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Thread: Syncopes on harmony changes

  1. #1
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    Question Syncopes on harmony changes

    Hi folks,

    I have a question on the subject "syncopes on harmony changes". However, let's start from scratch:

    Let us assume we have a 4/4 time with a new chord on each bar: In this example we assume the following chords with a line cliche on top (surrounded by square brackets):

    D7 [a] | C#m7 [g#] | F#6 [f#]| B7/9/sus4 [e]

    Now let's define where syncopation happens: All notes of the line cliche from the 2nd and the following bars should not start on beat 1 of each respective bar, but on the last eighth note of each preceding bar. I.e. the notes g#, f# and e begin on beat 4+ in each case (with an eighth note counting pattern like "1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +").

    For the arrangement we fancy an easy rhythm guitar figure: The guitar plays on every other eighth note of each respective bar - a typical reggae figure.

    In the 1st bar we have a D7 chord four times, namely on beats 1+, 2+, 3+ and 4+. The same applies to the remaining bars.

    Now we experience: In each case the syncopated notes of the line cliche coincide with the respective chord on beat 4+. E.g., the sycopated (anticipated) g# reaching to bar 2 actually starts on the D7 chord of the 1st bar (here note g# conincides with the D7 chord of the rhythm guitar on beat 4+), and on beat 1 of bar 2 this syncope is kind of "resolved", namely by the fact that chord C#m7 is played. Once again the same applies to the remaining bars.

    Now let's go one step further, namely to the point which raised my initial question: Let's assume these line cliche is not made of single notes, but harmonized - be it by vocal harmony or by an electric piano sound which plays chord pads.

    Besides, from the line "a, g#, f#, e" the following triads are formed: "Am [a], E [g#], D#m [f#], A [e]". The top notes (in square brackets) are the notes of the original line cliche.

    Now the following chords are the result of layering the harmonized line cliche with the rhythm guitar (the latter could be considered kind of an upper structure chord):

    1st bar: D7 and upper structure Am result in a D7/9 chord.

    2nd bar: C#m7 and upper structure E result in a C#m7 chord again.

    3rd bar: F#6 and upper structure D#m result in an F#6 chord again.

    4th bar: B7/9/sus4 and upper structure A result in a B7/9/sus4 chord again.

    We see: Layering these chords this way (rhythm guitar and E-piano) does not change the chords, or changes them only insignificantly. At most one more tension is added as in the first bar: D7 becomes a D7/9.

    But: Didn't we overlook something here? Yes, we did: the syncopes, since they generate another kind of stacked chords. Let's have a look:

    1st bar on beat 4+: D7 (rhythm guitar) and syncopated E (anticipated E-piano chord) result in a D7/9/#11/13 chord.

    2nd bar on beat 4+: C#m7 (rhythm guitar) and syncopated D#m (anticipated E-piano chord) result in a C#m7/9/11.

    3rd bar on beat 4+: F#6 (rhythm guitar) and syncopated A (anticipated E-piano chord) result in a F#7/#9/13(add5).

    Due to each pair of different overlapping chords (on every beat 4+), some rather unusual chords are generated (when the result of "adding" two chords is considered to be a new chord).

    Here is the song the harmonies are derived from, in a live version: "New Frontier" by Donald Fagen:

    http://youtu.be/pluLCgtj_6I

    In this track the "rhythm guitar" chords cited above are actually played by a "percussive" keyboard sound (reminds me of a "digital clavinet" sound); besides, these chords are played as two subsequent sixteenth notes. The chords of the cited "line cliche" are played by an E-piano (presumably by Fagen himself).

    The video has a poor sound quality, but I think one can hear the important parts.

    In addition there is a MIDI file (unfortunately, the bar lines aren't placed correctly, that is to say a quarter note late):

    http://www.steelydan.nl/sounds/NewFrontier.mid

    Here the "digital clavinet/ rhythm guitar" sound is played by an instrument labeled "harpsichord".

    And, as if this were not complicated enough, one more detail which I have concealed above: The bass joins in the syncopation, so that the anticipated chord has its corresponding root note. In other words:

    Merely the rythm guitar (or "clavinet") accents on the "+" beats (so-called upbeats) ignore the syncopation on a harmonic level, i.e. the "old" chord is still played instead of the antipated.

    Thereby our above "calculation" (concerning the layering of chords) changes, because we must refer to the new root note which is also anticipated:

    1st bar on beat 4 +: D7 (rhythm guitar), syncopated upper structure E (anticipated E-piano chord) and syncopated bass note E result in a C#m7/add_maj7/add#5 chord, so a rather "ugly" chord with major and minor seventh at the same time.

    2nd bar on beat 4 +: C#m7 (rhythm guitar), syncopated upper structure D#m (anticipated E-piano chord) and syncopated bass note f# result in a F#7/9/add4 chord.

    3rd bar on beat 4+: F#6 (rhythm guitar), syncopated upper structure A (anticipated E-piano chord) and syncopated bass note b result in a B7/9/13/add4/add_maj7 chord, so again a rather "ugly" chord with major and minor seventh, major third and forth at the same time.

    By the way, exactly these chord clashes have been avoided in the studio recording of the song:

    http://youtu.be/Y8zrKnkd6ss

    The guitar chords (here again played by a synthesizer with two subsequent sixteenth notes) are either muted to avoid the clashes, or are masked by the open hi-hat always played in those places - I am not quite sure.

    Lets return to my question: In most books on the arrangement subject the "chord overlapping issue" is not mentioned at all. In some books it is maintained that in such cases the chords must be adapted, so that two overlapping chordal instruments play the same chord or some stacked chords which sounds okay (e.g. a G chord stacked on a C chord forms a "correctly" sounding Cmaj7/9). On the other side this approach would mean that, for example, from the moment a single vocal line is enhanced by vocal harmony (with one or more additional voices), all parts played by chordal instruments must be reworked on some beats to avoid clashes where the vocal harmony anticipates chords by syncopation.

    However - to me this approach seems to go a little bit too far. What about funky arrangements with lots of syncopation on different instruments? Do we need to search for "incompatible" chord overlappings in order to adjust them to make them fit? Organ, guitar, E-piano - all those "chordal" instruments interlock to form a groove, but do they have to interlock on the harmonic level, too?

    Regardless of the "theory": I rather have the impression that in the reality of "professional" studio productions such chord clashes originating from "partially" anticipated chord changes (i.e. one part anticipates, and one doesn't) are compensated in the mix. My perception is that the mix can "smooth" harsh harmonic clashes. When I play the MIDI file from above on my notebook, the harmonic clashes in the intro sound very apparent to me. After I had edited the file on my DAW and thinned out the "harpsichord" track by EQ and volume, it sounded completely legitimate.

    Admittedly, the whole stuff sounds very academic and theoretic. But I wonder why there is so less to read on this isse. How do you cope with it?

    I'm grateful for your suggestions.

    Peter

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    I need to check that Donald Fagen track (no time now), but in most such cases, the whole chord will be syncopated. Eg, no sense in hanging on to a D7 for that last 8th note, when the melody is obviously anticipating the C#m7 chord. Are you sure the harmonies on those last 8ths are what you think?

    But I'll have a listen to the track and get back to you.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    [...] but in most such cases, the whole chord will be syncopated. Eg, no sense in hanging on to a D7 for that last 8th note, when the melody is obviously anticipating the C#m7 chord. Are you sure the harmonies on those last 8ths are what you think?
    Hi Jon,

    actually I'm not sure in this case. I found another recording of this track...

    http://youtu.be/c7MHGPoAZEQ

    ..., and in this case I'm sure the chords are anticipated on all instruments. On the other hand concerning the track I posted before, I hear that one instrument (the staccato e-piano/synth sound) does not push the next bar's harmoy, but still plays the current bar's one. I must confess I'm not quite sure if that synth sound is actually a chord - could even be a single note line in that recording.

    However, I know tracks where different chords are definitly overlapping, but in a "planned" way. E.g. in bar 1 a simple C chord is played by a pad sound, and in bar 2 a G chord follows. Additionally to the "pad" there is a somehow more percussive e-piano which syncopates the G causing some kind of Cmaj7-sound on the syncopated beat. There are many examples where those overlappings sound good, but to my ear it depends. E.g. when those overlappings produce a major and minor seventh beeing played together it sounds strange. In contrast a minor third played over a major third sounds okay since it causes some kind of "blue note" effect.

    Some musicians say that they don't bother on those overlappings at all - they simply let them happen regardless of what potentially "strange" intervalls are formed. But I think this often sounds amateurish, so I wanted to know what different musicians/arrangers think about it and how their philosophy is on this topic.

    Cheers
    Peter

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perot View Post
    Hi Jon,

    actually I'm not sure in this case. I found another recording of this track...

    http://youtu.be/c7MHGPoAZEQ

    ..., and in this case I'm sure the chords are anticipated on all instruments. On the other hand concerning the track I posted before, I hear that one instrument (the staccato e-piano/synth sound) does not push the next bar's harmoy, but still plays the current bar's one. I must confess I'm not quite sure if that synth sound is actually a chord - could even be a single note line in that recording.

    However, I know tracks where different chords are definitly overlapping, but in a "planned" way. E.g. in bar 1 a simple C chord is played by a pad sound, and in bar 2 a G chord follows. Additionally to the "pad" there is a somehow more percussive e-piano which syncopates the G causing some kind of Cmaj7-sound on the syncopated beat. There are many examples where those overlappings sound good, but to my ear it depends. E.g. when those overlappings produce a major and minor seventh beeing played together it sounds strange. In contrast a minor third played over a major third sounds okay since it causes some kind of "blue note" effect.

    Some musicians say that they don't bother on those overlappings at all - they simply let them happen regardless of what potentially "strange" intervalls are formed. But I think this often sounds amateurish, so I wanted to know what different musicians/arrangers think about it and how their philosophy is on this topic.

    Cheers
    Peter
    I would say generally that if (as in your earlier example) the bass is early along with a melody note or top chord tone, then the whole chord should be anticipated together.
    The bass is really the guide here, not the melody or top note. If the bass is on the beat, that's where the main chord should be (IMO). Melodies (or melodic harmony lines) are frequently syncopated when chords (and bass) aren't. But if the bass goes with it, then so should everything else. (Drums would be an addtional guide: the bass drum should go along with the bass - although there are occasional exceptions to this.)
    That's as a general rule, as I say. Obviously there might be exceptions for certain particular reasons (depending on what sounds the composer wants), but they would be rare.

    I'd say a pad sound (if an exception to a syncopation) might be disregarded. But - as you say - anything at risk of causing clashing harmonies ought to be avoided. Unless of course a deliberate clash is what is required!

    Back on "New Frontier", if you listen to the original -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8zrKnkd6ss
    - you'll hear that that reggae-ish synth off-beat is actually missing when they syncopate the chords. So on the 8th note (beat "4 and") where it would be an issue, it's just left out.
    The sound quality of the first live clip you posted is too bad to really hear what they're doing. And as you say, on the second one they seem to be syncopating together (as they should be).

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    I would say generally that if (as in your earlier example) the bass is early along with a melody note or top chord tone, then the whole chord should be anticipated together.
    The bass is really the guide here, not the melody or top note. If the bass is on the beat, that's where the main chord should be (IMO). Melodies (or melodic harmony lines) are frequently syncopated when chords (and bass) aren't. But if the bass goes with it, then so should everything else. (Drums would be an addtional guide: the bass drum should go along with the bass - although there are occasional exceptions to this.
    You are right: There is no good reason to make an exception for the "lonesome" off-beat chord to hang on the "old" harmony whereas the rest of the arrangement sets the accent to the "new" one - including the bass.

    When changing the groove so that the accent is on the 1st beat (including the bass), you can play the anticipated e-piano chord over the non-anticipated short synth, and in this case is sounds ok.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Back on "New Frontier", if you listen to the original -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8zrKnkd6ss
    - you'll hear that that reggae-ish synth off-beat is actually missing when they syncopate the chords. So on the 8th note (beat "4 and") where it would be an issue, it's just left out.
    Yes, I realized that. Fagen is known for leaving nothing to chance.

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