Reharmonization Techniques

A lot of you have asked me for information about the class I am taking at Berklee. It is called Reharmonization Techniques and that is what it is about: tons of different reharmonization strategies.

Every week, there is a big project that is due on Sunday that involves working on a song or a few songs. However, at other points in the week, there are little assignments and I thought I would share the one I did today.

Here is a PDF that contains 16 bars from a song: Masquerade Is Over

Notice that basic chords are provided (the bottom line of chords over each line) and it is my job to reharmonize the song (the top line of chords for each line are mine). I said that the original chords are basic but compared to church music, you will note that they are already quite sophisticated. For sure, you don’t see any triads and you barely see any I, IV or V chords at all. The reharmonization process takes them even further into left field.

There are a number of different strategies that I am using here. In Berklee terminology, there are structured conversions (changing the nature of chords without changing the root), diminished chord conversion, delayed cadences, substitution by function, approach chords, and the axis system. Every choice is deliberate of course though not everyone is going to like all the choices I made.

Here is a mp3 of me playing these 16 bars with my reharmonization: Masquerade Is Over

Would I make all these choices in the music I usually do? No, I would not. I think that this exercise demonstrates a point I make over and over which is this: you can go too far and play so far over the heads of you audience that you will lose them. You need to find a happy medium where you are stretching an audience but not alienating them.

Here is another quick thought that this exercise demonstrates. When you get into chords of this complexity, it is very hard to say what is right or wrong. It is all about taste. A few hundred years ago, this kind of thing might have gotten a composer into big trouble. Today, the normal ear has been trained to appreciate some of these sounds.

One thing that I believe but I can’t prove is that the way you voice these kinds of chords is more important than the chords themselves. Voicing refers to how you position the notes in the chord on the keyboard. It is critical. Even the way you weight the various notes in the chords makes a huge difference.