Upper structure and practical use

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Wilbyman, Nov 14, 2004.

  1. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    OK, here's one for the literati.

    I've been on a spiritual journey over the last few weeks in an effort to hip-ify my playing some. I've started thinking about harmony more derivatively (i.e., Fmaj7 and associated chords over Cmaj7 for lydian sounds) than I used to, and I'm excited because I feel like I'm "hearing" more polyphonically now. Sher's Improviser's Bass Method has a quick and dirty chapter which lays it out, as do alot of other books.

    Over the last few days I've taken this to playing alot of upper structure ideas. (i.e., superimposing Am7-Cmaj7-Em7-G7 sounds over Fmaj7 for example or Abmaj7-Cm7-Ebmaj7-Gm7 sounds over Fmin7). I've been studying music for ever and for some reason, though this seems simple, I've never thought of upper structure like this, I've always just thought about the intervals and alterations in relation to the root.

    Anyway, what I'm getting around to is: how do you guys sling this stuff over the V in a regular ii-V7-I? Is there a general rule of thumb for V7 chord/scale/alteration once you've implied a particular upper structure chord (i.e., Gm7 over Fm7 which is prevalent it seems)?

    Do pianists have particular right hand ii-V7-I upper structure "fallbacks"? It would be nice if I'm voicing the same stuff!

    Thanks guys. Feel free to flame me if these are dumb questions.


    I'm going to cross post this to the BG side, if any moderators don't like it I'll pull one.
  2. Libersolis


    Sep 9, 2004
    Austin, TX
    Im a bit confused.. I thought that if you wanted to imply a lydian sound you would use F sharp since it is the #11... Maybe Im totally in the dark..
  3. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    You're right, I should have put "Fmaj7 and associated chords over Bbmaj7" or "Gmaj7 and associated chords over Cmaj7". I'm a moron.

  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I still hear these things in relation to the root:

    Cma7/FMa7= Fma7#11

    IMO, both roads lead to Rome, but my ears hear the "in relation to the root" interstate. :)
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Countdown to the moment when FOGHORN can't stand it anymore and has to respond to this:




  6. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    Exactly. I guess by "in relation to the root", I meant that it's easier for me to initally sight-wise derive the chords from Cmaj7. I hear them in relation to the root, but I'm seeing them on the bass as derivations of Cmaj7.

    Chris, can you give me any pointers on how you would voice these over a ii-V-I and, what the most appropriate thing to do on the V7 chord would be given the upper structure voiced?
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Most pianists I know think of triads when they think of upper structures. If you want to get deeper into these concepts, there are excellent harmonic explanations available from Mark Levines Jazz Piano Book and Jazz Theory Book, as well as in Frank Mantooth's piano voicings book. For linear usage, Walt Weiskopf has written at least one book entitled Intervallic Improvisation, in which he details his use of creating linear melodies by using triad pairs, which produce what could I suppose be called a "hexatonic scale divided into two triadic trichords". :eyebrow: Or you could just call them triad pairs and leave it at that.

    Harmonically, the best known use of upper structure triads in common practice are those that get played over altered dominant chords. Mantooth uses a formula that looks like a fraction that explains it really well. For instance, for any given Dominant chord "X" various triads built over the root of "X" will produce different altered dominant sonorities:

    II/X7 = X7#11.......(D/C7)

    For Major chords, you have:


    You can also create a Sus chord over a dominant by playing a bVII over the rot of the dominant.

    There are more, but these are the most common ones that come to mind.
  8. flatback


    May 6, 2004
    Bolinas Ca
    One way to get into upper structures without popping a fuse (and also because in a very real sense they just dont sound like upper structures on bass unless they are set up very carefully...they end op sounding like a new key cause you are the bottom...)
    One way, is to get very deeply into the concept of learning all the triads over a given scale and make music thinking and hearing triads rather then trying to demystify Upper structures (to have an upper structure you need a lower structure and since you are the bass it makes it a little difficult to pull off sonically)
    If you learn all the triads in a scale say a major scale...you get going up from the root, a major triad, a minor, a minor, a major a major a minor and a dim.
    In Alt. (you were asking about which upper structures to play over a V chord) you get a Dim triad, a minor, a minor, an augmented, a major, a major and a dim.
    In alt harmony all triads and sounds are interchangable so if you play any of 'em or any pattern based on one or more of them you will be playing upper structures.
    The key is to use your ears to hear triadic shapes and then hear the inherent tension and release in them.
    If you spend a lot of time playing triadic shapes over the different scales and then begin to start moving them thru changes and chromatically, you will be a lot farther along in being able to use the sounds that are upper structures then if you beat your head against the wall trying to figure it all out using your intellect. (I dont mean to discourage that part, its just that musically, each Chris's formula above sounds a certain way that is much easier to memorize and use if you are memorizing the SOUND of it rather then the theory of it )

    Bass players who sound good using upper structures often play them very clearly and simply (that is. very triadic) and often over a pedal so that you can hear that it is a triad above something else.
    Dave Holland is a master, Scott Lafaro, Gary Peacock etc... check out Larry Grenadier...
  9. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    Thanks Chris and Flatback!

    FB, very good point that, as the bass instrument, it's hard to sound like you're voicing upper structure and not a new key. I agree it all needs to be used judiciously.

    I've heard so much about the Levin theory book, I'll probably get that next. I've got to dig up my copy of Marc Johnson's book which I think has some exercises too.

  10. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    1 in a V chord, as long as the tritone remains in tact it will still function and resolve.

    2 as a bassist, you have the power to define a chord to the listener.
  11. Hows the spiritual journey coming.?

    I just got into mine, and have been doing a lot of research and listening and what not. Playing with conviction seems to be a very dominant theme so far.
  12. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV

    After the gig tonight I sat down with the piano player and talked about partials and voicings. It was interesting. He hipped me to some things about changing chord qualities via the bass note (In line with your #2, Fingers). I feel somewhat pea-brained when I think of all that a pianist has to deal with harmonically within the course of a night.

    Rimas...re: playing with intent, one thing I've been doing is writing single-chorus solos for tunes. Really makes you quit playing licks and get deeper into the changes.

  13. Libersolis


    Sep 9, 2004
    Austin, TX
    There are many options you have when playing over ii V I's.... it really depends on how inside out outside you want your sound to be....

    You may want to try something like this.. it has helped me create some interesting ideas that I nornally wouldnt have come up with...
    Take your ii V I and line up all the scales you can/do use with each chord into columns and pick a different scale for each chord.. for instance if you wanted to play very inside you could just do something like this

    ii-Dorian V Mixolydian i Ionian which are all of course just modes of the major scale...

    Getting into more complex sounds you may want to try
    ii Melodic Minor V Whole Tone I Lydian Augmented

    You will definantely get some interesting sounds out of this, just becareful to resolve the tension of the raised 7 in the melodic minor over the ii chord and the # of the lydian augmented over the I chord..

    You can also use whole tone over the ii chord starting from the b9, though again you will have to be careful of how you resolve the tension. Also keep in mind that you might not want to stray to far from the harmonic concept of the ii V I without reintroducing it again at some point..

    Really its up to you and what you can do to make it sound good. Some of the best ideas in music werent created intentionally :hyper:
  14. Bill Dobins has written an excellent book called I think Exploring Jazz Harmony or some such (should be easy eonough to track down) - anyway - it's a method of pianist to get them to explore the sounds - not a "you do this then" method: he has you first getting the basic chords in your head - a process he says could take six months (ouch) - and leads to playing a triad and other structures over different roots. The same triad then becomes a different chord, tonality and sound quality. Dobbins whole approach is to get you to explore them, hear them and know them. His purpose is to get hearing, understanding and adventure into jazz harmony. IMHO this is easier and better done on a piano. If your foucus is just bass then don't do the exercises in all keys perhaps? Chris being a piano player may have seen this tome and may have a view?
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Didn't think I could last this long, didja?

    Bass players who sound good using upper structures often play them very clearly and simply
    I think I would have to add that they are playing them because they hear them as a melodic note choice and not because they decided to play "something hip". Playing polytonally is just like any other kind of playing, you hear it you play it. You hear how chords fit together and imply other chords and you play what you hear. If you're NOT hearing it, all you're doing is picking notes out of a pile and i guarantee, you're NOT going to sound hip, you're going to sound like you're trying **** out.

    WILL BE MEN - I know you disagree with me on this point, which why I kept away for so long. It doesn't matter what you KNOW, it matters what you HEAR. But you keep doing what you do and I'll keep doing what I do.
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Nope. I'm also surprised that GENTLE RANEY hasn't weighed in on this one yet.

    I agree with this, with one small caveat: as a pianist, I was always trying **** out before I heard it. When I did, I sounded exactly like someone who was trying **** out that he didn't hear yet. But somewhere in all of the "trying **** out", it's not uncommon to actually start hearing the ****, at which point you begin simply hearing the **** instead of just trying it out. So in my book, "trying **** out" isn't entirely a bad thing as long as you realize that that's what you're doing.
  17. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV

    I actually agree. However, I think some people have terrific ears and can hear extended harmony quite easily, and some people need to be shown the way before their ears open up to it. I'm definitely in the latter category. All the work I've been doing hasn't given me a bunch of new hip stuff to play, it has moreover allowed me to identify the sounds I like and hear them in context. This to me is what jazz is about!

    I wish I had the ears to pick the harmony and polytonality I like out of the air and apply it, but I'm not that gifted...if I was I probably wouldn't be writing this from my law office. However, reading about harmony/polytonality first, I've been able to slow it all down and digest the sounds slowly. Trust me, the progress is SLOW.

    Beyond that, I'm going to again concur that the best way to state extended harmony is simply with alot of triads. I'm only now realizing how good Scott LaFaro was at this and over the last few days I've heard his playing in a new light.

    It's taken me a long time to get to this point.

  18. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    Nope. I'm also surprised that GENTLE RANEY hasn't weighed in on this one yet.

    I was getting tired of my own little sermons..but if you insist, :rolleyes:

    I would have to side with Ed on the "if you don't hear it it ain't... etc" argument. However let's assume that some of the posters can hear those upper structures. The original question I believe was looking to incorporate them into real lines—ie II V Is? Really you can’t offer advice on that until it is circumscribed within the rules of making good lines. These are some of my -albeit biased- assumptions on creating lines

    1. The best phrases will tend to mix arpeggios, scale fragments and auxiliary tones elements or use reversal of direction to avoid monotony if one element used in succession
    2. The longer the phrase the more likely the mixture of these elements
    3. The Upper Structure (U.S.) thing tends to be more prevalent on the dominant V chord. In the sense of it being polychordal.
    4. The upper structures on the minor or major can be more viewed as extended arpeggios-ie. 1-3-5-7-9-11. You can drop the lowest ones but care has to be taken with the missing 3 if you take it out.
    5. The most likely U.S. used will be one that is the closest dovetail
    6 The most interesting phrases tend to use up and down motion as the general architecture
    7 #6 is achieved by inverting arpeggios and scale fragments
    8 The faster the phrase the more likely a full scale can be used. Perhaps with chromatics
    9. Chromatics tend to be used to metrically fix and target key chord tones

    In terms of actually practicing things here are some things I think about.
    1. Try out several different scale fragments 1234 1235 1345, then 3457, etc.
    2. Make sure to practice inverting the intervals and changing the direction 1235(downM6) or 5321
    3. Chose inverted arpeggios when this will produce a more attractive solution and it makes the most sense from the preceding note.
    4. Use theme and variations as a practice tool for incorporating new ideas. Meaning start with the same idea, for example on II and then follow up with a different V.

    Here’s one sample of what I am talking about for 2 measure II V Is
    1. Use of US bV on V7
    (II) d-e-f-g (V) ab-f-db-b (I) c *g-a-b-d-c

    2. Use of US VI on V7
    (II) d-e-f-g (V) g#-b-e-b (I) d-c-b-c*g-e

    3. Use of US bVI on V7
    (II) d-e-f-a (V) Bb-g-eb-b (I) d-c-b-c-e-g

    Other things:
    I tend to use US II triad (a lydian dom sound) on I7, II7, IV7 and bVII7 dominants
    I tend to stick to I and III arpeggios on the minor II. V is ok but you find yourself sticking in the minor3rd which is missing.
    I tend to use I, III, V and VI arpeggios on tonic I major or minor.
    I take care with the #11 on I major. It tends to sound like a final jazz cadence

    US III (for example Fmaj7#5 instead of F7) is an interesting dominant function approach not much discussed Ask me about it
  19. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    But is or is not that what you're thinking in the heat of the moment?
    How did you personally work on getting that out of your head and into your ears and under your fingers?
    What other things were you working on concurrently- ear training, transcribing, playing etc?

    I guess the point I'm hacking away at is - all of this dissection and analysis comes AFTERWARD. What gets this stuff to come out in your playing has nothing to do with dissection and analysis.

    But you have a deeper harmonic sensibility and vocabulary than I do. So it might be nice to hear about what got YOU there.

    Cause you got nothing to do today, right?
  20. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    I analyze after the fact, it’s true. But I think that intuition (what you might refer to as harmonic sensibility at this moment) is not separate from analysis to the mind (the one bubbling underneath the one that is communicating to you now). Anymore than the supposed AHA! Moment of the conception of the Double Helix invalidates the mathematical beauty of the solution after the fact and it's ability to be applied to other solutions and conceptions. In a perfect state of communication I could conceive of something at the peak of my abilities and explain it to you succinctly in all its references- quotes from a song, intervallic structure, rhythmic composition, harmonic tension and balance, relation to a particular record and billion other things. My intuition is way ahead of my ability to communicate clearly. Causing me to try and retry how to clearly explain. If I could possibly speak as fast as my neurons are firing and accessing parts of my brain that deals with feeding my intuitive process to create solos we could get pretty close.

    I took my own phrases which were modeled at least in part by others who laid the groundwork for me and noticed the tendencies that have described for you previously. People are inspired to analyze musical things because their own intuition draws them to that solo or music because they feel there is an innate structure to what they are doing—whether than can figure it out completely at that moment or not. The more beautiful the solution the more it stands up to repeated listens and the more it can be used to create other solutions. Once they get into it they are then faced with the translation of that beauty to themselves. They get closer and closer to drawing the picture of the object once they figure out the elements of that object and the parameters of its depth.

    For example I could tell you my intuition knows which tones are poor choices for binding C7,B7,Bb7,A7. My verbal translation of my intuition would be something like:

    Am I in C? Yes But I’m on VofIV which is actually serving as bII of VII which is subbing for IV Try to pick the tones most relevant to C while relecting the harmonic change that is coming by using the common tones (in retrospect) and moving to the tones which are the nearest important tones reflective of the different between the two chords while making sure to construct a melody that is similar to something I have heard and while staying within harmony being also open to the principles of space, rhythmic construction that will allow me to build another structure upon the one I am creating now using the exact same principles but making sure they are slightly different to avoid monotony. This way the phrase will feel larger in scope
    Tired? :eyebrow: