Lesson 9 – 12 Notes: Dissonance/ Chords


Lesson 9:  Dissonance/ Chords.  A lot of times when I play alone, when I practice,  I play my own songs,  and sometimes write them on the spot.  When I do that it is really a rare moment when I think about actual music theory, but in the end most times it makes sense musically, even if there is some level of dissonance. 

A lot of what I do is not single note lines but chords, arpeggiated chords, but chords nonetheless.  I thought It would work well as a continuation of chord basics from last week, to breakdown a simple improvised line, showing how the chords shape the music and showing how some dissonance is not necessarily a bad thing.

Let the bass notes ring out as long as possible. 

-2 – – – – -4 – – – – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 10- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – -2 – – – – -4 – – – – -5 – – – 5-7 -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – -2 – – – – -4 – – – – -5 – – – – – – -7 -5 -7 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-4 – – – 4 -2 – – -2 -0 – – -0 -0 – – – – 0- – – – – -0 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now if you break this down there really are only a few chords at work here.

F#min      EMaj7      D9             Dsus2

-2 – – – – – – -4 – – – – – -5 – – – – – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-2 – – – – – – -4 – – – – – -5 – – – – – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-2 – – – – – – -4 – – – – – -5 – – – – – -7 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-4 – – – – – – -2 – – – – – -0 – – – – – -0 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now, why do these chords work together? Even though when I played this I wasn’t thinking about key, or harmony, I played what sounded right, and good, and that was, in this case a simple descending A majorish progression. The D# in the E maj 7th chord and the C natural in the D9 are not notes in the A major scale, but they are not a major issue, seeing how the notes in Dsus2 are in A maj.

These chords work together well for a few reasons.  One obvious one is that enough of the notes in these chords are in the key of A maj as to not sound too discordant, as previously mentioned.  Another is the contrapuntal motion on the 3rd and 4th strings.  For those not in the know, Contrapuntal motion simply means two separate melodic lines moving in opposite directions. 

Here it describes the action of the notes on the third and fourth strings in the first three chords.  Had I wanted to go completely contrapuntal the basic chord structure would have changed only a little, with a Gmaj 7th chord. 

Another reason would be the physical symmetry(and sonic asymmetry) of the notes played on the first, second and third strings.  Play those three note chords and see what you get.  Then, to hear what is wrong with it, play the variation of those chords on the lower strings. 

-2 – -4 – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-2 – -4 – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-2 – -4 – -5 – – – – – -2 – -4 – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – -4 – -6 – -7 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – -4 – -6 – -7 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – -2 – -4 – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now, doesn’t it sound a little odd, that third chord when played after those first two?  Your ear is waiting for, is listening for the notes to resolve.  The first two chords being minor, your ear wants it to resolve, have that third chord be a major chord.  Which is why the addition of the contrapuntal bass line in the original piece is key.  It changes the second chord, the three note G# minor into a four note E maj 7th, which makes it easier on your ear.

But if you changed only that chord, the third one would still less than perfect, not bad, not off, just curious.  After having the first two chords have a moving bass line, it would sound funny to not have that bass line continue to be there to hold down the bottom of the chord.  

To summarize, The moving bass line holds it all together, and along with the Dsus2 makes the dissonant notes in the second and third chords fit better, and in fact gives it a flavor that a purely “in key” chord progression could not create.

_________________________________________

This one was tough on me, harder than I thought it would be. The music itself was easy, but the explanation made it more difficult than I’d imagined.  If there is anything that either doesn’t sound right, or make sense to you, drop me a line and let me know, and I’ll do my level best to explain myself.

Thanks for reading, Jam on!

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