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Jazz harmony

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jazz harmony is the theory and practice of how chords are used in jazz
music. Jazz bears certain similarities to other practices in the tradition
of Western harmony, such as many chord progressions, and the
incorporation of the major and minor scales as a basis for chordal
construction. In jazz, chords are often arranged vertically in major or
minor thirds, although stacked fourths are also quite common.[1] Also,
jazz music tends to favor certain harmonic progressions and includes
the addition of tensions, intervals such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths to
chords. Additionally, scales unique to style are used as the basis of
many harmonic elements found in jazz. Jazz harmony is notable for the

Dominant seventh chord on C: C7
Play .

use of seventh chords as the basic harmonic unit more often than triads, as in classical music.[2] In the words of
Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha, "7th chords provide the building blocks of jazz harmony."[2]
The piano and guitar are the two instruments that typically provide harmony for a jazz group. Players of these
instruments deal with harmony in a real-time, flowing improvisational context as a matter of course. This is one
of the greatest challenges in jazz.
In a big-band context, the harmony is the basis for the writing for the horns, along with melodic counterpoint,
etc. The improvising soloist is expected to have a complete knowledge of the basics of harmony, as well as their
own unique approach to chords, and their relationship to scales. A style of one's own is made from these
building blocks, along with a rhythmic concept.
Jazz composers use harmony as a basic stylistic element as well. Open, modal harmony is characteristic of the
music of McCoy Tyner, whereas rapidly shifting key centers is a hallmark of the middle period of John
Coltrane's writing. Horace Silver, Clare Fischer, Dave Brubeck, and Bill Evans are pianists whose compositions
are more typical of the chord-rich style associated with pianist-composers. Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw,
Wayne Shorter and Benny Golson are non-pianists who also have a strong sense of the role of harmony in
compositional structure and mood. These composers (including also Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus, who
recorded infrequently as pianists) have a musicianship grounded in chords at the piano, even if they are not
performing keyboardists.
The authentic cadence (V-I) is the most important in both classical and jazz harmony, though in jazz it more
often follows a ii/II chord serving as predominant. Rawlins and Bahha: "The ii-V-I [progression] provides the
cornerstone of jazz harmony"[2]
The ii-V-I ( Play ii-V-I ) may appear differently in major or minor keys, m7-dom-maj7 or m7♭5-dom♭9minor.[3]
Other central features of jazz harmony are diatonic and non-diatonic reharmonizations, the addition of the
V7(sus4) chord as a dominant and non-dominant functioning chord, major/minor interchange, blues harmony,
secondary dominants, extended dominants, deceptive resolution, related ii-V7 chords, direct modulations, the
use of contrafacts, common chord modulations, and dominant chord modulations using ii-V progressions.

Bebop or "straight-ahead" jazz, in which only certain of all possible extensions and alterations are used, is
distinguished from free, avant-garde, or modern jazz harmony.[2]

1 Chord symbols
2 Melodic minor scale
3 See also
4 Further reading
5 Sources

Chord symbols
Analytic practice in Jazz recognizes four basic chord types, plus diminished seventh chords. The four basic
chord types are major, minor, minor-major, and dominant. When written in a jazz chart, these chords may have
alterations specified in parentheses after the chord symbol. An altered note is a note which is a deviation from
the canonical chord tone.
There is variety in the chord symbols used in jazz notation. A jazz musician must have facility in the alternate
notation styles which are used. The following chord symbol examples use C as a root tone for example
Equivalent symbols Chord tones in example key
CΔ, CM7, Cmaj7
major seventh chord
dominant seventh chord
C E G B♭
C-7, Cm7
minor seventh chord
C E♭ G B♭


C-Δ7, CmM7, C⑦

C E♭ G B

minor/major seventh chord


C∅, Cm7♭5, C-7♭5

C E♭ G♭ B♭

half-diminished seventh chord


Co7, Cdim7

C E♭ G♭ B

fully diminished 7th chord


C F G B♭

dominant or minor suspended 4th chord


Most jazz chord symbols designate four notes. Each typically has a "role" as root, third, fifth, or seventh,
although they may be severely altered and possibly use an enharmonic spelling which masks this underlying
identity. For example, jazz harmony theoretician Jim Knapp has suggested that the ♭9 and even the ♯9
alterations are functioning in the root role.

The jazz chord naming system is as deterministic as the composer wishes it to be. A general rule of thumb is
that chord alterations are included in a chart only when the alteration appears in the melody or is crucial to
essence of the composition. Skilled improvisers are able to supply an idiomatic, highly altered harmonic
vocabulary even when written chord symbols contain no alterations.
It is possible to specify chords with more than four notes. For example, the chord C-Δ9 contains the notes (C E♭
G B D).

Melodic minor scale
Much of jazz harmony is based on the melodic minor scale (using only the "ascending" scale as defined in
classical harmony). The modes of this scale are the basis for much jazz improvisation and are variously named
as below, using the key of C-minor as an example:
Melodic minor
scale tone
II - D
III - E♭

Characteristic chord in Scale tones (chord tones
Scale name(s)
in bold)
C D Eb F G A B
melodic minor
D E♭ F G A B♭ C
Phrygian or Dorian ♭2♭6
Eb F G A B C D
Lydian ♯5 or Lydian Augmented

IV - F


F G A B C D Eb

Mixolydian ♯4 or Lydian



G A B C D E♭ F

Mixolydian ♭6 or "Hindu"

VI - A


A B C D E♭♭ F G



B C D E♭ F G A

Locrian ♮2
Altered, diminished whole tone, or
Locrian ♭4

The VII chord in particular is rich with alterations. As it contains the notes and alterations (Ⅰ, ♭9, m3/♯9, M3, ♭5/
♯11, ♭13, m7), it is particularly important in the jazz harmonic idiom, notably as a Ⅴ chord in a minor key. For
our example key of C-minor, the V chord is G7, so the improviser would draw upon the G7 altered scale (mode
VII of the A♭ melodic minor). A complete ii-V-i progression in C-minor7 extended 9 flattened fifth might
suggest the following:
ii D∅

D Locrian ♮2 (mode Ⅵ of the F melodic minor scale)

V G7(alt) G altered scale (mode VII of the A♭ melodic minor scale)
I Cm(∆) C melodic minor (mode I of the C melodic minor scale)

See also
Altered chord
Bebop scale
Chord-scale system
Modal jazz
Tritone substitution

Further reading
Kers, Robert de (1944). Harmonie et orchestration pour orchestra de danse. Bruxelles: Éditions
musicales C. Bens.
Nettles, Barrie & Graf, Richard (1997). The Chord Scale Theory and Jazz Harmony. Advance Music,
ISBN 3-89221-056-X
Ricigliano, Daniel (1969). Popular & Jazz Harmony: for Composers, Arrangers, and Performers. Rev.
ed. New York: Donato Music Publishing Co.
R., Ken (2012). DOG EAR Tritone Substitution for Jazz Guitar, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., ASIN:

1. "Stacking Thirds". How To Play Blues Guitar. 2008-09-29. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
2. Robert Rawlins, Nor Eddine Bahha (2005). Jazzology: The Encyclopedia of Jazz Theory for All Musicians, p.11, 13, and
42. ISBN 0-634-08678-2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Rawlins" defined multiple times with different
content (see the help page).
3. Spitzer, Peter (2001). Jazz Theory Handbook, p.30. Mel Bay Publications. ISBN 0-7866-5328-0.

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