Diatonic Passing Chords & Harmonizing Melody Notes

Fred Stickley has created many videos on arranging covering a wide range of arranging topics. The following is a short video tutorial Fred created discussing passing chords, specifically diatonic passing chords as it relates to a melody.

As you will see in this lesson, Fred creates a short melody and harmonizes that melody downwards using notes that are relative to the key of F major. As you will see, a diatonic melody can be harmonized easily by using notes already contained within the scale of the corresponding chord, in this case FMaj7. An FMaj chord has scale that relates to it, namely an F Major scale.

So fundamentally, an arranger can quickly harmonize this line by having each individual player follow a line that corresponds with the notes of an F Major scale.

As I watched this video, it occurred to me that different styles of music often define the choices an arranger has when deciding on how to harmonize a melodic line. For example, rock music will typically use basic major and minor chords, rarely using even a diminished 7th chord or altered V7 chord. Its just the nature of that music. On the other hand, more advanced jazz styles tend to lean towards more advanced reharmonization and a wider palette of chords choices are available and typically used by an arranger depending on how sophisticated and skilled they want to be.

I thought it appropriate to expand on Fred’s video of diatonic reharmonization and show you a logical extension of what Fred has laid out in this diatonic pass chord lesson. I took his example of melody line and illustrated how this line can be expanded both harmonically and rhythmically.

First view this video of Fred’s to get the basic idea of how passing chords and diatonic harmonization works. My video follows with a few extended points on how a jazz arranger could work through possibilities on using passing chords using the exact same melody. If you have any questions/comments, leave them below.

Ok, so now that you’ve gotten the basics from Fred’s tutorial above, the following should give you some ideas on how to take the next step in harmonizing a melody with diatonic (and some “not so diatonic” passing chords.) In this example, I used the same melody that Fred used, although I did add a I chord ending. Keep in mind that this “close voicing” example would be approprite for say a trumpet section alone, or in a big band. This example would NOT work for a 3 horn combo because the lower 2 voices are too high.

At the end of this video tutorial, I show 4 examples with audio starting with Fred’s and getting more advanced from there. There is still room for more options on this line. So keep working at it!

Download the reharmonization examples here in PDF (1 sheet)

2 Replies to “Diatonic Passing Chords & Harmonizing Melody Notes”

  1. Jorge E. Meneses

    Loved this Jim!! I have been harmonizing big band Colombian music (for dancing) that is mostly done in triads. The video by Fred shows something that I learned in music school, by your ideas come very handy to experiment in the type of music I want to create. Thank you very much for posting this, it is very exciting.

  2. Hernan Biancardi

    Great as always Jim !
    I discovered Fred’s tutorials a few months ago, they are very well explained !
    Thank you for your passionate work on teaching us !

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