This chapter presents two ways of adding new harmonies to an existing chord progression.
- An applied ii chord, as in the , can be used to embellish a dominant-quality chord. In other words, preceding a dominant-quality chord with the mi7 or ∅7 chord a fifth above it creates the effect of a ii–V.
- create neighboring motion in all voices that embellish a chord. The root of the chord of resolution is always shared as a member of the CTo7—hence the term “common tone.” (Note: See this chapter for more information on CTo7 chords in Western classical music.)
Jazz performers often aim to add their own twist to existing jazz standards. One way of doing this is to add new chords that existing chords in the progression. This chapter explores two ways that performers improvise by embellishing harmonies in jazz.
This chapter will use the opening few bars of “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington (1930) as a backdrop and add embellishing chords to it. If you take a moment to familiarize yourself with the tune, the following discussions will make more sense. Listen to Louis Armstrong’s interpretation of this song, embedded below, while following the chords of the first few bars, given here.
(piano intro: 2 bars)
B♭ | C7 | Cmi7 F7 | B♭ |
B♭ | C7 | G♭7 | F7 |
Any chord in a progression can be embellished by preceding it with an applied dominant chord. takes the surprising G♭ chord of measure 7, divides it in half, and replaces the first half note of the chord with its applied V7 chord. In principle, this can be done with any chord in the progression.
The chapter on ii–V–I discusses the use of applied ii–V–Is, i.e., ii–V–I progressions that occur in keys other than the tonic key. Many jazz tunes have these applied ii–Vs built in, but a performer could add their own as well. A dominant chord can often be embellished by adding its ii chord before it, transforming it into a ii–V schema.
“Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington begins with the progression B♭–C7–Cmi7–F7–B♭. That first C7 could be embellished by adding a Gmi7 before it, creating a temporary ii–V that then proceeds to another ii–V. Rhythmically, this means cutting the duration of the C7 into two halves and replacing the first half with the applied ii chord. The result is the progression inbelow.
The common-tone diminished seventh chord (hereafter CTo7) is a voice-leading chord, which means that the chord is not based on a particular scale degree like most other harmonies, but rather the result of more basic embellishing patterns. In this case, the embellishing motion is the motion. To create a CTo7, the root of the chord being embellished is kept as a common tone (hence the name), and all other voices move by step to the notes of the diminished seventh chord that includes that common tone. This is best explained in notation, as in.
The CTo7 can be used to prolong any chord. Rhythmically, the chord would be inserted somewhere in the middle of the total duration of the harmony, leaving the prolonged harmony on either side of it (as in). Another option is to skip the initial statement of the prolonged harmony and instead jump straight into the CTo7. adds both types of CTo7 to “Mood Indigo,” the melody of which is particularly suggestive of CTo7 embellishments. In this example, the CTo7 chords are not given their own Roman numerals, to show that they do not significantly affect the harmonic progression of the phrase—instead, they embellish the chords around them with chromatic neighbor tones. Similarly, the CTo7 chords are not shown with chord symbols, because these chords are often not written into lead sheets but improvised by the performers.
As with substitutions, embellishments are not always represented the same way in a lead sheet.
- There may not be any embellishing chord notated, and instead, the performers are improvising this addition as they play.
- The embellishing chord may be built into the chord progression and thus be notated in the chord symbols.
- The embellishing chord may be indicated as an alternate harmonization and shown in the chord symbols with parentheses around the embellishing chords.
This is illustrated inwith different ways of showing a CTo7 in “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington.
- Levine, Mark. 1995. The Jazz Theory Book. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music.
- Swing-style composition (.pdf, .docx). Asks students to build on knowledge of swing rhythms, ii–V–I, embellishing chords, and substitutions to create a composition in a bebop style.
- ctº7 © Megan Lavengood
- The G♭ chord is itself a tritone substitution for C7, which would be the applied V7 of F7. Tritone substitutions are discussed in another chapter. ↵
ii7–V7–I∆7 in major, or iiø7–V7–i7 in minor. A fundamentally important progression in traditional jazz.
Abbreviated ctº7. A diminished 7th chord that, instead of having dominant function, is a neighbor chord that embellishes the chord that comes after it. The ctº7 has a common tone with the root of the following chord. All the other notes of the ctº7 are a step away from a note in the following chord. This creates the characteristic neighboring motion of the ctº7.
Notes that decorate other, more structurally important notes. Embellishing tones are often not part of the prevailing chord. Most are 3-note gestures where the first and third notes are consonant and the 2nd note is the embellishing tone. The embellishing tone may be consontant or dissonant.
Types of embellishing tones include: passing tones, neighbor tones, appoggiaturas, escape tones, pedal tones, suspensions, and anticipations.
A type of motion where a chord tone moves by step to another tone, then moves back to the original chord tone. For example, C-D-C above a C major chord would be an example of neighboring motion, in which D can be described as a neighbor tone. Entire harmonies may be said to be neighboring when embellishing another harmony, when the voice-leading between the two chords involves only neighboring and common-tone motion (as in the common-tone diminished seventh chord).