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Ron Simmonds

Open Harmony: Part 2


A given melody tone can be voiced as a member of any chord. The use of such harmonies is better left to the ingenuity of the arranger himself. Example 1, gives some examples of voicing using C as the melody tone. The position of the C has been noted in brackets above each chord.

The next examples show expanding and contracting harmonic sequences. The chords in Example 2 are derived from the descending bass. In Example 3 a triad in fourths descends towards an uprising duo in fifths. The penultimate chord is a result of this convergence. The qualities of sound and resonance of the saxophones in this register make both examples exceedingly dramatic: far more so than when played on other instruments.

By now the difficulties of attempting to document any sort of harmonic pattern should be clear to the reader. The number of possible two-note chords alone contained within one octave is 133. Spreading them over a range of up to seven octaves adds to the permutation considerably. The number of possible eight- note chords runs into several thousands.

To sum up: when you are harmonising a melody, or when searching for an alternative harmony for a given melody tone, any tone can become any member of any chord. Resonance is obtained by approximating the overtone series. Colour is changed by careful doubling of chordal members; tension is altered by the addition or subtraction of dissonant intervals. Sudden change from massive chordal blocks to unison or two or three-tone harmony refreshes. An octave jump brings a corresponding uplift; drama is achieved by a skip in the other direction.

There are no hard and fast rules for writing open harmony. The beauty is there for everyone to find in his own way.