Tag Archives: jazz counterpoint

Fake Counterpoint And Jazz Chords: Both Beautiful and Practical

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.

altered fill:

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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Drop2 – Tactics to Create Cutting-Edge Jazz Guitar Harmony

Drop2 voicings is probably one of the most important chord types that we use in jazz guitar. This video is going to demonstrate how you can embellish the melody you play with inner-voice movement and sometimes an extra layer of harmony. 

Exploring ideas like this are great for really understanding how the harmony moves and how each voice is moving. This will give you a great overview of the notes in the chord and also a lot of useful insight in what is possible with a chord voicing.

The Cadence

For this video I will demonstrate the ideas on a II V I in A minor. The basic A minor cadence would be:

Bm7(b5) E7(b9) Am6

Since we use melodic minor on tonic minor chords the A minor chord is an Am6.

The II and V chords are coming out of A harmonic minor.

The basic Drop2 voicings

To begin with it is probably useful to just go over the basic cadences on the top string set. This is shown in all inversions here below:

I have kept the voicings very basic but did opt for using a dim chord for the E7 to have the b9 in the chord.

Adding Extensions and alterations

One possible next step could be to add some more extensions to the chords. This can be done following the ideas that I went over in this lesson: http://jenslarsen.nl/jazz-chord-essentials-drop2-voicings-part-2/

To quickly demonstrate this you can look at the example below:

Here  the Bm7(b5) has an 11 which replaces the 3rd and the E7b9 has an b13 that replaces the 5th. The Am6 has an added 9 where the 9th(B) is replacing the root.

Inner-voices in a Minor Cadence

The first example has a half note top melody moving from A to C and finally B on the Am6(9).

The second highest voice is moving from D up to F on the E7(b9) and on the E7 it makes a small melodic movement with F, G and D. The is voice then resolves to E on the Am6.

On the Am6 the lowest voice travels from 6(F#) chromatically up to the Maj7(G#).

Melodic movement in more parts of the harmony.

In this second example the top note melody is moving on the Bm7(b5) and then the 2nd voice takes over on the E7. The E7 voicing on beat 3 has a #9 and also a #11 suspending the 3rd. The inner voice moves from A# to C and on the C the top note melody takes over and moves from F to G to resolve to the 5th(E) on Am.

On the Am the first voicing is an Am6(Maj7) and there is an inner voice melody travelling from G# to B on the final chord.

Counter Harmony – Counterpoint 2.0

The beginning of the 3rd example has the top note melody moving, similar to what was happening in the 2nd example. 

On the E7 the melody is a high C and under this I move all three voices adding a different layer of harmony. The first voicing is an E7(#9b13) and the idea is to move the #9 down to the b9 via the 9th. The way I do this is by adding B7 on the F# so that there’s a quick B7 passing chord under the sustained C note melody.

From there the E7 is resolved via a dim chord voicing to an Am6. On the Am6 the 2nd voice is moving from the 6th(F#) via the root to the Maj7(G#).


A practical way to learn this

The examples that I went over in this lesson are of course quite dense with innner-voice movement. I made them like this to demonstrate what is possible and to give you some ideas to make your own chord progressions.

When you want to work on this you should probably try either take one of the ideas I use (so one of the chords in the example) and then insert that into your playing. This will make it easier to work on getting used to thinking like this.


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Drop2 – Inner-voice movement and Melody – Minor II V I

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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 take over and lead 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 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 thoughts

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

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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