How to Improve Your Harmonic Pads

One of the cardinal sins in jazz arranging is having individual parts for the musicians be BORING.

When writing a jazz chart, always arrange with the player in mind. Give him/her the best possible playing experience you can by writing something that is not only interesting, but also a part that “lays well” on the instrument.

Remember that a big band = 17 individual musicians. That means there are 17 individual playing experiences going on during a chart. And 17 individual OPINIONS on how they are liking what you wrote!

You can’t please everyone all the time. But you can strive to make every chart be a great playing experience for everyone involved.

Ballads can be a challenge because the tempos are obviously slower, thus making each part more of a challenge to make interesting and one that is not a “chop killer” for the trumpets and trombones.

There are simply things you can do to improve the harmonic backgrounds in ballads however. In this lesson, I cover one simple concept for improving harmonic pads in ballads. You may have thought of this before, but a reminder never hurts. 🙂


2 Replies to “How to Improve Your Harmonic Pads”

  1. curt

    I found the illustration of progressing from the A9 to the D alt as helpful as the rhythmic stuff. More of that would be greatly appreciated.

    As a trumpet player I want to strongly echo the need for rests. Whole notes get exhausting quickly. There is a reason why we all practice our long tones, it’s the musical equivalent of 50 pushups….even lifting the mouthpiece off the lips ever so slightly for a half a beat makes a big difference for the bones and trumpets.

    Sousa marches and the like go on forever with next to no rests. It needs to be remembered that they are written for far larger brass sections, and of course also that if you are playing them in a parade there is a longer time between charts. In a small band often the leader is talking in between charts just to give the horns a half a minute of rest for their lips.

    same question as last lesson. How is this, especially the anticipation of the next measure by half a beat, reflected in the keyboard and guitar parts?

    Thanks again.

  2. Jim Martin

    Curt: With a ballad, the tempo is moving rather slowly so the anticipations should probably be written into the bass and piano/guitar parts. It won’t sound terrible if you don’t, but it will sound cleaner and less ragged if you do. You can give the piano player rhythmic notation, then just write the chords above those rhythms. Unless you are writing for younger players, that should be enough. I’ll be reviewing some of my own combo charts that do this kind of thing (anticipations) so you’ll get a better idea through those.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.