I have been learning the tune Meditation by AC Jobin. In the arrangement I have been given the first five bars of the progression go C69 C69 B11 B13 Cmaj7. I like to understand how the chords are functioning in a chord progression. How does the B13 to Cmaj7 resolution work? I am used to seeing dominant chords resolving down a half step as an application of b5 sub of the V chord but this is a bit more unusual. Are there other tunes which use this kind of change?


As so often with this sort of question, we can note that something works, and we can stick a label on it, but explaining 'how' it works is a bit harder! Let's try though.

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Think part-writing and internal melodic lines rather than chord functions. A dominates the melody through both chords, E is retained from the initial C major to become the sus4 of B7 (B11 isn't a useful label here). That's some reasons why B7sus is a possible re-harmonisation of the A melody note. B is the leading note of C major. Where better for a leading note to resolve than back to the tonic? And for a D# than back up to E?

We could also take a more pragmatic approach. Sliding down from C to B sounds good, as every country steel guitarist knows! So of course we can slide up again.

Also note the move to Em7 in bar 7. B7 is the dominant of Em. Paving the way?

Jobim liked reharmonising the note A, and he liked chromatically descending bass lines. In another of his classics, How Insensitive, he carries on downwards though, D, Db, C, B ...

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  • Thanks for answer it helps quite a bit but it raises a few more questions for me. I was originally wondering whether the B7 could be understood in terms of its tonal function (tonic, subdominant, dominant) but I think you are saying that kind of analysis doesn't really apply here. Would it better to think of the B7 as way of introducing notes accidental to key which are eventually resolved? – Shane Dec 5 '18 at 5:52
  • You say that Bsus7 could be considered a re-harmonization of the A melody note, but what could the "original" harmony be - to keep the C chords for the first 4 bars? That would admittedly be quite boring as you would up with C for 6 bars in row. – Shane Dec 5 '18 at 5:56
  • Yes, if Jobim hadn't maintained interest by the shift of harmony from C to B and back again, he would have had to do something else instead! But we can say that about anything a composer does. You can write 'One Note Samba' you can write intricate melodies over a single chord (or over no chord at all). Or anything in-between. – Laurence Payne Dec 5 '18 at 17:19
  • I want to accept your answer by the way, but for some reason the grey check symbol is not present. It's a bit strange, I use other stack exchange site and haven't had that problem before. – Shane Dec 6 '18 at 1:48
  • Shucks! And I only needed 5 more points to win the car... :-) – Laurence Payne Dec 6 '18 at 2:15

The OP's interest in this must be long gone already, but what else is there to do than think about chord progressions, with the covid-19 and all.

To my ears, the B dominant chords (B7 or B13 or what have you in your lead sheet) are doing some kind of a modal interchange, trying to make it sound like the song is temporarily going to E minor. But before going there, the movement is interrupted and it gets back to C major.

Here's a slightly dumbed-down version of the progression that shows what it could be like, if it went along the easier route. In other words, I'm trying to show what the B7 chords do not do in Jobim's song.

Dumbed-down version of Meditation

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