a matter of letting the chords suggest improvements to the melody. Melody is still king.

    Chromatic chords are explained in one of 3 ways (AFAIK):

    1. Secondary dominants. Any chord can be preceded with its V. (This cateogry can include secondary supertonics, to give ii-V pairs; secondary leading-tone chords, such as C#dim7 in C to lead to Dm; and tritone subs for V chords, such as Eb7 to lead to Dm.)

    2. Modal interchange, or mode mixture, commonly known as "borrowing from the parallel minor", because - in rock anyway - it's usually major keys that feature chords from the parallel minor.
    (Sometimes the way borrowed minor key chords are used suggests the notion of "secondary subdominants" - eg, when you get a sequence such as Eb-Bb-F-C in key of C major. Each chord is the IV of the following one, as well as coming from the parallel key of C minor. Question is: which interpretation makes sense to you? Either might.)

    3. Simple chromatic passing chords. Sometimes the easiest explanation is the best. Eg, if you have an Ebm chord in key of C, that might have you scratching your head until you see that it comes in between Em and Dm. (If it was an Eb7 chord, then you could interpret it as a tritone sub for secondary dominant A7, as mentioned above, but Ebm doesn't work that way.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Can you specify where you mean? There are various dim7 chords (and others) in that tune, and one or two do feature what we might class as clashes with the melody, but I want to be sure we're talking about the same things.
    Thanks Malcolm and Jon for the replies! Ok, assuming that "Till there was you" is in G Maj, the verse goes "There were bells, on a hill, But I never heard them ringing..."

    If I am not mistaken, the word "I" would be a C, however, C would be clashing with the Ab dim chord. Just on a side note, if I am not mistaken and this turns out to be an example of one of those 'pleasant sounding clashes', then what ideas would you have for a backup singer if he/she was singing harmony over that one clashed C lead melody note over Ab dim?

    Thanks again!
    Last edited by Sugarfreeze; 01-04-2011 at 02:52 PM.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sugarfreeze View Post
    Thanks Malcolm and Jon for the replies! Ok, assuming that "Till there was you" is in G Maj, the verse goes "There were bells, on a hill, But I never heard them ringing..."

    If I am not mistaken, the word "I" would be a C, however, C would be clashing with the Ab dim chord. Just on a side note, if I am not mistaken and this turns out to be an example of one of those 'pleasant sounding clashes', then what ideas would you have for a backup singer if he/she was singing harmony over that one clashed C lead melody note over Ab dim?

    Thanks again!
    The C is only a passing note, an 8th note on a weak beat. Passing notes don't need to harmonise with the chord.
    The note for a harmony line would depend partly on the notes before and after (in the harmony line).
    So the lead line runs B-C-D. A harmony could easily run a 3rd below: G#-A-B.
    Notice you land on a B on the Am chord, but that's fine, it would resolve down to the A, just as the lead line resolves from D down to C. In fact, 3rds below makes a very sweet line all the way through those first two lines:
    Code:
     CHORDS: (Cm6) |Gmaj7     |G#o7       |Am7        |Cm6 
       LEAD:   B C |D     B C |D     B  C |D  C  G  E |D  C
    HARMONY:   G A |B     G A |B     G# A |B  A  E  C |B  A
    The last 2 notes could equally be A-G, but IMO B-A sounds better.
    Notice there's only one note throughout that is chromatic to the G major key - and that's the root of the G#dim7 chord. (BTW, G#dim7 is better than Abdim7 in this context. Think of it as a rootless E7b9, secondary dominant of Am.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    The C is only a passing note, an 8th note on a weak beat. Passing notes don't need to harmonise with the chord.
    Hiya! Just so I understand, given that passing lead notes don't need to be harmonized with the chord, then I assume that these momentary clashes are absolutely normal and common? Thanks!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sugarfreeze View Post
    Hiya! Just so I understand, given that passing lead notes don't need to be harmonized with the chord, then I assume that these momentary clashes are absolutely normal and common? Thanks!
    Yes. You can "make sense" of any chromatic note by resolving it, normally to a chord tone. The chromatic note can be in a weak rhythmic position (between beats) or in a strong one (on a beat, particularly beats 1 or 3 if in 4/4). In the latter case - if the chromatic note is not part of a chromatic chord - resolution is particularly important, and should normally be within a beat.

    The best guide is your ear of course! All these rules derive from what has been generally agreed to sound good. And provided you've heard enough music in your life (particularly if paying close attention to it as a musician!), your ear is probably better trained than you think it is.

    Remember that clashes are used deliberately to add drama, tension or contrast - more emotional impact at certain points. But just as in any narrative, they should be used as part of the "story", not just for an isolated effect: that means logical links with what comes before and (especially) what comes after. And accidental ones should be avoided!

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