Tension and Release Using Minor 2nds

In my 20s I did a ton of arrangements for a band in Chicago that consisted of trumpet, 2 trombones, saxophone and rhythm section. The trumpet (leader of the band) was basically the lead/melody of the band, and the trombones and saxophone provided back up harmony, lines, etc. to the group.

Fortunately for me, a previous arranger for the group did a bunch of charts that were, for lack of a better word, masterpieces. The charts that this guy did were creme de la creme of great charts. I learned alot just by playing them and hearing how the voicings played an integral part in how the chart sounded. When it came to writing my own arrangements for the band, I “stole” some things that I thought worked really well, and I still use them today.

One of those was using minor 2nds, and manipulating the tension that the interval created.

In this lesson, I show you some of the ways I use minor 2nds in small group charts. Since I have now upgraded to Finale 2010, I will be using my own charts as examples for the lessons covered. You can hear the timbre of all the instruments which is pretty cool. Let me know if you have any question by leaving a comment below.

10 Replies to “Tension and Release Using Minor 2nds”

  1. Vaughan

    Jim, does the 5th or 12th need to be the melody note to use this tension release? In other words, min 10ths with 9ths have to be in the middle with 7th on the bottom?

    Thanks again for having this great class,

  2. Jim Martin

    Vaughan: The tension comes from the 9th against the 3rd. I’ve never heard of a “12th” to be honest with you. Its just called a 5th.

    You can use the 1/2 step “crunch” with or without the 7th. In the example I use with the mi7th chord, there are 4 voices and the 7th does lead to the 3rd of the next chord (C13). Just keep this kind of voicing in mind when dealing with minor 7th and 9th chords.

  3. David


    Thanks, for the lessons That’s pretty cool stuff. The Minor 2nds Tension and Release. I,ve not used them that much until now after your lesson. It gives the Arr. a whole new demention. Good Stuff. Thanks again


  4. John MacLeod

    Other examples of these sorts of minor 2nd “rubs” occur between the 7th and 13th of dominant chords, as well as the ma. 7th against the root of a ma. 7th chord. They may be inside the voicing or at the bottom. They may even work as the top two notes of a voiced background but are not usually effective voiced a minor 2nd below the melody, this is partly due to the dissonance of the interval but also because it obscures the clarity of the melody.

    Interestingly when these sorts of voicings are opened up, voicing the 9th an octave below the 3rd, the 13th below the 7th or the ma 7th below the root, the results are not nearly as pleasing to the ear. The minor 9th interval that is created usually makes the voicing sound wrong. This is not to say that some of history’s best arrangers haven’t used this sound to good effect – Gil Evans and Duke Ellington for example.

  5. John MacLeod

    Oh yah, I just remembered another example- #9 against maj. 3rd on a altered dominant chord.

  6. Jim Martin

    John, you are absolutely correct, and I did forget to mention the 7th against the 13th in the dominant chords. But your observation would probably occur more readily in a big band, say with voicing trombones on a C13th chord. For small group stuff like this, I usually voice the instruments more spread out in a chord like that.

    But say you were writing for bones in a big band, and the progression was Gmi9 – C13. I have many times voiced the bones like this as in the video, with the notes being: F,A,Bb,D (from bottom). Then when the chord is resolved, the only note that moves is the 4th bone to an E, which resolve the 7th of the Gmi9 chord to the 3rd of the dominant chord. You can then move the entire voicing to something like C+7(#9) whereby all the bones would move by half step (except the 2nd bone which has the Bb).

    Piano players use their left hand like this all the time, and I often think of bones as the left hand comping when they are playing rhythmic and harmonic hits like this.

  7. Jim Martin

    John: You are correct as well in saying that these types of voicing “opened up” sound wrong. the minor 9th interval is not recommended (by me anyway) for most aspiring arrangers. It really depends on the situation though and individual instance of the interval to make a judgement call on it.

  8. John MacLeod

    Yes I like to think of the bone section as the left hand of the piano as well. Perhaps this is why so many arrangers are trombone players, they are used to playing inside of that important harmonic function.

  9. anthonette

    John: I’ve heard varying theories on why there are alot of trombone player/arrangers. One is that we sit in the middle of the band so we can hear all the sections better. Others I have heard include: Not as many gigs for bone players, so we have to become arrangers to keep food on the table; also…bone players have a harder time being flashy soloists like trumpet and tenor players, so we turn to arranging to help our self esteem. I’m sure there are other “theories”, those are the ones I’ve heard.

  10. Enrique

    I am just learning to play, cant play good egounh to hold a service .YET but thank you for taking the time to post somethings you have learned. There are so many? ppl out there who can play in my area and will not even teach those trying to learn. Thanks again for not being selfish!

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