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Polychords and the Jazz Improviser: How to Practice & Apply Polychords to ImprovWritten by Andrew Hanna
In world of music, many Jazz improvisers and Classical composers eventually venture into exploring poly-harmony within their respective art form. Poly harmony is simultaneous sounding of more than one harmonic concept. The preponderance with poly-harmony began late 19th-early 20th centuries with classical composers as Stravinsky and Debussy. About sixty years later, jazz musicians as John Coltrane and Richie Bierach incorporated such ideas into their music. The benefits of learning poly-chords will enhance an improviserís repertoire of harmonic concepts. Thus they can create harmonic colorings that can influence a listenerís outlook. This article will focus on how once can practice and incorporate tertian polychords into their improvisational styles. Many of examples and references within this article will make use of seventh chord and triad. One should to explore other tertian harmonies such as ninths, elevenths, and all other similar formulations.
Tertian harmony is harmony that spaces its notes a third a part from other notes. Additionally, tertian harmony includes harmonic inversion of thirds. Before one begins their exploration into poly-chords, one should be familiar with tertian harmony in its simplest terms of inversions and through a few applied patterns. From this understanding of tertian harmony through inversions and patterns and after one has accomplished or, in least, feels comfortable with tertian harmony, one should then attempt to combine more than one chord.
The first step in gaining an understanding tertian ploychords is to write triads and 7th chords in a formulaic fashion. For example, begin by writing each major chord a major second apart (i.e. Cmaj-Dmaj, Ebmaj-Fmaj, etc.) After writing these series of chords, write out triads that are minor third apart. For example: Ebmaj-Gbmaj, Amaj-Cmaj, and all other similar progressions. As one can see from two previous examples, one should continue this process until one has exhausted all permutations of triad progression. In a similar fashion, one should continue this writing exercise with seventh chords. The purpose to this writing exercise is for musician/composer to develop a visual and intellectual connection to concepts that they will use in a open/free musical environment.