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Music Geek’s Corner – What is Parallel Harmony?

Music Geek’s Corner – What is Parallel Harmony?

Solo Musician For Events - Sheldon Conrich

I thought I’d share a concept with you music geeks who crave a bit of extra harmony knowledge. A lot of people are familiar with playing a song in a key. This is a simple concept consisting of a set of chords that belong together like a family. Most of the time we use the key of C major as a sort of default key to be able to apply rules and ideas. From C major we can then convert all our knowledge to the rest of the keys.

So the key of C consists of the following notes as you may well already know: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. And from here we can convert these into chords C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bdim.

With this knowledge we can play quite a lot of famous songs like ‘Let it Be’, ‘Save Tonight’, ‘La Bamba’ etc. So if I assume you know about basic key knowledge (Major keys, Minor keys and modes) then we can jump right into parallel harmony. By the way it’s important to know that chords can be extended to longer sounding harmony like Maj7, min7, 7th, 1/2dim, Dim7 . These will be used a lot, so if you don’t know then get to know!

So what is Parallel Harmony?

Duo and Trio for events - Sheldon Conrich

Well parallel harmony introduces the notion of shared chord changes which come from parallel keys. So what are parallel keys? Well they’re any key that starts with the same note. So for example some of the parallel keys for the note C are:

C major, C harmonic minor, C melodic minor and C Dorian.

I’ve decided to use only four parallel keys to begin with to make this a bit easier to play around with. So let’s look at what notes and chords feature in all of these keys.

The Notes

C major – C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

C harmonic minor – C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B, C

C melodic minor – C, D, Eb, F, G, A , B, C

C Dorian mode – C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C

The Chords

C major – C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim, C

C Harmonic minor – Cmmaj7, D 1/2dim, Ebmaj7#5, Fm7, G7, Abmaj7, Bdim7

C melodic minor – Cmmaj7, Dm7, Ebmaj7#5, F7, G7, A 1/2dim, B 1/2dim,

C Dorian – Cm7, Dm7, Ebmaj7, F7, Gm7, A 1/2 dim, Bbmaj7

Using Parallel Harmony

What is a phrase - Michael Brecker

Now that we have the chords written out it’s about finding cool ways to mix and blend these parallel keys together to create something interesting and different. Subsequently the melodies that you use for a chord will correspond to the scale the chord comes from. I.e. If you choose Dm7 from C dorian then your melody notes will come from the C dorian mode. Got it! So down to the practical stuff – the combos.

These are just some parallel harmony chord choices I’ve decided to use. You can obviously play around with your own stuff. By the way, this technique can make your progressions go very jazzy or neo soul.

  1. Cmaj7     Ebmaj7   Dm7          G13
    (Major) (Dorian) (Dorian) (Major)
  2. Cmaj7    Abmaj7      Gm7           G7
    (Major) (Harm)   (Dorian)  (Harm)
  3. Cm           A 1/2dim   Abmaj7  Fm
    (Harm)  (Melodic)  (Harm) (Harm)
  4. Cm             Ab             Eb                 Bb
    (Dorian)  (Harm) (Dorian)  (Dorian)
  5. Cmaj7     Fmaj7    Em7       Ebmaj7
    (Major) (Major) (Major) (Dorian)

Ok so now you should know a little bit more about parallel harmony and how to construct your own chord progressions. Once you’ve got used to the four scale options above try adding more modes into the mix. Explore more parallel harmony from the major scale, harmonic minor scale and melodic minor scale. Then try different keys on your instrument. Always do this on your instrument so you can feel the changes. Some changes work theoretically but sound or feel wrong. Happy playing and good luck.

Any questions feel free to get in touch.

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