Anatomy of A Melody
Part three: Gaining melodic independence over a II-V-I progression
by Javier Arau One of the challenges in improvising over a basic II-V-I chord progression is keeping a solosounding unpredictable and engaging. Maintaining a focus only on chord tones can often lead to a very satisfying melody, but such an approach can begin to sound uninspired, predictable, and a bittedious. Chord tone consonances within a melodic line can always be balanced with a focus on non-chord tone dissonances. Breaking free of chord tone dependency can be achieved by attaining a deeperunderstanding of tension and release within the II-V-I progression. The end result is a “melodic independence” and freedom to create a line as dissonant or consonant as you desire. Differing tension-releasepatterns: Big picture vs. small picture A “big picture” tension-release pattern occurs over the course of the entire chord progression. The big picture pattern of a four-measure II-V-I chordprogression begins with 2 measures of release (tonic I) and alternates with 2 measures of tension (II and V) (Example 1a). Chordally dependent melodies reinforce this big picture pattern by focussing only onchord tones in the chord progression. A “small picture” tensionrelease pattern can occur within each individual chord in the II-V-I progression (Ex. 1b), but since the notes of a chordally dependentmelody remain consonant within each chord and are not balanced by any focus on tension notes, small picture tension-release patterns do not occur in chordally dependent melodies. The only way to createmelodic tension within an individual chord is to gain melodic independence from the chord progression.
Gaining melodic independence An occasional focus on a non-chord tone can add tension to anymelody, thus providing balance to the small picture. In addition, such a focus helps the melody gain independence from its underlying chord progression. Examples 2 and 3 both offer melodies that are...
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