Linear Harmony #3 – From Point A to Point B

Let your counterpoint guide you and write from the top down. Don’t worry about chords until it sounds good. Think about the beginning and the end of the phrase and how you want to get from point A to point B.

The “A” motif in my composition “D Tune” (Ex. 1) is only three notes (A, F#, E)  and two chords (D, A7). Since I stretch this melody out a few times in this piece, I have some space to fill. I wanted to experiment with ways to move to the V7 chord, and counterpoint and nice lines that create linear tonal movement can fill the space between chords, and provide musical tension and harmonic motion.

D Tune Melody

Ex. 1) The first melodic motif, the “A” melody from in “D Tune”.

The first time through the tune, beginning at M. 90, the A motif is played twice, first stretched to 9, and then to 10 measures, with a counterline accompaniment beneath. In the below reduction (Ex. 2) I’ve some chord changes, but there are a lot of question marks. The overall motion, however, is I to V (audio examples follow the score excerpts:)

DTune A

Ex. 2) Harmony is implied by the two voice counterpoint and the improvised bassline. In some case the real name of the chord is subjective, as the lines themselves drive the harmonic motion without a distinct chord progression.


Ex. 3 is the first 8 bars from the the second section, measures 135-142. The A melody is in the second to top voice, a new counter melody on top, some of the same counterline below. With three voices and a bass, interesting harmony starts to happen:


Ex. 3) By using a linear approach to harmony one is able to fill a lot of space with few chords, and in this tune there are just a two few specific chords (D in M.135 and A in M.142) an and some implied harmonies in this excerpt.


The next A melody phrase (Ex. 4, M. 143-152, below) is much denser. Cross-doubling and moving unisons emphasize and widen the sound of the counterpoint, and the high voice “D” melodic pedal-point (see my earlier post) rings out. Between the high “D” pedal, and the two note A-F# melody, there’s a strong feeling of D major. Or is there? It’s almost as if the D major chord is pedal point, or a background wash, with the harmonies below layered on top. This time the voices move down and almost force the V chord (which has a pretty bizarre voicing):


Ex. 4) The “A” motif is the second voice from the top (red arrows), and things happen around it. Dotted red lines show one of the strong linear movements (M. 151-2); these two tritones imply a circle of 5th resolution, with contrary movement in the outer voices. Throughout this excerpt chords form and disperse. Hopefully it all makes sense to the ear, but no matter–for if your counterpoint is good, and each part is melodic, pretty much anything is possible. The “chords” that form don’t make sense in a traditional harmonic way. Plus there are some chords that don’t make any sense, or impossible to name. As long as the lines make sense anything is possible.


The chord symbols in Ex. 4 don’t really make sense, but you can see the common tones strong voice leading, and a widening voicing scheme with contrary motion in the outer voices, all moving ahead to the V7.


Let your counterpoint guide you and write from the top down. Don’t worry about chords, write what sounds good. Think about the beginning and the end of the phrase and how you want to get from point A to point B. Techniques like this are ways to do something different from writing a melody with block chord accompaniment and chord changes.

This type of linear harmony and voice movement might set you free from traditional chords, and hopefully answer some of the questions you ask yourself as you face that blank page.

 The full score of both examples:

A score of the full piece and a rehearsal demo:

Click for “D-Tune” PDF Score

About Scott Healy

LA composer and performer.
This entry was posted in Harmony, Jazz Composition and Analysis, Jazz Theory, Linear Harmony, Theory and Harmony and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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