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@JohnBelzaguy shared this link with me https://cochranemusic.com/barry-harris-6th-dim-scale-diminished.

It's about Barry Harris and the "diminished sixth" - Bebop major - scale.

But I'm having trouble understanding the basic harmonization Harris is teaching in the video, because the students are having trouble playing it.

This YouTube video is linked right at the time of the scale harmonization:

Are my two harmonizations below right? Harris starts with a Cmaj7 and then seems to just go up the scale in parallel movement...

enter image description here

enter image description here

I'm wondering if a few of my chord symbols are correct? dimΔ7, mΔ7, Δ7♭5 some of those are on multiple roots.

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  • There are a few better videos of this on YouTube, here’s one: youtu.be/_n0vuuKdUyM This and a few others have the benefit of Barry not trying to correct people that are scuffling to play it for the first time, phew! – John Belzaguy Dec 5 '20 at 3:34
  • In the minor version, the fourth chord you call "F dim maj7" ... but it has an Eb? That's not a chord symbol I've ever used, but if it should follow the same logic as your other "dim maj7" chords, then it should have an E natural, right? So that symbol is probably wrong. To me it's more like a rootless G7#5b9 – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '20 at 12:18
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica you’re right, it should just be a Fm7b5. It’’s the only chord on beats 2 or 4 that’s different from major to minor btw. Actually the reason I’m commenting is more to say that almost all the chords on beats 2 and 4 sound like rootless dominants to me, the G7#5b9 could also be a rootless Db9. Also the G#dimΔ7 sounds like an E7#9 or a Bb13 b9. Several of the chords on beats 2 and 4 sound like rootless dominants to my ear since I’m used to playing them in general. – John Belzaguy Dec 5 '20 at 17:38
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica, I correct the chart for the Fm7b5, thanks for spotting that. – Michael Curtis Dec 6 '20 at 19:28
  • I see the point about Fm7♭5 and G♯dimΔ7 as dominants or their tritone substitutions, that makes sense as they would resolve to the tonic and it's relative minor. I suppose what I labelled AdimΔ7 and E♭Δ7♭5? would be dominants to Bb moving out of key or tritone subs. to E minor. Does that make sense? My initial question wasn't about application of these odd chords - I just wanted to know if I understood the video lesson - but understanding their use if of course the ultimate goal. – Michael Curtis Dec 6 '20 at 20:11
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The basic concept

Speaking broadly, the point of the bebop scale approach to block-chord harmony is that you don't have to think of a different chord for each melody note. For a major chord, if the melody note is the 1, 3, 5, or 6, you play a major 6 shape (C6), and if the melody is the 2, 4, ♭6, or 7, you play a diminished 7 shape (Bdim7).

The result looks like this. I have put the voicings in closed position, assuming you know how to drop the second voice to make it match yours: enter image description here

Note that in Barry Harris's conception a "major" chord is a major 6, and the 7th scale degree or leading tone is a non–chord tone. If your example had a prominent B on a downbeat, then I would harmonize using a Cmaj7 shape or something similar. But this would be somewhat beside the point, because the context for this discussion is, how do we harmonize a melody built from the bebop scale? The principle of bebop scales is that only chord tones appear on downbeats, so if a melody is written purely using the C major bebop scale, you will never have B (or D, F, or A♭) on a downbeat.

That is to say that the chord voicings Harris is teaching in this video aren't meant to be a comprehensive formula for harmonizing any melody. Any real melody will have some parts that can be interpreted as coming from the bebop scale and others that can't; these voicings apply only to the former.

Also note that for other qualities of chord, there are other bebop scales. The dominant bebop scale is the most important one after the major bebop scale here. These scales also yield two-chord alternating harmonic patterns that can be used to harmonize melodies that use the scale.

I've discussed these considerations on this site before here, but let me excerpt a relevant part:

A different set of voicings, derived from the appropriate bebop scale, is used for each chord. Over the I chord, the voicings come from the major bebop scale and alternate between the major I6 and vii°7 chords. This is because the stable scale degrees (1, 3, 5, and 6) tend to sit on the downbeats, so we'll hear the sound of the I chord on the downbeats and a passing chord, vii°7, on the upbeats. This principle of alternating between the main chord and passing chords is central to Barry Harris's harmonic concept, and also used widely in big band arranging.

Over ii and V, we generally use the mixolydian bebop scale. In C, that's G A B C D E F F#, adding a major 7. The two chord shapes outlined are G7 and F♯ø7, and a well-constructed melody usually again has G, B, D, and F on downbeats, so the F♯ø7 acts as a passing chord. (Occasionally, one note can be swapped around in order to create smooth voice leading; changing the E here to a E♭ to form F♯°7 is a natural choice.)

There is also a "melodic minor" bebop scale; here I have written out the voicings for a Cm6 to parallel your second line. It's nearly the same, just changing E to E♭:

enter image description here

As for practicing these voicings, I would recommend doing as you have done, writing out the voicings in both closed and drop-2 (and maybe drop-2-4 as well) forms, and practicing walking up and down the major scale in various keys. The goal is to get to a point where just looking at the keyboard, you can "see" which notes belong to the "chord tones"/major 6 subset of the bebop scale and which ones belong to the "non–chord tones"/diminished 7 subset. Then the rest of the notes in the voicing just fall in place below the melody.

What's happening in the video

At the point in the video you have linked to, Harris is introducing a more advanced application of the bebop scales that disregards the "alternating chords" principles outlined above. Your transcription is correct, but you should note that that set of voicings is just one of an arbitrary number that you could generate by picking any shape from within the bebop scale and moving each voice up and down in diatonic parallel. Rather than getting hung up on playing that exact line, developing the mental dexterity to walk through the bebop scale using any shape would be a better practice goal.

The editing of the video makes it easy to think that this follows directly from the "basic" bebop scale harmonic conception, when in fact there are multiple things going on: Harris is treating the bebop scale as a mode, and applying another harmonization technique, namely, the technique of moving a shape diatonically through a scale or mode, to it.

So (and this is just my opinion), I wouldn't ascribe special significance to the chord voicings you have transcribed. Rather, we have one concept (bebop scales) and another concept (parallel diatonic harmonization) and they are being used simultaneously.

When someone says "bebop scale harmonization," they are usually referring to the more narrow process outline above.

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  • In the video they are starting from Cmaj7, aren't they? – Judy N. Dec 5 '20 at 1:08
  • I'm not sure what you mean re. repeating the B. If you check OP's transcription it's clearly what Harris is expecting – e.g. he says "fourths. fourths!" when they get to the Em11 (or Em7sus4 as OP has it) on the way back down. I haven't been able to grab the audio to really convince myself the transcription's accurate but the circumstantial evidence is good --eta: I'm starting the video at 6.29 per the OP's link – Judy N. Dec 5 '20 at 1:25
  • As far as I could tell OP was asking about what happens in that bit of the video ;) – Judy N. Dec 5 '20 at 1:45
  • This is a long answer to a question I didn't ask. I already know about the block chord method. The video presents something different. – Michael Curtis Dec 6 '20 at 19:35
  • See my last four paragraphs. – Max Dec 6 '20 at 22:32
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People who are into the "Barry Harris" approach seem to be characteristically bad at explaining the point, the purpose, the context, or the intended use of the concept, or maybe perhaps people trying to 'get to grips' with it are expecting a much more holistic and enlightening result than it is reasonable to expect. The point as far as I see it is that when you harmonise, say, the C major scale the traditional way (that is, taking Cmaj7 and repeatedly moving every voice up to the next tone in the C major scale), you get chords with strong harmonic pulls away from C major. Whereas if you add in your favourite extra note, all the chords in the resulting harmonised scale generally feel more or less as if they belong in, or over, C major. You have the details exactly right, but it's really not significant what the chord names of the voicings generated are; the idea is "this is all C major stuff"

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  • I think you should explain "the traditional way". Meaning, stacks of thirds, i.e. every second note? All chords that are possible with the major scale are possible with the sixth diminished scale as well, so the point must be what happens when you take every Nth note of the scale. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '20 at 10:16
  • Yes, as in applying the same principal but only using the notes we have at our disposal in the C major scale – Judy N. Dec 5 '20 at 11:55
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    What you call taking Cmaj7 is usually called stacks of thirds, meaning to take every 2nd note of the scale. It extends to Cmaj9, and in theory to Cmaj11, Cmaj13. That's how chords and harmony are built in traditional Western music. If you use other scales, you get different phenomena when taking every other note. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '20 at 12:03
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    I meant to say that your answer seems to assume that everyone knows what "the traditional way" is without explaining, or that a maj7 chord is a traditional stereotypical harmonization. In what genres and traditions is this? IMO the answer would benefit from explaining these a little bit. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '20 at 16:37
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    Ah, I think I see your point. Especially if the parallel motion is quick you don't hear bona fide chords, it's like passing motion. I did compare this scale harmonization with the block chord (C6 positions with dim7 passing) and after alternating both several times, at a fairly quick pace, it starts to sound the same. At a lower tempo, if wanting to treat these odd voicings like dimΔ7 as bona fide chords, resolving them as some kind of rootless dominant seems to work nicely. – Michael Curtis Dec 6 '20 at 22:21

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