One Chord to Another

I’d rather be a servant to rhythm than a slave to tonality. Lately, I’ve working on some ideas I first heard from Kenny Werner and more recently George McFetridge dealing with sequences of random chords. It’s time to shake up old habits. There’s less excitement for me in progressions that I “know” will work. I think I can hear more than I actually do. That’s what I mean when I say I don’t wish to be a slave to tonality. I work hard at playing and hearing in terrains that are mysterious and challenging.

This exercise is endless fun and maybe you will like it too. Try it with me and maybe we’ll take over the universe.

First, physically write out the name of every possible chord. This list is pretty close and I’d love you to tell me what I’m missing:

Major: #11 #5 #9

Minor:  Dorian (mi7), Phrygian (bIImaj7/I), Aeolian (mi7 b6), Locrian (mi7b5), and min/maj 7

Dominant: 7 b9 #9 #11 b13 (or why not just throw in those shoes you never wear anymore, too)

I think of sus chords as just different voicings or augmented chords as #5 material. 

Next, with that list in front of you, pick any 4 roots and any 4 chord qualities and make a progression. Any random grouping of 4 to 6 notes can move to any other group provided the voicings are smooth. So here’s what I cooked up today:

G    B   C   F#

Example 1a/1b: Gma7(#9) – Cma7(#5)/B – Cmi7(b6) Aeolian – F#mi7(b5)

Example 2a/2b: G7(b9)sus Phrygian – Bmi11 Dorian – Cmaj7(#11) – F#7(b9, b5)

The results are often better than anything you could slave or sweat over. Even if they aren’t finished products, they certainly lead me into new and strange terrain. The key is to have the list in front to avoid any opportunity to let the instrument or too much previous experience have an undue influence. I purposely didn’t add the sound of the chords to this post to maybe entice you to the piano and play them yourself. To me, this is all about study. What don’t I know? What can’t I hear? Even if I don’t necessarily like the sounds that are generated, I’m trying to run towards them in the spirit of understanding.

Kenny Werner runs through this exercise below. His thoughts on voice-leading are important and I try to stick to them too: give the most basic information necessary for each chord and then “audition” all of the other colours within it.

I’d love to hear what you’re working on any time.