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Synth Sense

Article from Making Music, May 1987

keyboard cures


So you've got those left hand chords sorted out. Now where do you put them? Andy Honeybone comes up with a few more shapes for the westward fingers and suggests where they work best.

BEFORE WE tackle four-part left-hand chord voicings, I'll finish off from last month with a three-part straggler. The sharpened (augmented) ninth chord, also known as the 'Gershwin dominant', is a vital ingredient for blues and gospel influenced 'funk' playing.

The third always appears at the bottom, the seventh sits in the middle and the augmented ninth is found as the highest note. For example, E7 (aug 9): E bass, G sharp, D and G natural. You'll have heard the chord in every context going and now you know what it's called. For added piquancy, you may care to add the augmented fifth (C) which may also be considered as a flattened thirteenth.

You may remember from a few months back that the left-hand shells of the bebop era were simply intervals of thirds and sevenths. Such sparse accompaniment was fine for horn-like right hand soloing but was a barrier to exploring the orchestral possibilities of the keyboard. The three-part fragments described last month were of use in creating ambiguous textures and tonalities. The equally contemporary four-part voicings to be featured this time add the ninth to all chord categories and extend the dominant seventh chord to a thirteenth. These unashamedly 'jazzy' chords are so generally applicable that the only danger is in their over use.

On a single keyboard it is sensible to centre the left hand chords around middle C and so it's worth transposing up an octave or two to give some range for soloing. Played any lower, the chords will sound muddy; any higher and they'll sound thin. There is a further concept called voice-leading which governs the smooth transition of one chord to another. Range and motion between chords are kept to a minimum by crafty selection of component notes and inversions. An example is given further on. Although it's quite permissible to omit the root note of a chord, the third must always be present to give a major or minor tonality. The seventh is also present in all voicings bar the major shape where it is replaced by the sixth.

Because of the need to cram these four part chords into a small section of the keyboard, two basic shapes result, one with the third and one with the seventh (sixth for major) as the lowest note. For the major chords there are the arrangements 3, 5, 6, 9 and 6, 9, 3, 5. For those who prefer music to bingo this gives A, C, D, G for F6 (add 9) and F, B flat, C, E flat for A flat 6 (add 9). The thing to note is that middle C falls inside each chord shape. If the F example was constructed from the second form, ie. D, G, A, C then it would he too low in register to be heard clearly. You will find that in some keys, the chords fall on the borderline between configurations, and your ear will have to decide what's best.

The dominant seventh chords comprise the third, seventh, ninth and thirteenth, again in two basic shapes — 3, 13, 7, 9 and 7, 9, 3, 13. For example: G, C, D flat, F for E flat thirteenth and A flat, C, D, G for B flat thirteenth. Note again how that middle C crops up as near to the centre as you can get. If you play the last two chords one after the other, you'll have a good example of voice-leading — the change requiring a minimum of effort. If you're feeling back to the roots-ish, then the dominant seventh chords may be trimmed by loosing the thirteenth (C) from the first shape and the ninth (C) from the second.

You may have realised that the component notes of the B flat 13 are identical to the E7 (+5) (aug 9) example in all but root note. There is a harmonic device called the diminished fifth substitution in which use is made of these common notes to change the root of a chord and so create interest. For example, if the melody allows, a sequence of C to G7 changes may be spiced up by substituting a D flat 7 for the G.

Minor chords are built from the third, fifth, seventh and ninth, as ever in two permutations — 3, 5, 7, 9 and 7, 9, 3, 5. For example F, A, C, E for D minor 9 and G, B, C, E for A minor 9. Surprise, surprise, look how they're clustered around middle C. If you like to think of complex chords as a simple chord that has a complex relationship with a bass note, then you might like to think of these as major seventh chords played a minor third higher than the new root bass note.

The half diminished chord is made by simply flattening the fifth of the minor shape described above. The diminished chord is produced in the same way by flattening both the fifth and seventh.

A flat bass gives A flat 6 (add 9) - F/Bb/C/Eb
F bass gives F 6 (add 9) - A/C/D/G
E flat bass gives E flat 13 - G/C/Db/F
B flat bass gives B flat 13. E bass gives E7 (+5) (sharp 9) - Ab/C/D/G

Perhaps it's time to re-remind myself as much as anyone that the left-hand shouldn't be considered in isolation from the right. So what does the right do with so much going on in the left? As ever, anything goes. For accompanying 'stabs', I've found that selected parallel fourth type chords make suitable partners for the four-part voicings. Try F13: A, D, E flat, G and then above that, F, B flat, C and octave F. Again, it's very jazzy but I make no excuse.

As a further warning, I'd advise caution in the adoption of these shapes for general use. Although they stand up well to constant airing, like all things, variety keeps them fresh with player and listener alike. Alternating the shapes with fragments, locked-hands and counter-riffs leads to a much more interesting performance.

In a few paragraphs I've summarised 120 chords — that is two inversions for each of the five basic types of chord in each of the twelve chromatic keys. None of them contains the root note so you'll have to get a sequencer or patient bass player to assist. Seriously though, it becomes quite natural to practice along maintaining the bass notes in the mind. It probably sounds right rum to anyone listening but then compliments don't exactly abound during practice anyway.


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Drum Hum

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That Was Then


Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - May 1987

Feature by Andy Honeybone

Previous article in this issue:

> Drum Hum

Next article in this issue:

> That Was Then


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