Going Fourth, Part 2

Before we continue with our analysis of the refrain of Jerome Kern’s  All The Things You Are,  you may wish to go back and review the recording – then review my last post. After you’ve done that, give this a listen:

These intervals – rising fourths and falling fifths, a pattern descending diatonically (within the key of the moment) by step – are the basic building blocks of the “A” sections of this composition. This pattern was of course introduced in the verse and the modulation into the refrain. Notice what changes in the measures circled in red, however.

The rising fourth interval in these measures is increased by a half-step, tuning them into augmented fourths – more commonly known as the tritone, or diabolo in musica (“the devil’s chord”). This is the most unstable of intervals, one that absolutely demands resolution. In Kern’s original, the Db chord in the fifth measure goes to a G7, which resolves handily to the new key of the moment, C major. Just before it lands on C major however, notice the movement of the bass:

The Db7(b5) passing chord is really a G7(b5) in second inversion. This kind of bass movement in under such a harmonic sequence was actually fairly common in the ragtime music and early “hot jazz” orchestrations that Kern was exposed to in his younger days, though its use in that particular function (going from a V7/V in second inversion to a root position V7 chord) had largely fallen out of favor by the late 1930s. And that is not really how Kern is using it here (and again in the tenth measure when another false key change to  G major occurs). It is rather a way of keeping the bass line intersting. Alternatively, we could analyze that Db7(b5) a variation of an N6 chord resolving to a new tonic – although given that we already had a dominant in place for the new key, that would have been redundant.

Let’s just say it was a decorative passing chord that Kern happened to like the sound of and leave it at that. (Modern jazz players using substitutions generally ignore it, anyway.)

The A2 section of the refrain is basically the same as A1 in a different key, which is C minor. It is worth commenting that the movement from a major key to its parallel minor (in this case, C major to C minor) is something one encounters in the music of Antonin Dvorak – used in those instances more to create tonal interest rather than to function as part of a modulation. In the case of All The Things You Are, Kern’s purpose was to maintain some consistency between the A1 and A2 sections.

Now, let’s look at where this A section winds up and how it gets there (I’m omitting the passing “7b5” chords in mm. 5 and 10 for the sake of simplicity):

A1: Fm – Bbm7- Eb7- Ab- Db- G7- C

A2: Cm – Fm7 –  Bb7- Eb- Ab- D7- G

Notice any relationship between the chords in the top row and those right below them?

Next time, we’ll look at the B section of the refrain (which, while beautiful in its own right, is actually less interesting from a musicological standpoint).

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Getting From Here To There – Go Fourth…

In the last post, we examined the verse of Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Arewhich, while not especially memorable from a melodic standpoint when compared to what follows (Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics here do set up the refrain quite beautifully, however), firmly establishes the short rising fourth interval motif upon which the rest of the song is built.

It is doubtful that Kern was consciously thinking about this when he wrote the piece, but again, it definitely reflects his classical roots (these things tend to become instinctive with skilled composers who have such formal training).

Interestingly, the key of the verse is an entire step higher than the refrain. Modulating from G major to F minor in a convincing manner is not particularly difficult using either the common tone (CTo) diminished method, or dropping the third and fifth a half step and adding the seventh to create a Gm7(b5), which resolves to C7 quite handily. (In reality, this is just a variation of the CTo   method). However, in this modulation, Kern does something  quite complex, using a series of altered chords, descending chromatically.

And notice the intervals of the top notes:

This time however, the pattern of upward fourths descend by step three times. The fourth time is a repetition of the third, however – albeit over a different harmonic structure. Given this last one is based on Gb and the refrain continues in F minor, this is a bit surprising. Kern might have chosen to do this, which would have made the pattern more consistent:

I’m not certain why Kern made the choice he did.  One reason may be that Gb9 shares a common tone with Fm, this pitch being Ab . Significantly,this is the first note of the refrain which starts in the next measure.

Gb is also a functioning substitute for the C7 that would typically have been the V7 of the new key of F minor. It does this in two ways:

1. The Gb here is a “tritone substitution” for the dominant seventh (in this case, C7). This is done fairly often in modern jazz. An experienced jazz pianist, guitarist or arranger might simply play or write an altered Gb7 chord with a C in the bass (this must be handled deftly, often omitting the actual root tone of Gb, or the results can be less than pleasing) before going to F or F minor. There is however a much older reason that this works, going back to the Common Practice Period:

2. The Gb chord in this case is what is known as a “Neopolitan Sixth,” or N6 chord (corresponding to the harmonic structure one-half step above the tonic, called the supertonic). This has been used as a substitution for the V7 since the Baroque Period. Some theory jocks will take me to task by pointing out that traditionally, the N6 functions as a “secondary dominant,” preparing the way for the actual V7; however, in music composed since Beethoven’s time, it is not uncommon for an N6 to resolve directly to the tonic. (BTW, Schenker referred to this as a “Phrygian II” – because the tonality is reminiscent of  the phrygian mode(corresponding to an E natural minor scale with F natural instead of F#).  It’s something you hear a great deal of in the folk music of Spain and Greece and Jewish klezmer music  as well as the Middle Eastern musical traditions from which they are derived.

Again, I’m certain none of this was consciously in Kern’s mind when he composed this piece – he simply wrote down what sounded good in his ear. However, had he not had the “rules” ingrained into his head from an early stage,  it is certain that he would not have come up with such a magnificent and moving composition (and Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrical poetry would have been poorer for it – but that’s another subject).

As we move into our analysis of the refrain, we will discover that Mr. Kern gets a whole lot more mileage out of that rising fourth interval – which will be covered in the next post.

In the meantime, here’s something to think about: traditionally in Western music, the interval of the fourth has been considered “dissonant.” Even today, though this interval makes for pleasing harmony, our ears still tend to hear something unresolved about it. Can you tell why?

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The Mathematics of It All

If you are anything like me, you struggled with math in school. Oh, I could write like Faulkner or Hemingway, play the saxophone like Jimmy Dorsey, draw like Rodin or Picasso….but when it came to numbers, I was lost.

Eventually, with the help of a very good teacher, I caught on to basic algebra in college. Later, when I started playing with CAD and 3d design applications, I started getting good at geometry. But here’s the thing that I really started to appreciate: there is a lot of mathematics contained in music.

It’s something that good percussionists understand from the get-go (when hopefully they master the rudiments), but those who sing, play tonal instruments or compose or arrange music don’t always realize it. Interestingly, in  the education system of ancient Greece and Rome, music and mathematics were not separate subject areas; music was considered part of the mathematics curriculum.

Why am I going into this? Because in its most basic form, mathematics is simply organized patterns – like great compositions, orchestrations and improvisations. Once you learn to recognize and employ patterns, you can cross the line from being average or simply “good” into the realm of excellence.

In my last post, I started discussing Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are, a song that has a unique chord progression (well, almost: the first five measures of Fly Me To The Moon are very similar) as well as an exquisite construction based on patterns.  In music however, we call these patterns motives.

Disclaimer: the following musical examples do not necessarily reflect Kern’s original score – and I’ve kept them deliberately simple for illustrative purposes.

Let’s start with the verse.  On the surface, there’s nothing too remarkable about it. However, it clearly demonstrates Kern’s formal musical training at the New York College of Music (present-day NYU Steinhardt):

Note how this motive is developed, with the eighth note pattern in beats 2-4  rising a major second each time (in musical parlance, this is known as a sequence). Also, pay attention to the circled notes. These are what Schenker would have identified as the primary tones, the objectives toward which the preceding notes are leading. They actually make for a very nice guide tone line, which could be the basis of an improvisation or a string or reed section accompaniment.

It’s just a fragment of a G major scale – nothing too exciting or elaborate – but it’s an excellent place to start for those new to jazz improvisation and/or  orchestration and arranging.

Kern maintains the pattern in the next two measures before ending this part of his tune – except this time,  the second permutation drops the pattern a minor third:

And of course, we can add our guide tone line in our “string section”  (listen to how it divides toward the end of this selection):

Finally, as Kern brings the verse to a close, he continues with a development of his initial motivic idea:

BTW, despite the simple musical accompaniment I’ve provided here, when I’m performing this song, I usually put a sustained D pedal tone in the bass  under the first and second measures of the above example – and would probably make this and other choices if I was doing a professional arrangement – for reasons (beyond the present topic)  I’ll discuss in a future post. (Actually, your ears are probably telling you that it sounds appropriate – but you may not understand just why.)

In the next post, we will see how Kern uses his initial two-note motive of a rising fourth (from the dominant to the tonic) as the basis for the entire refrain, creating exquisite unity between verse and “burthen” (as Kern referred to it).

Incidentally, did anyone notice my use of first species counterpoint and contrary motion in any of the sound examples above?

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They Do – Except When They Don’t

A Master Composer

“The verse was nothing – but the Chorus was Art – And its Music was enough to tear you apart…”

Joseph Moncure March, The Wild Party (1926)

In my very first post to this blog, I said “…the harmonic progressions of all of these great and not-so-great songs are made up of fewer than 35 different sequences.”

I should have said “almost all of these great and not-so-great songs.” It’s true that once someone understands the standard “rules” of voice leading and harmonic progression, s/he finds them to be nothing more than what they have known all along on an instinctual level (assuming they’ve been brought up in the Western musical tradition). Remember, these are not the “rules” in the sense of a mandate from some divine or self-styled authority,  but rather more akin to the “natural laws” of physics.

Among the repertoire that makes up the Great American Songbook (incidentally, there are a fair number of songs in there by English, French and Italian  songwriters, a host of songs by Hispanic and Latino composers as well a couple by a Greek , one by a German and one by an unknown Russian – but I digress), there are a handful of songs with harmonic progressions that are unique.

Case in point: one of the most popular standards of all time, Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are.

This version is perhaps not the “coolest” or most hep, but it is (IMHO) one of the cleanest performances I have heard – and probably the closest to what Kern was hearing in his brain when he composed the piece.

Although the harmonic progressions used in this song are definitely not the ones you hear in most standards, it actually works very well according to the “rules;” although exotic-sounding, there is nothing there that our Western ears would find jarring or unexpected. Quite the contrary – it’s quite pleasing and logical sounding.

Can you tell why? In the next few posts, I’ll be deconstructing this piece and demonstrate how, despite its complexity, it’s fairly easy to find the guide tone lines (experienced players will probably hear them in any event).

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The Incredible and Amazing Diminished Seventh Chord

I have to give one of my former instructors credit for this one. Dr. Peter Gries, who until his recent retirement was the music department chairman at my old alma mater, spent quite a bit of time on this in advanced theory. He was also the first proponent of Shenkerian Analysis I had ever met – and had this incredibly radical idea that music analysis should be based on what one hears rather than what one sees on the page. The latter he referred to as Augenmusik (“eye-music”).

Anyway…most jazz players and arrangers think of a diminished seventh chord, or a stack of minor thirds, as a color chord at worst and at best as a substitute for the dominant 7th, or V7 chord. It is true that the seventh chord is useful as a functional chord leading to something else. And, when one places a bass note under a diminished seventh corresponding to the note a whole step up from the root of the chord, it changes its personality altogether. That bass note turns the diminished seventh into a dominant seventh with a flatted ninth, based on that same bass note.

So, a C diminished seventh chord with a D in the bass becomes a D7(b9), a Db diminished seventh with an Eb in the bass becomes an Eb7(b9), a D diminished seventh with an E in the bass becomes an E7(b9) and so forth.

Listen to it here.

Note: while the real theory jocks who are into “Augenmusik” would take issue, try to ignore the way the chords are spelled in the examples for this post and focus on how they sound.

By the way, did you know that there are really only three diminished seventh chords? They may have different names – and according to the music theory jocks, different functions – but a C diminished seventh and the Eb, Gb/F# and A diminished seventh chords all have the exact same pitches. The same goes for the diminished seventh chords built on Db/C# (Db/C#-E-G-Bb) and D (D-F-Ab-B).

Don’t believe it? Hear it for yourself.

Incidentally, the same is true of augmented chords, or stacks of major thirds (which I’ll deal with in a future post).

Getting back to diminished seventh chords: the most amazing thing about them (and this is what Dr. Gries explained to us) is that by simply dropping any pitch one-half step, it can be turned into the  V7 of any key to which you would care to modulate.

Allow me to demonstrate:

 In short, the diminished seventh chord is the Universal pivot chord. The technical name for this  is “common tone diminished chord modulation.” Can you see why?

Bottom line: if you are doing an orchestration, or simply improvising on solo piano or guitar, point your guide tone lines toward a diminished seventh chord, drop one pitch a half step and see (that is, hear) where it takes you.

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A Tale of Two Ditties

Actually, it’s two versions of the same ditty – in this case, the Harry Warren example we’ve been working with so far. You’ll remember the first version in which we simply used the guide tone lines. Here’s what it looks like:

And here’s what it sounds like.

It’s not bad – but it’s not great.

Now, we’re going to use principles of counterpoint to spice it up. Listen to it here.

 Notice that we were able to work in that F7(b9)  chord (highlighted) just before bringing it home – and do it in a very smooth manner. Had we simply used the guide tone lines as we did in the first example, it would have sounded a bit…well, “clunky.”

Do you agree?

The point here is that guide tone lines are simply that – “guide-lines.” They are but one ingredient in building an arrangement, albeit a basic one.

If there are any specific songs you would like to see analyzed in this manner, please leave a comment and tell me which ones you’d like to see featured.

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Posted in chord progression, common tones, contrary motion, counterpoint, Great American Songbook, guide tone lines, harmonic structures, neighbor tones, Orchestration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Point and Counterpoint – and Being Contrary

"We're Baroque" - Pachelbel, Bach & Fux, Masters of Counterpoint

Before we attempt to apply counterpoint to the second ending of the “A” section of our example,  I’m going to go through a brief refresher course (or introduction, for you newbies) as to what counterpoint actually is. After all, “counterpoint” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in music, but few would-be arrangers and orchestrators really give it much thought.

Even if you haven’t had advanced music theory, chances are you have played or sung counterpoint at some time in your musical life . The simplest and most basic form of counterpoint is the round, the classic examples being Freré Jacques and Row, Row, Row Your Boat. A more complex (but still relatively simple) form of counterpoint is the canon which is usually two or more voices over a repeated bass pattern (ostinato). A well-known example is the often  (some might say over) performed Pachelbel’s Canon. (Check out this video to hear the piece as it was originally performed at the wedding of J.S. Bach’s older brother in 1694 – complete with authentic period instruments.)

The most sophisticated form of counterpoint is the fugue, of which composers such as J.S. Bach and Johann Fux were masters. There have been jazz fugues written. I myself composed such a piece for Big Band, entitled Toccata and Fugue in Jazz Minor. However, much of counterpoint in Big Band writing is more subtle.

Actually, musicologist Heinrich Schenker believed that most great music was on some level counterpoint. At its most basic level, counterpoint is nothing more than two melodic voices that have some harmonic relationship, yet move independently.  Contrary motion, which happens when two or more voices start moving in different directions (as when one voice ascends  and the other descends) is an important element of counterpoint. Baroque counterpoint comes in five different flavors, or “species.”

In first species counterpoint, these two voices move in rhythmic unison, i.e., quarter note against quarter note.  Here’s a simple example:

First Species Counterpoint

 Next is second species counterpoint, which is two notes against one:

Second Species Counterpoint

As you know (if you’ve had advanced theory) or may have guessed (if this is your first trip down this road), third species is four against one:

Third Species Counterpoint

 Fourth species is a different animal: in this case, we set up a series of suspensions that create dissonances and resolutions.

Fourth Species Counterpoint

Fifth species includes all of the above: this is also called “florid” counterpoint.

Fifth Species ("Florid") Counterpoint

In my next post, we’ll apply some of this to Big Band writing. In the meantime, go back and listen to  the Glenn Miller recording. Can you hear anything in there that sounds like counterpoint? (Hint: there is some really beautiful contrary motion  starting around 02:36.)

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Guide Tone Lines In Action, Part 3 – Colors of the Winds

So – what’s wrong with the guide tone line in the second ending in terms of orchestration?

Nothing, provided we drop the line an octave.

In simplest terms, the second ending of the “A” section in the current example (Harry Warren’s 1940 ballad I Know Why And So Do You, in case you’re here for the first time) ends with a V7/V – V7 – I cadence: an abbreviated circle of fifths. I analyzed the II7 chord as a secondary dominant because this is how it is actually functioning – it is a C7 chord that ultimately resolves to the F7, the V7 of the tonic Bb chord.  Of course, that C7 turns minor before it goes to the penultimate F7 dominant for the space of an eighth note. The Cm7 here is actually a substitution for the F7, and could be considered a V7 with a suspended third. Warren didn’t really have much choice at this point; once he had penned this part of the melody, he was locked in from a harmonic standpoint.

Why? In short, color tones. Because these color tones – specifically, D and Bb – are the important melody tones at this point.

 When scoring for a section, color tones must be treated very carefully. In the hands of a skilled,  experienced  orchestrator, they can be voiced on the bottom or middle of a chord. However, if these color tones are found in the melody (as in the present case), they must be on top.


 Don’t believe it? Give it a listen:

 I Know Why Sound Example  01

The guide tone line in this case clashes with the melody. However, if we drop it an octave, it actually sounds pretty good:

I Know Why Sound  Example 02

And now, we have a great deal of tonal space in which to fill out the chord:

I Know Why Sound Example 03

Add a bass line, and it starts to sound like an orchestration:

I Know Why Sound Example 04

By the way, when you really listen carefully, you’ll notice that I omitted the penultimate F7 – which only fits with the eighth note in the first half of beat four. I do put an F in the bass under the Cm7 however. This actually turns it into an F7 with a suspended third (more commonly identified as “Fsus”). It still serves the same harmonic function as a dominant seventh, however.

Now we can still throw in that F7. For a brief moment this presents an opportunity to include some very tasty color tones and chord extensions. However, if not handled skillfully, it will wind up sounding rather awkward and unnatural.

In my next post, I’ll demonstrate how the pros do it using guide tone lines in the context of counterpoint.

In the meantime, if you have had some experience in writing counterpoint, how might you work in an F7 chord at this point while keeping it smooth sounding?

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Guide Tone Lines In Action, Part 2

It is said that the only thing two music theorists can agree on is how a third got his analysis wrong.

I’ll start out with a disclaimer: this is not  a true Shenkerian analysis of the Harry Warren classic. I suspect Professor Shenker would not choose the notes I’ve pointed out as the most important ones in the melody – and in this case, that’s not really the point.  What I am doing here is using some of the principles of Shenkerian analysis to point out what to my ears is an exceptionally strong guide tone line. If you look at the example below, it is simply a fragment of a Bb scale, starting on the third degree (D), ascending to the tonic (Bb), then descending back down to the second degree (C) in the first ending.

Apparently, the arranger here found this very handy. Go to the video I included in the previous post and listen to the unison reed section behind the vocalist starting at around 4:22:


 This is one example of how an experienced orchestrator makes use of guide tone lines when building an arrangement, whether for a big band, wind ensemble, symphony orchestra or any other type of instrumental or choral group.

Now, if you refer back to the first example in this post, you’ll notice that something a little different happens in the second ending. The guide tone line I’ve identified doesn’t follow the melody. However, it actually does fit with the harmonic structure that Warren chose when he composed the piece. Now, where I have placed those notes works well for improvisation – but wouldn’t work in an orchestration.

If you’ve had experience writing for an ensemble, you’ll understand why. For the rest of you aspiring arrangers, I’ll explain why on my next post.

Before closing, here is another recording of the same tune that I actually like better. It was done in England during the war by a vocalist by the name of Anne Shelton: here, she sings the rarely-performed verse.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about this post, please leave a comment.

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Guide Tone Lines in Action, Part 1

Today, let’s start off with a short musical interlude:

The song of which this is the definitive recording will be the example used for the next  couple of posts. But before going much further, I want to talk about someone who very few jazzers have ever heard of – and who on the surface would seem to have very little to do with jazz theory.

Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935)

Heinrich Schenker was a pianist and musicologist who believed in essence that all tonal music could be boiled down to simple scales – or fragments thereof.  According to his philosophy, there is a hierarchy to the pitches making up a melodic line; there are primary pitches that make up the fundamental scale-wise structure of the tune. All other notes surrounding these primary pitches are simply there to bridge the gaps or provide ornamentation.

Schenker was a bit of an opinionated prig; aside from being sexist (don’t judge too harshly; he was a product of his time and culture), he felt as if very little music of any consequence was created after the Romantic Period (ca. 1825-1900). He would doubtless have taken issue with his system of analysis being applied to the body of American popular song that makes up the bulk of the repertoire we call “standards.” However, all of those  Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley composers came out of a tradition of tonal music, and a great many of them either had classical training or were familiar with music of the “Common Practice” Period (basically, Bach to Brahms).

Case in point: Harry Warren.

Composer Harry Warren (1893-1981) With Lyricist Al Dubin

He is possibly the greatest songwriter  you never heard of. Although he had more Top 40 hits in is time than Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers and Irving Berlin combined, he once quipped that even his best friends didn’t know who he was. People know his songs, however: I Only Have Eyes For You, I Found a Million Dollar Baby, About a Quarter To Nine, Shuffle Off To Buffalo, Lullaby of Broadway, Chattanooga Choo-Choo (the first million-seller in history) and That’s Amore were all Harry Warren songs that continue to be favorites decades after they were written.

He was born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna, son of Italian immigrants, in 1893. Not surprisingly, he grew up listening to Italian opera  – and the lyrical quality of this classic music was a major influence. Warren’s melodies are as carefully crafted as those of the great composers of the Common Practice Era.

Underlying this craftsmanship, however, is a surprisingly simple structure. An understanding and analysis of this structure goes a long way toward helping one in finding the guide tone lines that are useful in orchestration and improvisation.

In my next post, I’ll apply principles of Shenkerian analysis to this gorgeous melody –  the “A” section of which is based on nothing more than elaborations of a major scale. In the meantime, give it a few more listens.

Can you hear the ascending and descending scale structure?  Have any questions about this?  Feel free to ask in the comments section below.

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Posted in Big Bands, changes, chord progression, Great American Songbook, guide tone lines, harmonic structures, Hollywood Scores, Improvisation, neighbor tones, Orchestration, Shenkerian Analysis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments