close harmony writing is used in scoring fast passages for brass and
saxophones. There is nothing more thrilling than a fast-moving, soaring
wind ensemble. Writing this kind of harmony is one of the first things
an arranger learns to do: the notes fit easily into a hand-span on the
piano and the resulting clusters are pleasing to the ear.
shows a melody line with its relative chord progression. This short
piece is a variation on the chords of Cole Porter's "From This
Moment On", starting on the ninth bar of the melody.
is one way of scoring this for trumpets. The trombones and saxes would
follow this exactly an octave lower. The melody line is played by the
three section leaders and doubled at the bottom by the baritone saxophone.
The inner parts follow the movement of the lead as far as possible.
The thing that gives most trouble to a young arranger in close harmony
writing is the harmonising of passing chords. These are the chords which
do not fall on a downbeat or upbeat; in the example these are marked
Passing chord number 1 is exactly one semitone lower than the chords
on either side of it. This is a useful trick to remember. When a chord
on a downbeat is preceded by a passing tone which is either one semitone
lower or one semitone higher, the passing chord can nearly always be
an identical chord to the one being led into, but a semitone higher
or lower, as the case may be.
Each inner voice, then, moves smoothly through a half-tone into the
new chord. Passing chords 2 and 4 are merely inversions of the main
Passing note number 3 gives problems. It is a passing note falling on
a downbeat, which means that it has to be harmonised with the chords
being played by the rhythm section on that beat. The simplest way of
dealing with this would be not to move the inner parts at all. If the
piece is played very fast this is perfectly acceptable. But we want
to be different, right? So we write an A diminished chord for the winds
here, and give the rhythm a simple Ab triad. It's all over in a flash
and already there's a little spice in the passage.
The unison in bar four is a good way of getting out of trouble. We aren't
actually in trouble here as the melody goes down the Ab minor scale
but a sudden unison in the middle of a tutti is always effective. There
are thirteen people playing this unison, remember, and it sounds considerably
better than played one-fingered on your grandmother's old upright wooden
How many weary hours have been wasted by arrangers struggling to harmonise
impossible sequences, only to have the bandleader turn the resulting
hopeless mess into a unison anyway? As I said: it's all over in a flash.
Switching the inner parts around is called voice crossing and is a device
used in smoothing out passages containing awkward skips or badly placed
Bar 3 of Example
3 demonstrates voice crossing in a small way in the second and third
trombone parts, which would otherwise contain several repeated notes.
This example demonstrates another way of scoring close harmony. The
melody consists of the upper tones of a series of minor eleventh chords.
The lower harmonies faithfully reproduce their chord positions throughout
the first two bars (the second trumpet, for instance, plays all ninths;
the third plays all tonics; the fourth all sevenths, and so on down
the chords). In fact each lower instrument is playing the melody, but
in a different key.
This is an amazing bit of parallelism which, as all good things should,
doesn't go on too long, and ends in the third bar. Readers will recognise
Parallel writing is very effective in small bursts, and is a useful
alternative to writer's cramp when the going isn't easy and the arranger
is faced with an array of passing chords, terrifying harmonies and voice
crossings all over the place. In Example
3 the lead alto doubles the first trombone exactly, the second alto
doubles the second trombone, and so on. Try this one out on your friends.