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 » Home » Guitar Lessons » Theory » Harmonic Movement in Jazz
By play4cj

Harmonic movement is the frequency of chord changes in relation to the measure and / or the number of chords per measure as well as the placement of chords in relation to the time signature. Chords are generally played on strong beats, and the faster the rhythm the fewer changes occur. Also, in places where the melody changes rapidly, such as with many notes, fewer chord changes are encountered.

Rapidly changing chords often produces a feeling of restleness, where slower changes result in a relaxing or spacious feeling.

Harmony tends to have a starting point of rest and has a feeling of movement to another point of rest. This is commonly called cadence. The chord function is determined by the distance from one rest point and push toward another rest point.

There are 3 categories of chords, defined by their function of moving toward or away from a rest point. They are called the Tonic, Subdominant, and Dominant. There is a primary and a secondary application for each category.

Movement direction ->

Tonic         Subdominant         Dominant         Tonic
I maj       IV maj or ii min     V maj or Dom7     I maj
  C           F        D-7         G       G7        C

iii min                            iii min 
  Emin                               Emin
vi min    ii min or IV maj      viidim or viiminb5  vi min
 Amin       Dmin      F           Bdim     Bmin7b5    Amin

There is a tonic – dominant – tonic progression or evolution that may be demonstrated in this manner:

     Tonic                 Dominant                 Tonic
Cmaj7        Cmaj7        G7         G7             Cmaj7
     Tonic             Subdominant   Dominant       Tonic
Cmaj7        Cmaj7        Dmin7      G7             Cmaj7
Tonic  secondary tonic  Subdominant   Dominant       Tonic
Cmaj7        Amin7        Dmin7      G7             Cmaj7

The tonic pushes to the subdominant, the subdominant pushes to the dominant, and the dominant to the tonic. Sometimes the subdominant and dominant are switched, and any chord may follow the tonic.

Here is the general cord movement by function, each chord pushes to the next chord in this order.

Movement direction ->

Imaj7 IVmaj7 viimin7b5 iiimin7 VImin7 iimin7  Vdom7 I maj7
Cmaj7 Fmaj7   Bmin7b5   Emin7   Amin7  Dmin7   G7    Cmaj7

In jazz (and most other popular harmony) the chord movement follows 3 basic formula: By root movement, by 5th, and chromatically.

The "circle of 5ths" is probable the best known of these because it is the most "satisfying". This comes in 2 flavors called perfect and diatonic.

Perfect Movement direction ->

C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C
Usually used with chromatic root movement, key modulation, and sequence.

Movement direction ->

Avoids chromatic movement and may be used in part or whole, and is complete when the tonic is reached.

Circle movement may begin on any chord, and is effective in the root position only. Sometimes the chord quality may be changed – Dmin7 G7 Cmaj7 becomes D7 G7 Cmaj7 or Dmin7 G7 Cmin7.

Chromatic movement is usually the result of alternate or substituted chords such as tritone and b5, or the insertion of a diminished 7 chord.

Diatonic movement usually occurs with 3 or more chords, and is often found at the beginning or end of a phrase. Usually starts on beat 1 of an odd numbered measure (1, 3, 5), and is often combined with chromatic circle patterns.

Chord Modulation:
This is used to create a harmonic variety. The key change may subtle or abrupt. The key change may occur quite frequently, yet may last only a measure or 2. Change from major to minor key is quite common, and usually is found at the beginning or end of a section or phrase.

It is important to note the modulation when studying or learning a piece, and to understand the function of the chords in their context. Often a minor chord in one key will serve as the ii chord in a new key:

Cmaj7 F7 Cmaj7 Amin7 D7 Gmaj7

In this example we started in the key of C and modulated to the key of G using Amin as the pivot chord. Note that Amin7 D7 Gmaj7 is a segment circle of 5ths. This example is very common in jazz.

Deceptive modulation is sometimes found, which is where an abrupt change to a new key is encountered, but only briefly. The deceptive chord usually shares common tones with what is expected and may be approached with a dom7 chord.

Expected:  Cmaj7 Cmaj7 F7 F7 G7 G7 Cmaj7 Cmaj7
Deceptive: Cmaj7 Cmaj7 F7 F7 G7 G7 E7    Cmaj7

Note: in jazz it is common to substitute the iii7 chord for the tonic (Cmaj7 becomes Emin7 – note that the 2 chords share 3 common notes). In this example, the substituted (and expected) Emin7 was replaced with E7.

Deceptive cadence is also found, which the use of a chord other than the tonic to resolve the expected cadence. It is usually used to extent a phrase or section of music.

Expected:  Cmaj7 Cmaj7 F7 F7 Dmin7 G7 Cmaj7
Deceptive: Cmaj7 Cmaj7 F7 F7 Dmin7 G7 Abmaj7

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