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I'm considering a structure of the following sort for a jazz/rock fusion song:

  • Section A: 2-bar instrumental guitar line repeated a couple of times over a chord progression like C-G-C-G, followed by an improvised guitar solo on the same chord progression

  • Section B: same 2-bar instrumental guitar line repeated a few times, plus lyrics following the same melody as the guitar line on top of the guitar, over a slightly different chord progression like C7-G7-Am7-F7

My reasoning is that I know my guitarist enjoys soloing on a simpler chord progression, and what he plays harmonizes nicely with simple major chords like C-G. But on the section with lyrics, I want some more suspense, with a slightly sadder feel, and I think that using 7ths there is cool. It harmonizes fine to my ear.

Is this concept of taking a certain melody and playing it over different chord progressions in different sections of the song "poor form" for any reason?

Are there any examples of songs which do something similar?

  • Do you mean to ask, does a melodic theme have to have the same harmonization in every instance of the theme throughout the song, to be "proper" form? Are harmonic variations inside a song considered bad? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 17 at 7:13
  • The beginning of 'Hold on, I'm Coming' does just that. a phrase played exactly the same over 3 different chords. – Tim Mar 17 at 9:35
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"Is this concept of taking a certain melody and playing it over different chord progressions in different sections of the song "poor form" for any reason?"

I would urge you to reverse the thinking and realize that melodies don't get played over chords. Chords are supposed to support the melody. That being said it is quite common for soloists to structure their solos by following the "chord progression" but the fact is that the really great ones don't. They know how to create beautiful melodies that stand alone and the chords work under them.

Also, realize a few other things.

(1) That there are always more than one option for harmonizing a melody. Following the standard approach of multi voice harmony one has many possible options for building a support structure for the melody of a song and that many times the chords appearing in a chart don't match what the composer (in this case you) wrote.

(2) There is a connection between many chords within a key allowing for them to be used as substitutes for each other. The simplest example is the pair of enharmonic chords (Maj 6, relative min 7). For example in the key of C (C6, A-7) are the exact same chord just different inversions. There are other pairs. This allows you the composer to create much more interesting harmonies for the same melody (and this is a very common practice).

(3) Using chord substitutions, almost any progression can be converted in to a I-IV-V. Making that old cliche about Rock songs ubiquitous in all genres of Western music.

As one example I often rearrange classic standards so that the Real Book chords are all replaced with "unusual" subs. One example is All of me in C. I play the entire thing with chords from the relative minor A. I must stress that I do NOT transpose the song into an A minor tune. I play it in C as written but harmonize with a chord melody in Amin. It sounds great that way, real Latin feel but again the same old song.

As another example I would point out most anything written or arranged by Wes Montgomery. Though most players do the opposite of what you are suggesting, that is writing a simple chord progression over the melody then adding complexity to the solo section. West Coast Blues is a classic example for any guitarist. Standard 12 bar blues with some exotic subs and extensions but during the solo section he adds a half dozen new chords and a cascading stream of key changes. So in short the answer to your question is that it's NEVER in poor form to use multiple sets of changes for the same melody.

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  • 'Realise that melodies don't get played over chords' - is that what you mean? Jazzers are doing that all the time! The chord structure is not always the second phase of song-writing. It can be the other way round, where an effective chord sequence is found, which then spawns a melody or more. Just seems an odd statement, especially with what follows in that paragraph. Certainly agree with everything else! – Tim Mar 17 at 9:34
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One example is the "Domine Jesu Christe" from the Requiem, Op. 5, by Hector Berlioz. Throughout the piece the chorus sings the same phrase which just up a minor second and back down.

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"Mack The Knife" has a couple of passages where the chords change but the melody lingers on. Your chord patterns are close except for the last chord. The first two chords are harmonically the same (the seventh changes the color but not the function, it's still a progression up a fifth (or down a fourth or however one wants to think of it.) The Am is a C major with an added A; no problem here.

The last chords do differ more. The F7 chord shared no notes with G (but one with G7). The melody will be more dissonant over one of these than over the other; it might not be consonant with either though. This allows one or more repetitions with the possibility of the last repetition (even the third) to continue differently. It shouldn't be too difficult to make a four bar melody that sounds good. The differing patterns to imply different continuations. If the piece is in C, the F7 will be a subdominant (or predominant) so it probably should lead to some form of G chord (or other dominant) then back to the tonic. The G is a dominant itself so some type of tonic harmony is implied. If you avoid the authentic cadence with the C-G-C-G the later use the C7-G7-Am-F7 to lead to something longer. Sixteen bars of C-G-C-G-C7-G7-Am-F7-C-G-C-G-C7-G7-Am-F7 then perhaps a Dm G7 C or D7-G7-Am-Dm-G7-C or the like would work pretty well.

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Harmonic variation was used by composers in classic and romantic period (symphonies, sonatas) and it is usual in folks somgs and probably in jazz too. I don’t remember a pop song at the moment but there are surely a few.

What I often use is within a song: varying the chord leading to the sub dominant (I7 or I#5 ... ) Like other answers say, this practice is quite conmun and if not ... don’t mind so much what others do!

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