Jazz Counterpoint – Discover New Harmonic Ideas

Counterpoint is a beautiful way to add another dimension or layer to our jazz comping vocabulary! This lesson is going to cover how I add another melodic layer to some simple II V I ideas. I will also go over how you can use jazz counterpoint as an approach to add fills and movement in a chord melody arrangement. For this I have included the beginning of the song Stella By Starlight harmonized with this approach.

The II V I examples

In the II V I examples I am using voicings with three notes. This is mostly a practical limitation. Three note voicings are a bit more flexible and easier to keep a melody note sustained while adding another melody.

All the II V I examples are in the key of C major.

Keeping it simple!

The first example has a very simple step-wise top note melody. It is moving from C to B and then stays there.

The counterpoint idea is also a slow stedy moving quarter note melody moving one voice a chord to another voice in the next chord.

Notice that I am using an alternate fingering for the first Dm7 (F triad in fact) This is often necessary to make it possible to play a melody under the top note. 

The way you work on making these is to try to play the chord voicings and then add a scale melody under the top note. I have done this for all the II V I examples in this lesson. The first one is shown here below.

More melodic movement

In the second example Moving into more movement in the top melody. On the Dm7 the top note melody is still just an A. On the G7alt it is a three note walk from #9 via b9 and back. This resolves to the B on the Cmaj7.

The Dm7 and G7(#9) are fairly common voicings. The Cmaj7 is an open voiced Em triad which is not at all far fetched even if we don’t use it as often.

The Example starts with stating the Dm7 chord and then adds a melody to take us to the G7. It is in fact targetting the B. On the G7 the chord is sustained while the top note melody is moving and then immediately after the lower melody continues with a G altered line that resolves to the low G in the Cmaj7 voicing.

As in the first example here is an exercise to find the notes available for these voicings.

A little more activity in the movement!

In the third example I now have movement in the top note melodies of both Dm7 and G7alt.

The Basic voicings are:

The Dm7 melody is moving from F to G and then the lower melodies takes over and leads us into the G7(b9) voicing. Here the lowest note is starting a descending melody that leads into another G7 voicing. Here the lower part of the 2nd voicing has a small melodic fragment that encircles the 5th of the last voicing. On the C the inner part of the voicing is moving from the 7th(B) to the 6th(A).

If we turn the last voicing set into an exercise similar to the first two examples we get this:

Getting your priorities straight

You should keep in mind that once you start playing the counter melody then you don’t need to try really hard to sustain the chord (if you played one) the collected amount of pitches and the melody should be enough to spell out the sound of the harmony. This also makes it technically a lot easier to work with.

Chord Melody on Stella By Starlight

The idea I am using in this fragment from Stella by Starlight is to use the main melody as the top note melody and then make a counter melody whenever there is a long note in the melody.

On the Em7b5 the counter melody is purely consisting out of arpeggio notes. This will happen a few times in these few bars. On the A7 the melody is moving so I don’t add a counter melody. 

The Cm7 transition to F7  with a small melody that uses a chromatic approach to the 3rd(A) of F7. On the Fm7 the melody is a sustained G. Under this I add an Fm7 arpeggio melody that takes us into the Bb7. From Bb7 to Ebmaj7 the melody is moving.

On the Ebmaj7 I add a melody that takes us down to the Ab7 by playing a descending Cm Coltrane Pattern.

Taking Jazz Counterpoint to another level!

In the examples that I used for this lesson I am playing the chord on the one of each bar to associate the counter melody with the chord. But of course it is possible to leave the chord out and just rely on two layers of melody moving around. As a short example that I play of this in the video is shown below:

A few concluding thougts

My examples in this video are a bit busy and maybe not entirely suited for comping, but I thought it better to really emphasize the melodic movement and the two layers. You will probably use this in a more sparse way, at least I do, but it is anyway fun to work with!

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Jazz Counterpoint – Discover New Harmonic Ideas

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