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I'm not entirely satisfied with the way I've harmonized the third beat of these trumpet parts, highlighted in the screenshot, for this big band transcription. (The trumpets are playing on their own over the rhythm section for this phrase.)

Eb9 followed by two passing chords leading to Eb7

I'm trying to follow the basic rules of harmonizing parts in the big band swing idiom, in particular no repeated notes (except when the melody note is repeated). I'm also trying to keep to closed position since this is trumpets and I don't want too wide a spread. It seems that I'm therefore forced to harmonize the third beat as a passing chord. But it's a strong beat and to my ear this doesn't sound quite right.

Have I missed something? Is there a better alternative that doesn't result in repeated notes? Should I move outside closed position just for this chord?


So sorry for cutting off the key signature! It is of course E flat.

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  • Would it not work or be idiomatic to put an 1/8 rest on beat 3 before stating the chord in question off the beat? Mar 30 at 18:30

3 Answers 3

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I suggest dropping T3 to G and T4 to F, then continuing down chromatically. To my ear, the change in the weight of the chord toward the lower end reinforces the descending line, making it feel like it drops further, because the three lower voices drop by thirds.

No repeated notes, close position, and an "in" chord on beat 3.

NOTE: T2's final Ab was intended to be a G. If using the Ab, the chord should probably be changed to Eb7sus4 to avoid a conflict with the rhythm section playing G against to Ab.

Notated as described above

I also like using T3 and T4 as described, but keeping T1 and T2 as in the OP. Just a different take on the same overall sound.

Variation on first solution

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  • In your first example voice 2 ends on an Ab but it’s an Eb7 chord. Mar 31 at 16:09
  • E♭11? I never thought of that, but it sounds great.
    – Ian Goldby
    Mar 31 at 16:11
  • I decided to go for that first one. Keeping the E♭11 going in the second figure really seems to work, as does bunching T2, 3 and 4 together at the bottom. Thank you.
    – Ian Goldby
    Mar 31 at 16:23
  • @IanGoldby I'm glad you like it. Truthfully, the Ab was a mistake — I meant it to be G. A happy accident, it seems..
    – Aaron
    Mar 31 at 18:11
  • @JohnBelzaguy Yeah. Mistake. I meant it to be a G. I added a note to the post.
    – Aaron
    Mar 31 at 18:11
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I’m going on the assumption that Eb is your tonic chord and you are using 3 flats in the key signature. If not, please specify what the key is.

I would think of “rules” more as guidelines. Assign importance to the various elements and work as best as you can around them. Having an Ebo7 on beat 3 for a full quarter note might not be ideal and maybe to you it is more important to have that be an Eb7 or Eb9 than break the no repeating rule or maintaining close voicings. In that case it’s time to explore bending the rules a bit.

I can think of a few solutions. The first uses no repeated notes and is to open up that voicing and make it Eb,Bb,G,Db. You can substitute F for G in voice 3 if you want the 9th in the voicing. This solution adds some brief contrary motion which isn’t bad.

Another solution is to use repeated notes on voices 2-4, or Eb,Db,Bb,G. The down side is the repeated notes but this maintains the close voicing. You can also swap out an F for the G and E for the F in voice 4 which eliminates one repeated note and harmonizes beat 4 as an E7, which also works fine.

Experiment and see what hits your ear best. If you can sequence this into a DAW you can sit back and listen to your options in detail. In the end, maybe the diminished chord is preferable to you but it’s good to explore options, even if they break the rules or guidelines because how it sounds to you is more important than the rules.

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Here's a couple of possibilities.

enter image description here

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  • Yes, repeating the note in T3&4 after the long note is probably a good compromise. (Your C in T3 must have been intended to be a B♭. T3 C against T2 D♭ is too dissonant for me.)
    – Ian Goldby
    Mar 31 at 16:06
  • 1
    No, I meant the C. Nice crunch!
    – Laurence
    Mar 31 at 22:05

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