Common Tones
by John Skibic

Hello and welcome to Chord Chemistry. In our previous lessons we have studied the inversions of seventh chords, voice leading, and common tones. In this lesson we will concentrate on voice leading. I've composed a simple diatonic chord progression that is designed to contain many common tones. If you are wondering what exactly what common tones are, they are notes that are contained in multiple chords. For instance, a simple G major chord will have the notes G, B,and, D. The C major chord contains the notes C, E, and G. There is a common tone, or a note that both chords contain. This note is G and most likely a guitar or piano player would hold the same note down while changing chords. In the following examples I have tried to keep as many common tones as possible. I many cases I have added tensions to the chords in order to keep a common tone. I've also used some chord substitutions to accommodate the common tones.

Archtop Jazz

Archtop Jazz

Example #1

This is the chord progression in it's most simple form. I've used only three note seventh chords. This is the essence of the progression without any tensions or embellishments. Play through the chord sequence and memorize it. This way you will clearly see the process in which we embellish or mutate the progression.
If you need more information about three note chords, see my Chord Chemistry lesson entitled "Three Note Seventh Chords".

Example 1


Example #2

This is the progression with the note E as the melody or common tone. It was possible to include the E note on every chord with a little "Chord Chemistry", extensions, and tensions. In the second measure we find a nice little Dmaj9 chord. With a major 9th chord, the 7th is included. This is a little shorthand trick that jazz musicians thought up through the years. In measure four, I changed the original F#-7 chord to a dominant F#7 chord. You can do simple chord quality substitutions as long as it doesn't interfere with the melody. Measure five finds a B-7 chord with an E note on top. We can call this a B-11 chord. Again, the 7th is included and taken for granted. This type of voicing has made it's way into other styles of music other than jazz. Can anyone say Andy Summers?

Example 2


Example #3

G# is our melody note and common tone in the progression for this example. I play the Amaj7 chord in the first bar with my thumb fretting the low A. Not proper technique, but practical. Measure two has a relatively complex chord, the Dmaj9(#11)!  This chord is awesome! It is diatonic when it is used as the IV chord and sounds really beautiful. Unfortunately you can only use a #11 with the IV chord if you want to stay diatonic and within the key. If we used a #11 with the Amaj7 chord, we would have to switch to the Lydian mode because a D# would not be diatonic in the key of A major. Check out the hip F#9 and notice I only change the melody note once, in the B-7 chord. This ii minor chord sounds too ambiguous with the G# on top. It actually sounds too dominant to be followed by the actually dominant chord. 

Example 3


Example #4

Here we find the root on top as the common tone and melody note. Ironically it is the most hip sounding of all the various examples. It gets all Steely Dan in the third measure and then gets funky with the F#7(#9). Even the E7 does something cool and special. We now have a sus 4. I used two different E7sus4 chords. The one used near the end sounds like a D triad with an E in the bass. I've labeled it accordingly. The C#-7(b13) in the third measure could be called an Amaj9 with the 3rd in the bass. Can someone say "Peg"?

Example 4


Example #5

This is the trickiest of all the versions of the progression. It is voiced very closely and may be a little difficult to understand right away. It is the most pianistic of all the progressions with very nice voice leading and many common tones. Spend a little time with this one. Dig those ii-V's man. Can I get a Bill Evans? Please? Aww come on!

Example 5


Example #6

This is probably the most modern of all the progressions. Something Bill Frisell or a third stream ECM guitarist might play. Basically it's a C#minor triad with different bass notes. Check out the ultra hip E chord in the sixth measure. It's not even dominant chord but it sounds cool. Also notice the ultra sexy Dmaj9(#11) chord in the second measure. So cool, so modern, so melancholy I think I might cry. On second thought, I'll put it into a song!

Example 6





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