Introduction to Understanding Emotional Qualities of Certain Pitches in a Harmonic Context - Part 1

An article explaining how certain pitches function (and sound) in a diatonic harmonic context.

Introduction to Understanding Emotional Qualities of Certain Pitches in a Harmonic Context - Part 1
4
This article explains how certain pitches function (and sound) in a diatonic harmonic context.

Introduction

In the following two-part article I am going to share some very cool concepts that will make it clear how specific notes function over certain chords and also the emotional effect we will get from using these pitches in a predetermined harmonic context. We will also discuss how certain chords function within a key and a chord progression. My goal here is to share what I am knowledgeable about regarding pitch color over specific chords to enable musicians who are not yet familiar with these concepts to become better and more expressive improvisers/soloists. There is so much to say on topics like these so we are therefore limited in terms of how much we can experiment with in this article. I am confident that after working through this two-part article you will have the knowledge and ability to further expand upon these concepts and make them your own. Knowing how notes and chords function is absolutely essential if you want to write good music and compose or improvise good solos.

We will be looking at some chords in the major key (Part 1) and also in the minor key (Part 2).

For the major key we will be using the I, IV and vii° chords. This simply means that if we are in the key of C major, we will be using the C major, F Major and B full diminished chord in our examples. The point here is to hear and identify how the specific pitches we are using SOUND over these chords. I will be improvising over the above mentioned chords and emphasize specific pitches in order for us to discuss and dissect the feeling these pitches create in the harmonic context.

Here is a YouTube video to accompany our discussion:

C Major Chord

In our first example I will be soloing over the C chord (the I chord) and deliberately emphasize specific pitches to bring out their emotional quality over the chord. We will be emphasizing the C, E, G, B and D notes. This is also known to be the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of the chord respectively. Listen carefully to the sound of each of the above mentioned notes.

The 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the chord are all consonant pitches in this example and they have a very stable feel to them. Emphasizing the 7th note of this chord creates a "Major 7th" feel which is fairly laid back while the emphasizing of the 9th of the chord creates an "Add9" feel which is very soft and enhances the optimism of the chord. All of this is of course highly subjective.

Listen closely to the examples and let the feel of the notes come to you. We do not need to force our ear to perceive the effect of the different pitches. Simply relax and let the feeling come to you.

F Major Chord

In our second example I will be soloing over the F chord (the IV chord). We will be emphasizing the F, A, C and B notes. This is also known to be the 1st, 3rd, 5th and #4th (raised 4th) of the chord respectively. Listen carefully to the sound of each of the above mentioned notes.

The 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the chord are all consonant pitches in this example and they have a very stable feel to them. Emphasizing the #4th note of this chord creates a Lydian feel which is almost dreamy in nature. Also notice how I go a half step below the B note and bend it up into the B note. This creates massive dissonance and brings out the #4th note quality even more since we are essentially playing a "wrong" note and bending it from out of key into the key.

B Diminished Chord

In our third example I will be soloing over the B diminished chord (the vii° chord). We will be emphasizing the B, D, F and G# notes. This is also known to be the 1st, b3rd (flat 3rd), b5th (flat 5th) and bb7th (double flat 7th) of the chord respectively. Listen carefully to the sound of each of the above mentioned notes.

The 1st, b3rd, b5th and bb7th notes of the chord are all consonant pitches in this example but they actually DO NOT have a stable feel to them since this chord on its own is very tense because of the fact that it is a full diminished chord. These pitches just outline the already very tense chord. In a way we can say that they are "consonantly dissonant."

I have chosen only a few pitches over these chords which were outlined for our purposes here. The possibilities are truly vast and by no means did we look at all possibilities. That I will leave up to you to further explore for yourself as I am sure you can come up with even better examples and ways of applying what we have just discussed.

Keep an eye for the second installment of this article where we will take a look at the minor key and some very cool note choices we can use to make our solos really emotional and intense.

About the Author:
George "ShredKing" Engelbrecht is a Neo-Classical Guitar Virtuoso in Vredenburg, South Africa. Visit GeorgeShredKing.com and sign up to his newsletter for more information about practicing effectively and to keep up to date with his latest releases.

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Stephen Quinn
    Good article George! Very useful for aspiring lead guitarists. I agree on the importance of the choice of notes to emphasise on over chords as each note can bring about a certain emotion.
    ShredKingGeorge
    Thanks Stephen, I agree, it is very important to realize the value in note choice over certain triads