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Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #1 
Hi, I am beginning to learn some standards, and attempting to harmonize them in a chord melody style. I would like to be able to play a piece and practice it in various keys so I am trying to analyze chords and give them a roman numeral name so that I can easily transpose. I am no expert on this process though and need some guidance. The Tune I'm about to tackle is Alice in Wonderland(Real book 5th edition) I'll list the chord changes and my beginner analysis. It would be much appreciated to get some help though

Key of C
Section A

D-7|G7|(1.E-7 A7|D-7 G7|)(2. Cmaj7|A-7|)

So I know the basics such as D-7 is the iim7, G7 is the V7, Cmaj7 is the IM7 etc., I guess I could say that I understand the diatonic chords but how should I think of E7 and Eb7? Should E7 be thought of as III7 and Eb7 as bIII7? 

The B section also contains mostly diatonic chords but there is also D7, F#-7, B7b9, A7, Ab7, and a D diminished 7 and I'm not sure the best way to think of these. Sorry if this post is poorly written. Also is there a good book on the subject of song analysis that I should get a hold of?


Posts: 333
Reply with quote  #2 
Hi KyleK,

Song analysis, for the purpose of memorizing a tune to be able to play it in any key, is a big topic.  One that Ted thought a lot about and taught a lot about.

I'll just say a few simple things about it.

1) You can think of all the chords with respect to the main key of C major so Bm7b5 E7 Am7 would be vii III vi  or

2) you can think of the tune as changing keys (= modulation or tonicization) so Bm7b5 E7 Am7 would be ii V i of the relative minor of the main key.

Often, but not always, it's easier to think the second way.  The advantage of the second way is that you realize you're playing the most common jazz progression: ii V i.  The disadvantage is that you now have two things to remember: the progression and the relationship of the short term key to the main key.

So you can use a mix of the above plus lots of other tricks like noticing when things go around the cycle of fourths or move by a half step, etc.  By things, I mean both chords and short term key centers.

So a trick might be to think of Eb7 as an approach chord to ii, which means a dominant (usually) chord a half step above ii.  This can be easier than thinking of it as bIII, or as V of ii by tritone substitution thinking.  Ultimately you're looking for the easiest way to hold the whole tune in your head.

Hope that helps.  There's a lot more.  And others might even disagree with what little I just said.  Main thing is to study a bunch of music theory, learn tunes, find out what works, and enjoy!

Posts: 38
Reply with quote  #3 
As James said, you have to find a way to memorize things that works well for you. But it is also helpful to be able to view the same thing from different perspectives. This results in new ideas a lot of times.

In almost every standard (and almost every other song) it really helps to think in 4-bar-phrases, because almost every time tunes are built this way. This way the structure of the tune and the harmonic progressions become more obvious. 

Your example:

Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 |
Bm7b5 | E7 | Am7 | Eb7 |
Dm7 | G7 | Em7 | A-7 |

The first line is obviously a ii V I IV in C.

The second line is a ii V i in Am. The Eb7 is a dominant chord that resolves to Dm. You can view it as a "simple" chromatic approach chord or the tritone-substitution of A7. It is both the same, just named differently.

The third line is a iim7 V7 Imaj9 vim7 in C. The Em7 is a substitution for Cmaj7. The notes of the chord e-g-b-d spell out a rootless Cmaj9 chord. This is a very often used substitution. Joe Pass said about it: "I don't think of it as a substitution. Just as adding colour" (not quoted correctly, but with the correct meaning ;-).

If you like the diatonic approach (James' 1. way) then you can think of E7 as the III step of C, that is just written as a dominant chord because it resolves better to the following chord. In fact the only note that changes is g to g#.
The Eb7 is the tritone substitution for A7, which is the dominant chord leading to Dm.

Hope this helps.


Posts: 1,766
Reply with quote  #4 
Here's something that may help or perhaps simply reinforce what James and Christoph have already written:  it's one of Ted's pages that is posted in the "Other" section under the Lessons area.
...and there are a few more.

Also, poke around in the "Harmony & Theory" section and see what's there.  Here's one from it:

Here's Ted's 5-part series on "Modulation" that deals a lot with Roman numeral analysis of progressions:

Also look in the "Baroque" and the "Chord Studies" sections.  You might find something that will shed some light.

Actually, Ted has many, many pages in which he analyzed chord progressions with Roman numerals.  More of these will come out in the future, or sooner if anyone expresses an interest.


Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #5 
Thanks for all the great replies guys. I really like this community, you all seem very nice, helpful, and like you really want the art of guitar to progress for everyone. Off topic, but does anyone have any recommendations for some easier standards I should start to work on?

Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #6 
Wow, Paul, the "Tune Structures by Numbers" page is quite something. Browsing it is making me want to learn all of these tunes. I'm not sure the best way to go about it would be, maybe listen to different versions of a tune enough that I can sing or hum the melody out while playing the chords, according to the roman numerals and then later on work on transferring it to chord melody?

Posts: 1,766
Reply with quote  #7 
Hi Kyle,
Here's another one that might be even more helpful:
This shows chord progression analysis for some Beatles tunes, which you're probably more familiar with than the page on jazz standards.
What you want to do is to start thinking in terms of chord function.  Take some song you already know well, and break it down into Roman numerals.  
For example, if you have a 50's style I-vi-IV-V song, see the chords as those scale degrees, rather than just A - F#m - D - E.  
Now, move it to other keys, or all 12 keys if you want to be thorough. 

Ted encouraged students to know the "basic" progression of a song first - without any extensions, substitutions, or alterations.  He called this the "Campfire guitar" version of the song that you could just strum the chords and sing/whistle the melody.

If you're sitting around a campfire with some friends and someone pulls out an old beat up acoustic guitar, hands it to you and says, "Play us a song," you certainly don't want to try to do some complex chord-melody arrangement that nobody knows, much less for the fact that you'd probably have a difficult time playing it on that old axe!
But if you knew the basic progression of that song you could probably bang out the basic chords and sing the melody.  Even if no one knew the song, it could be really nice for the campfire situation. 

After you know the basic progression you can then make a simple chord-melody arrangement.  Finally, if you're so inspired to do so, make a more elaborate arrangement with all the frills, bells & whistles.  
It's more difficult to do a Roman numeral analysis for a lush, full-blown arrangement because of all the harmonic devices that may tend to disguise the basic progression - but, if you know the skeletal structure you can more easily see all the harmonic improvements, subs, moving lines, etc., that have been used.
Hope this helps.


Posts: 1
Reply with quote  #8 
I think Eb7 could be analysed as substitute dominant seventh in relation to Ami7. In other words Eb7 is subV7/VI 
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