Swing Guitar

Dedicated to pre-bebop jazz guitar.

Monday, July 18, 2005

(Re)Interpreting for Swing Era Harmony - Getting the chords right for Swing

If you've ever cracked a fake book to learn a tune, you might have noticed just how "hip" some of the songs are. Bebop has brought a host of new substitutions and complications, and moreover the basic default for harmony are unique to both early and later forms of jazz. To get the swing-style chords you will often have to de-bopify the changes, removing unecessary ii-V movements, and complex extensions. But at the most basic level you will have to reevaulate the types of chords used. Here's what I'm talking about:

I got these bebop-ed chords for the first half of "All of Me" from The Jazz Guitar Primer.
Also, be aware that I will replace the "code" with proper notation as soon as I can.

First, lets look at breaking the song into its most basic form:

C--- | ---- | E7-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | ---- |

A7-- | ---- |Dm--- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

E7-- | ---- |Am--- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

D7-- | ---- | G7-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

Now here is how the chords were playing the swing era:

C6-- | ---- | E7-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | ---- |

A7-- | ---- |Dm6-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

E7-- | ---- |Am6-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

D7-- | ---- | Dm7--| G7-- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

Using these examples here are some tips:
1. All regular major chords become major 6th chords. Hence the I chord "C", become "C6". Generally I and IV chords can be used as just major chords, and so these most often become 6th chords. In a modern, bebop context, these chords would be made to be maj7th chords. Maj7ths are rarely used in pre-bop jazz. V chords are often used as a dominant, so they would be 7th chords anyway. So for basic rhythm guitar work, swing players almost always play C6 instead of a simple C. Also, most big band horn voicings of the era have similar voicings.
2. All regular minor chords become minor 6th chords. Henece the Dm and Am become Dm6 and Am6. This also occurs mostly with i and iv chords (notice that A7->Dm6 is a V-i, as is E7->Am6). In later jazz, almost all minor chords become min7 chords. In swing, min7 are only used in a ii-V cadence (see next tip). Rhythm guitar and big band horn voicing again `also follow this mold.
3. Remove "extraneous" ii-V movement. Cadences at the ends of phrases often end with a ii-V - and that's one thing (like the natural Dm7->G7 in the Swing version). Adding them everytime there is a dominant chord classicly bebop, and really overkill for swing playing. The Bm7/E7/Bm7/Bbm7 movement in the bebop version above, can simply be E7. The Am7/D7/Am7/D7 is can just be D7. Two bars of the same chord is standard in the swing era, but in bebop it would be considered boring, unsophistocated and passe.

These tips work for any kind of 30's or 40's era jazz-based music. Gypsy jazz songs often follow these harmonic conventions, but be aware that some gypsy jazz adopted modern "hip" bop voicings. But for the tradition way of playing those, these tips will work. Also for playing western swing, these will work as well. Have fun.


  • At 2:07 PM, Blogger Jay Harley said…

    Thanks for the tip, especially the clarification on the major 6th chords, I just played this progression on my guitar and it really makes sense to my ears.



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