The basic idea behind reharmonization is taking a lead phrase and modifying it slightly so that it fits in to a completely different key and scale all together. In otherwords reharmonizaion is transposing a lead based on one scale into another scale so that the same lead phrase can be used (slightly modified) to achieve an entirely different tone.

Ultimate Guitar
Now first and foremost ill admit most of the ideas ill tell you about here relate to articles I've read in the british magazine guiatrist, before I get accused of plagarism. The basic idea behind reharmonization is taking a lead phrase and modifying it slightly so that it fits in to a completely different key and scale all together. In otherwords reharmonizaion is transposing a lead based on one scale into another scale so that the same lead phrase can be used (slightly modified) to achieve an entirely different tone. To do this, let's briefly examine diatonic scales (scales with 7 notes) and how lead phrases are constructed. Then we'll move on to reharmonizing our favourite scale patterns. Now as we all now scales are what we build our solos around. Most scales contain 7 notes, and its the pattern in which we play these notes which forms our solos. Reharmonisation involves taking a particular riff or passage and applying the pattern used to a different scale, thus creating a different sounding lead line. Now take a look at example 1
Ex 1

Thats a portion of the outro solo of sultans of swing by dire straits and is in the key of D aeolian, or D natural minor (DEFGABbC), there are 3 distinct licks there, the first uses the b3rd, root and 5th, the second uses the b3rd, root and b6th and the third uses the 4th, 2nd and b7th. Now to reharmonise we retain that pattern but apply it to another scale. I'm gonna use D phrygian here just for an example (DEbFGABbC), now phrygian is identical to aeolian save for the flattened 2nd, so only the third lick in the lead phrase is affected, retaining our original pattern applied to this scale results in the riff seen in example 2
Ex 2

Now first of all its obvious that this lick will sound awful over the backing of the original lick, reharmonisation isnt about coming up with new leads over similar backing. Ex 1 is played over a Dm, Bb and C sequence. Reharmonising provides us with a phrase to play over a Dmin, Bb C min backing. So id say the first use of reharmonisation is where you have a sequence you struggle to solo over, compare the chord sequence to ones you find easy, take some phrases you play over that sequence and then reharmonise them into the original scale your using. The idea of this lesson is certainly not to show you how to rehash old riffs so I dont wanna see any reharmonised versions of Enter Sandman, Stairway or Layla. The way I like to use reharmonisation is to help me solo over chords which lie outside of the key centre of the song. There are two common occurences of this, the substitution of the 5th chord in a minor key from a minor to a dominant seventh and the major to minor transition of the 6th chord in a minor key. Both of these are involved with use of sharpening the b7th of the minor key to provide a leading tone to resolve into the root chord. To demonstrate this play the following chord prgression Em Am C Bmin, and then play Em Am C B7, hold the end chord of each progression, the B7 will create the effect of wanting to resolve back to the Em, the B minor less so, this is because B7 contains Eb, a semitone below E, and so leads us back to E minor. Now obviously E aeolian (natural minor) doesnt contain Eb so when soloing over the B7 it may be useful to reharmonise. We take a lick which would work over the Bminor and reharmonise it into a scale which contains Eb and no D. Heres a potential lick over B minor.
Now the obvious scale to reharmonise to is E harmonic minor (EF#GABCEb), so we retain the E minor tonality but include the leading Eb contained within B7, heres the original phrase reharmonised to E harmonic minor.
A famous example of this is during the sweet child of mine solo, look carefully at the notes Slash uses over the B7 and youll see what I mean. The other songwriting trick is the major to minor transition of the 6th chord (or 4th in a major key). This is heard in such songs as dont look back in anger by oasis and in my life by the beatles. I will use the oasis song as an example as most of you will have heard it. During the middle 8 Noel Gallagher uses the chord progression F Fm C, the major to minor movement sounds really good and creates a melancholy mood. Now the F minor contains a G# another note which is not inculded in the original key of C. So again when soloing here we can reharmonise to include that 'foreign note', heres the sort of phrase I might use over those chords.
b b b
F Fminor C------------------------------
So over the F minor I reharmonised the original phrase in C ionian to C aeolian. I think it sounds really good and really gives the impression that you as a guitarist know your stuff. By reharmonising to C aeolian we include the G# and as a bonus Eb, the bluesy flattened fifth of C major so we get some serious mileage out of a simple phrase. The final application is when soloing over less stringent backing, say some very ambiguous bass playing which will allow you to intepret the key in several different ways. You can take licks and just reharmonise them to several scales to see which fits best.
Take this phrase in B aeolian


re harmonised in B Dorian (raise the 6th by 1/2 a step)


and then B mixolydian (raise the third a 1/2 step)


and finally B ionian(raise the 7th semitone)

From one phrase you now have 4 very usable lead lines. Obviously there are still Lydian, phrygian and locrian scales so if you want some home work try reharmonising the original ionian phrase into those modes. Thats all for now, I hope you find it useful and not too hard to understand, I tried to make it as easy as possible, if you are struggling feel free to post queries here or PM me, but do persevere, the only way to progress as a musician is to continually challenge yourself, until next time, Beat! Note-Im sure I've made some errors in my theory in places so the usual suspects of Gar, Cas and Dmal will hopefully straighten out any errors I've made. If you have any opinions on what did and didnt work in this lesson please post, I spent quite a lot of time on this and would appreciate any feedback.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    not bad...u cant play a guitar without a guitar string...crambone
    wow great lesson, i used to do this same thing just by ear but you really broke it down into theory. i never realized there was so much more to it, good lesson!
    Very good lesson.Now I know how I can make a great improvised lick fit into a song it wouldn't without reharmonising.
    Awesome lesson! I can't wait to get home and try this out. I always wondered how guitarist made licks over chords not diatonically contained within the key.