Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

3 Reharmonization Techniques Every Guitarist Should Know

3 Reharmonization Techniques Every Guitarist Should Know

Learning jazz reharmonization techniques is not only a great way to develop jazz comping skills but it also expands application of jazz substitutions and superimpositions.

Reharmonization techniques are often required for solo jazz guitar arrangements to create interest, interpretation and originality. That is not to say that every tune should have 20 chords in the first measure.

But if a tune only has 3 chords, there is nothing wrong with adding some harmonic twists. This article contains 3 reharmonization technique examples used in a solo jazz guitar situation. Each example contains a before and after sample.



Reharmonization Technique #1 – Change Tonality


An effective reharmonization technique to experiment with is changing the tonality of a tune. This technique works best on melodies that do not contain thirds because the original theme can be kept as it is.

The Happy Birthday theme is usually played in a major key. The first line in the example below shows how the melody can be harmonized using major chords. In the second line the major 7th chords have been changed to minor 6ths.

Almost all of the dominant 7th chords are now flat 9 chords producing a minor V — I cadence.

The entire theme now has a much darker feel it than it did with major chords. Try and find some other traditional or folk melodies that do not contain thirds in the melody and apply the changing tonality reharmonization technique to them.


3 Reharmonization Techniques  - Happy Birthday



Reharmonization Technique #2 — Harmonize Bass Notes


The next reharmonization technique of adding more bass notes is applied to the jazz standard Polka Dots and Moonbeams.

This particular standard contains endless possibilities for reharmonization techniques and is well worth learning as a solo jazz guitar piece.

The original chord progression in the first two bars of this tune is a I VI II V.

The new chord progression is essentially doing the same harmonic job, but with a descending bass line in the first bar.

Adding more bass notes is effective to use on melodies that have ascending or descending scale based passages, like in Polka Dots and Moonbeams.

There is a chord to support each new bass note. The E7 could also be E-7 to diatonically fit the key of F, but an E7 provided more effective voice leading.

The great Ted Greene also applied the harmonized bass note technique to his arrangement of Polka Dots and Moonbeams.


3 Reharmonization Techniques - polka dots


Reharmonization Technique #3 — Add More Cadences


The final reharmonization technique explored in this article is adding more cadences.

Besides demonstrating how to addd more cadences this example incorporates the chromatically moving bass techniques from the last example.

The song used in this example is the bridge to Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

The first bar usually only contains a major 7th chord for the entire duration.

In this example I have adding another chord (C#dim7) while retaining the original melody.

The C#dim7 is essentially acting as an A7b9 which provides a V — I cadence to the D-7 in the next bar.

A C#dim7 was used instead of an A7b9 to create a chromatically rising bass note.

Tritone substitution is used in the second bar to continue the chromatic bass movement as the G7 is now a Db7#11.

The common I VI II V substitution of replacing the I chord with a III is used in the penultimate bar to create cyclic bass movement and a full minor ii V I.


3 Reharmonization Techniques - Somewhere Over


I hope that you enjoy playing through each of the examples and that they provide you with some fresh ideas to spice up your solo jazz guitar playing.

What are some of your favorite reharmonization techniques? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.





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Ihab Amer

I don't comprehend the Cmaj7 chord on the first example, notes of the first chord are A E B F From high to low. The Cmaj7 notes are C E G B ... Am I missing something here?

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Larry Siden

The first chord in the first measure (not the pick-up) in Happy B-Day is really the top of a G9 (B7b5). But since it moves directly to (the top of) a C69 you can think of it as just a little cadence supporting the I-chord (C maj) tonality.

I read somewhere that, in general, whenever you have a I-chord for more than a couple beats, you can precede it with a V chord for a little added motion. For soloing, you can treat a short I-V-I as if it were all a I chord tonality.

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David Price

The penultimate chord in Over the Rainbow (A7 b13) contains a b5 (Eb) not a b13 (F). Is this intentional? Perhaps it should be called A7b5.

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