This way of playing chords is incredibly fun, and I love how it sounds, at the same time I am not sure exactly where I got it from.
The idea is to be more free and creative with the chords you play, and I’ll take a slow song to show you how I think about the chords and make it into a sort of counterpoint, but it isn’t real counterpoint. Mainly because studying counterpoint was a massive failure when I was a student, but I’ll get back to that.
I guess it is my take on everything I listened to from Bill Frisell and John Scofield, maybe even some Jimi Hendrix, and a bit of folk music as well. I am not really sure, but maybe explaining what goes on might even help figure that out, I am not really following a set of rules as you will see.
Check out how it sounds:
Arpeggios and Voice-leading
I am using Someday My Prince Will Come as a song in this almost ballad waltz tempo, mainly because it is a great tempo and progression to show how “fake counterpoint” works.
The main thing to notice, in the beginning, is that even though I am pretty active then I am not playing a lot of different chords. Instead, I am relying on arpeggiating the chords and getting them to flow into each other in a smooth way, just changing a note here and there like going from the D7 to the Ebmaj7 or Ebmaj7 to G7.
(Add slow examples playing those bars)
I am also very much relying on letting the notes ring so that during the bar the entire chord gets clear.
The chords are simple: Shell-voicing on Bbmaj7, Triads on D7 and Ebmaj7 and an AbMmaj7 as an incomplete G7(b9).
Something that I use a lot is that I am trying to voice-lead the chords, so they flow into each other, and you can actually see that as a visual thing on the first two chords where the top note moves down and the lower voices move up.
That is also what is happening going from Ebmaj7 to the G7(b9)
Playing like this is a good way to REALLY get to know you chords.
The next part uses arpeggios but also more fills around the chords
Fills and Chromatic notes
The first part is mostly about using fills rather than chords and not so much about using several layers:
A basic Eb major triad for Cm7 connecting to G7 which is just a tritone interval.
On the G7 the rest is just a fill to get to the Cm7 in bar 3 where I am using a drop2 voicing.
4th Intervals And Harmonized Licks
This returns to using several layers, adding 4th intervals under the melody, and it also becomes clear why this works better with 2 and 3-note voicings
I am using this Cm7(11) voicing to make it possible to play that little fill with 4th intervals that then ends on the F7(13).
The 4th intervals under the melody then continues on the next Bb chord.
At the end of the first half then it is probably worth noticing that it is really just an embellished version of this:
Is It Counterpoint?
When I think about counterpoint, then I usually think about baroque music with a lot of layers moving, like an organ player working hard to keep it all happening at the same time.
My other association with counterpoint is the course that I had to take when I was studying at the conservatory. All Jazz guitarists had to take this, and I found myself in a class with for the rest only people studying baroque music.
The teacher was a very friendly classical composer, and this was one of the few topics at the conservatory where we actually worked from a book.
This was not a success! I had no real idea what I was supposed to learn, and in the class nothing was related to the music I played. You can probably imagine how showing up and writing baroque music from a set of rules was everything but inspiring. In hindsight, it could have been an interesting topic to explore in terms of learning how melodies work, but because it was not in any way related to the music I played, then it just seemed theoretical and irrelevant.
What You Should Learn From Counterpoint
Another theory teacher later told me that it was not worth it to study counterpoint and really everything you needed to know was these two things:
#1 Step-wise melodies are strong
#2 A leap in one direction is resolved by a stepwise motion in the opposite direction.
I learned a lot from her, and this certainly fitted with my experience as well, so that of course, resonated with me. To immediately relate this to Jazz: these two rules explain how Parker’s octave displacement works:
Where you have the skip from F# up to Eb that then resolves moving down the scale.
It is actually a great demonstration of melodic tension and release. If you think that it is essential for Jazz musicians to learn counterpoint then let me know in the comments, but maybe add a real example of the benefits like this one.
As you can probably tell then, I don’t really remember anything I learned in the counterpoint class, and I am really just using it to describe that I am improvising several layers in the comping examples.
Arpeggiation and Jimi Hendrix
Now whether I learned to play chords like this from Bach, Jimi Hendrix or Bill Frisell, it is probably a mix. I think you can hear some of this coming from Bill Frisell’s way of working with chords, and if you think about it then the idea of playing chords and spreading them out similar to what I picked up from Hendrix on Wind Cries Mary or Little Wing.
The next part is almost a chord melody as a way of comping with a clear melody that is being supported by the chords under it
Except for one place, you have a simple melody that is in fact mostly moving in steps, and then there are chords.
If I just add the melody on top you can hear it:
In the Cm7 F7 bar it becomes counterpoint again with the sustained G note and then walking down to spell out the change to F7 and that is really just a melodic way to play these simple chords:
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