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Author Topic: Chord progressions and bass lines  (Read 3418 times)

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Jesse Smith

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Chord progressions and bass lines
« on: April 02, 2019, 05:50:20 PM »

Can we talk about chord progressions on the melodeon, especially as they relate to traditional English music?

In the introductory notes of one or more of John Kirkpatrick's tunebooks, he decries what he views as the inappropriate prevalence of guitar chording conventions in melodeon music, such as the heavy use of dominant 7th chords and relative minor chords. He recommends arranging the tunes "as if Handel were scoring them" with straightforward major chords. Now I'm not all that familiar with Handel, but I suppose if pressed I would say he brings to mind a sort of "Trumpet Voluntary" style of suspensions resolving to the tonic and rather grand cadences.

These thoughts come to mind as I'm "playing in" the Dorset Four Hand Reel for the TotM and trying to work up a somewhat interesting left hand part that complements the tune (as opposed to willfully contrasting with it). And what I'm finding is that there really are any number of "right" chords under any given section, and it leaves me wondering whether any given choice is more "authentic" or appropriate for traditional music.

For example, the very last bar of the B part goes "a g g". One could play the chords "D G G" under that, which is very natural to the melody and instrument, but I was also playing around with "C D G" which gives an interesting sense of movement beneath the resolving melody. But of course neither the C nor the D go with the melody notes so it creates different suspensions here. Would that be considered too "outré" for traditional music or is that right in line with the "Handelian" notion?

Maybe these musings are really just sort of navel gazing, as the entire use of the D/G melodeon for traditional music is a revival thing anyway and not truly "traditional" in the first place.

I would also like to hear people's thoughts on coming up with interesting bass lines on the melodeon, and how that intersects with this question of historically/traditionally appropriate chord progressions. I'm thinking in particular of Anahata who often comes up with very melodic left hand parts (I think influenced by his background with the cello). How does one go about working up such a left hand part?
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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2019, 06:44:03 PM »

I think I've read the same comments from JK.
His attitude is to remember most of these tunes are dance tunes, and so don't loose the essence and natural drive of the tune by over complicating it with esoteric chords.
Probably a gross over simplification of his attitude, but that's my take.
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2019, 07:07:06 PM »

I would also like to hear people's thoughts on coming up with interesting bass lines on the melodeon, and how that intersects with this question of historically/traditionally appropriate chord progressions. I'm thinking in particular of Anahata who often comes up with very melodic left hand parts (I think influenced by his background with the cello). How does one go about working up such a left hand part?

Experience of playing cello parts, and also of watching and hearing JK play back in the day when the only squeezebox I knew how to play was a piano accordion, so I had the flexibilty of Stradella basses.

I'm mostly not bothered about chord progressions: they are for PA players. For me, chords are often just a rhythmical offbeat percussive noise filling in between bass notes.
Part of what I do is using different bass notes for the same chord. For example, on a D/G melodeon:
With a G chord you can play all three notes of the chord as bass notes: G B D
With a D chord you can often play an A instead of a D in the bass.
With an A chord you can do an E instead of an A.
With a C chord you can do an E or a G instead of a C.
Often the same chord happens at least twice in a row in a tune, so I play each with a different bass note.
So in Dorset Four Hand reel I might play (with caps for bass, lower case for chords)
G g B g | C c C c |G g B g | A d D d |

(Note that in the second bar I could do | C c E c | but for some reason I don't think I have got into the habit of doing that. I did notice someone doing it on YouTube recently and it was very effective, so I might do more in the future)

Now the chord sequence above is very simple and obvious (GG CC GG DD), but try playing the bass notes alone and you'll hear something much more varied. I'd hesitate to call it tuneful, but it's a whole lot better to my ears than playing only root notes, and it disguises the fact that the chord sequence is really simple and obvious.

Another part of what I do is what people like to call "bass runs". There you are playing a sequence of bass notes instead of note-chord-note-chord. Usually it's where the melody moves stepwise for three or more notes in a row, in a place where you can play three or more bass notes a third (give or take an octave or two) below the melody. The most obvious is where the tune goes BCD(E) and you play GAB(C) in the bass. There's a slightly less obvious one where the tune, (on the D row) goes DEF♯G and the bass can go BCDE. Obviously those sequences can go down as well as up.

To get some facility with playing these, it is well worth practising:
- the six note scale of G on the bass buttons.
- scales in thirds between treble and bass as far as you can go.
- Simple tunes on the bass buttons e.g. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, When the Saints Go Marching in, Shepherd's Hey, the first half of Jimmy Allen, The Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th...

The next step is contrary motion. Simple example is CBA in the treble, ABC in the bass. Again practising sequences like that means they will come naturally when you are playing a tune where they might fit.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2019, 07:08:42 PM by Anahata »
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Jesse Smith

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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #3 on: April 02, 2019, 08:53:17 PM »

I'm mostly not bothered about chord progressions: they are for PA players. For me, chords are often just a rhythmical offbeat percussive noise filling in between bass notes.
Part of what I do is using different bass notes for the same chord. For example, on a D/G melodeon:
With a G chord you can play all three notes of the chord as bass notes: G B D
With a D chord you can often play an A instead of a D in the bass.
With an A chord you can do an E instead of an A.
W9ith a C chord you can do an E or a G instead of a C.
Often the same chord happens at least twice in a row in a tune, so I play each with a different bass note.
So in Dorset Four Hand reel I might play (with caps for bass, lower case for chords)
G g B g | C c C c |G g B g | A d D d |

Thanks, that alternating root/3rd is something I'm working on for the first time in this tune, which seemed like a good tune to try it out in.

I'm curious about your comment about chord progressions. My first serious instrument was the acoustic guitar, which I learned for the most part in a typical "strummy" style playing Beatles songs and the like, so I tend to fall into the rut of thinking that every tune has an underlying chord progression inherent in the melody. That's not strictly true of course, but I'd say that even without playing any chords the presence of a bass line would imply a harmonic progression based on the movement of the bass notes and the chords they trace.
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Eshed

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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2019, 09:21:10 PM »

I'm a guitar player in my brain, even if I played more melodeon recently. That's why I'm thinking very carefully on the chords I use and if I can't find a fitting chord I'll play a bass I can get away with or no left hand button at all. When I choose what key to play a tune in, the most important factor is the chord choices it gives me.
I suppose that unlike Anahata, I can do this (or maybe I even must do this) since I never play for dance.

Another thing I thought about: There's a cultural element to how we interpret chords. With a good chunk of my local traditional music being in minor keys, I suspect I don't find minor chords as sombre as others here might.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2019, 03:12:50 AM by Eshed »
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2019, 10:17:53 AM »

dance tunes, played for dancing, don't need anything more than the melody line.  Anahata's right.  If not for dancing anything goes as you're out of the "trad" loop.
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2019, 11:08:09 AM »

Maybe for "English" dancing, but other traditions make great use of chord sequences and interesting bass lines, and speaking as a dancer, it adds a whole new dimension to the dancing experience.  If you feel like being creative with chords and basses then go for it, but don't loose the essential rhythm of whichever dance form you are playing for.
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2019, 12:37:43 PM »

I agree with Theo.
An interesting bass line or chord change does help dancers, and can give you a lift. We often use such things within our Morris tunes to give a lift. But as you say, don't loose the ssential rhythm.
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2019, 01:40:34 PM »

You guys either have more buttons on your bass row, or have unlocked secrets I cannot find on my two row D/G box.
I can sometimes find a few bits where I don't just umpah the root-triad, but precious few.  I guess (KNOW!!) I have a lot to learn. :-)
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2019, 01:51:47 PM »

I'm curious about your comment about chord progressions. My first serious instrument was the acoustic guitar, which I learned for the most part in a typical "strummy" style playing Beatles songs and the like, so I tend to fall into the rut of thinking that every tune has an underlying chord progression inherent in the melody. That's not strictly true of course, but I'd say that even without playing any chords the presence of a bass line would imply a harmonic progression based on the movement of the bass notes and the chords they trace.

Yes, any bass line absolutely implies a chord progression. I think part of what I'm saying is that you don't have to play "chords" to get harmony. The thing with "strummy" guitar chords (and melodeon chord buttons) is that it encourages you to think of chords as a separate thing you play - they are inherent when ever there's more than one note at a time sounding, and sometimes without even that.

Also not all chords are available on a melodeon, but even little bits of bass line can give a feeling of progression and movement when the chords themselves aren't terribly interesting.

dance tunes, played for dancing, don't need anything more than the melody line.  Anahata's right.
Oh, I wouldn't go that far. As Theo says, something else to help with the rhythm will improve the dancing experience, and on a melodeon it's going to be something that adds harmony. I wince when I hear "wrong" chords, especially  on a 2+8 melodeon when even that could do better. But, once I have a harmony that doesn't actually clash horribly with the tune, I don't believe in going to extremes to dress it up further with jazzy chords.

For dance music, adding further interest by varying the bass and chord patterns to spice up the rhythm and create more of a feeling of movement does make  sense to me, and I think is part of what Theo is talking about.

I could say more about JK's reference to relative minors and dominant 7ths, but I'll save that for another post...
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2019, 02:01:36 PM »

You guys either have more buttons on your bass row, or have unlocked secrets I cannot find on my two row D/G box.
I can sometimes find a few bits where I don't just umpah the root-triad, but precious few.  I guess (KNOW!!) I have a lot to learn. :-)

Learning is a never-ending process! I have been playing for a month shy of a year and a half now and just recently started to seriously explore more complex left-hand stuff. I have a regular 8-bass Pokerwork like you. To see and hear lots of interesting bass work, look for Anahata's melodeon videos on YouTube, or give a listen to John Kirkpatrick playing the two-row on his tutorial DVD or his records "Sheepskins" and "The Duck Race".
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2019, 02:09:36 PM »

Oh, I wouldn't go that far. As Theo says, something else to help with the rhythm will improve the dancing experience, and on a melodeon it's going to be something that adds harmony. I wince when I hear "wrong" chords, especially  on a 2+8 melodeon when even that could do better. But, once I have a harmony that doesn't actually clash horribly with the tune, I don't believe in going to extremes to dress it up further with jazzy chords.

For dance music, adding further interest by varying the bass and chord patterns to spice up the rhythm and create more of a feeling of movement does make  sense to me, and I think is part of what Theo is talking about.

I could say more about JK's reference to relative minors and dominant 7ths, but I'll save that for another post...

I agree that chords are part of the movement and complement the rhythm - thinking of the way that a lot of Morris tunes kind of hang on the V chord and then fall snugly back to the I with a really strong downbeat. The cadence itself is part of the "rhythm".

Please do share your thoughts on JK's views on chords! That was half of my original question - there are lots of "right" chords for a given melody, but are some more appropriate to the genre than others? As an American, I'm not as steeped in traditional English music as some of you (although it obviously makes up a large portion of the "melting pot" of our own folk music traditions).
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2019, 04:36:43 PM »

OK...
7th chords can't easily be played on a melodeon, so we're fairly safe, though it can be done with some RH help.
There's an implied dominant 7th in the key of G if you play a pull D and the tune has a C, but sometimes that seem to me to be an appropriate chord. But if the tune in G has a G - C sequence, making that into a G7 - C sequence is the sort of thing that a PA player might well do, but is in bad taste to my ears. E.g. in the 1st two bars of Dorset 4 Hand Reel.

Another example is the second bar of Ashokan Farewell. It's possible to go D - D7 - G and on my D/G melodeon I have a low RH C natural that enables me to make that 7th chord. It's really schmaltzy, but for a tune like that I don't care and I sometimes add it for shock value in a session (not that anyone's apparently noticed yet) but it's an example of what I think JK was talking about. English dance tunes are not supposed to sound like Mantovani...

So, relative minor chords... I think they are OK used sparingly. Here's an example of a way I both do and don't use an E minor in a tune in G, right at the beginning of Galopede:

dc |"G"B2Bc"D"A2AB|"G"G2G2G2AB|"C"cBcd edcB|"D"A2A2A2dc|"G"B2Bc"D"A2AB|"Em"G2G2G2 ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SejM6wB17w

That's the identical phrase repeated. Some people play G both times, some play that E minor chord both times. I like using one of each for variety and to emphasise that the tune is about to move on somewhere else. It's questionable, as is the decision about whether to precede the Emin with a B instead of a D, which I do in that video (actually a Bmin on that box).

In the same passage, a possible excruciating example of an unnecessary 7th is in bar 4 where some might play
"A7"A2A2"D7"A2
Again, this is the kind of over-egging the pudding that PA players seem to enjoy.

Those simple examples might ring a bell of familiarity. It happens a lot, but many of the worst examples are impossible on a melodeon. Diminished chords, anyone?  >:E
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2019, 05:28:28 PM »

When I'm home I'll copy out the actual JK quote about relative minors and dominant 7ths. He places their appropriateness in a historical context, saying they largely stem from modern folk guitar conventions and that most of these tunes were written in an era where "sevenths were an unforeseen blemish on a jazz-free horizon" (which I think is a hilarious if perhaps historically inaccurate joke).

So, relative minor chords... I think they are OK used sparingly. Here's an example of a way I both do and don't use an E minor in a tune in G, right at the beginning of Galopede:

dc |"G"B2Bc"D"A2AB|"G"G2G2G2AB|"C"cBcd edcB|"D"A2A2A2dc|"G"B2Bc"D"A2AB|"Em"G2G2G2 ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SejM6wB17w

That's the identical phrase repeated. Some people play G both times, some play that E minor chord both times. I like using one of each for variety and to emphasise that the tune is about to move on somewhere else.

Yes, Mally's beginner melodeon book does this in Bonny Green Garters, in order to demonstrate two different ways of playing the same phrase, I believe. I think it sounds fine in that tune and like you said, adds a feeling of movement to the tune.

In the same passage, a possible excruciating example of an unnecessary 7th is in bar 4 where some might play
"A7"A2A2"D7"A2
Again, this is the kind of over-egging the pudding that PA players seem to enjoy.

That's a classic "secondary dominant" or V-of-V (or V7-of-V7 in this example). I don't think these progressions are exactly anachronistic; Bach and Mozart certainly used them and that is in the same period as many of the country dance tunes we're talking about. But perhaps they are just considered a bit "froufrou" for simple dance tunes!

I think I read somewhere that JK had the entire row of 7th chords removed from his B/C/C# box's stradella mechanism (or at least the buttons anyway). I guess he really does have little use for them! ;D
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2019, 05:57:29 PM »

I know the Casali box he's had for a very long time is 12x4 with major and minor chords only, but I think it was built that way.

Re secondary dominants: yes, I'm sure they have been used in perfectly respectable contexts, but can be overdone!
I'd be interested to know what JK said. Perhaps I should get a copy of his book - which one is it?
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #15 on: April 03, 2019, 06:00:42 PM »

my understanding is that John had the 7th row buttons removed because they got in the way of his unique style on the BCC# box. This may have something to do with the full length airbar   which is operated by wrist action rather than thumb action.

I happen to like the sound of 7th chords  and use them fairly often  on my 3 row box  - but of course everybody to his own.  I would however mention that a very small eg trichord bcc# with a 48 bass piano accordion stradella  grafted on ( as has been done on a number of occasions)  is to me a far more sensible way of  providing  bass led accompaniment (as well as decent rhythm) than can be achieved farting about  with 8 or 12 bisonoric bass.

The 8 bisonoric bass DG box is  however great for  most dance music where the ability to drive  decent rhythm with a small box is important

george >:E ;)
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #16 on: April 03, 2019, 06:07:22 PM »

as far as I am aware the only 12x4 casali BCC# was  much smaller than johns and only 3 voice. I think his is a 4 voice that was an 80 bass originaly. there is  a wide ( 2 rows worth) of  flat space on the outer side of the bass keyboard that enables him ? better access to dart all over the place on the remaning 4 rows without his wrist  catching the buttons that would originally have been there - or something like that

george
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #17 on: April 03, 2019, 06:58:12 PM »

Thank goodness there's not just a single "correct" way to play. 
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #18 on: April 03, 2019, 07:52:52 PM »

indeed!
george
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Re: Chord progressions and bass lines
« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2019, 02:30:13 AM »

OK, I've had a chance to find the quote in question and I'll copy the relevant bits here. It is from John Kirkpatrick's "Jump at the Sun" tunebook of his own tunes (and Anahata, it is definitely worth picking up - as John jokes, "138 tunes for £10, that's just over 7p per tune, and some of them must be worth at least that much!").

He writes, in the Introduction:

Quote
Now that we've mentioned chords, I have to confess that for many, many years I hated seeing chord symbols added to collections of straightforward melodies like these. I thought it was insulting to any decent practitioner to assume that people couldn't work out their own chords, and I found the conventions of guitar chording, with regular appearances of the dominant seventh in particular, and a great prevalence of relative minors within major tunes, unbearable and inappropriate.

[...]

This isn't deeply sophisticated stuff, on the whole. If you make the chording too rich and lush you smother the natural strength of the melody, and even though we are now playing this material in the twenty-first century, the idiom and style of these tunes harmonically is firmly based in an earlier age where sevenths were an unforeseen blemish on a jazz-free horizon. Most dance melodies of the kind in this book work better if you treat them as though Handel were doing the scoring - simple chords, on the beat, uncluttered, and unencumbered with ideas above their station. It's actually much more interesting and challenging to stick to a narrow harmonic path through this music than to range untrammelled over the whole chromatic landscape.

Of course, after all that very opinionated talk, he finishes the introduction thusly:

Quote
The good news is that you can whip through this book without me breathing down your neck, and you can play on whatever instrument you like, in whatever style, in whatever key, with whatever chords you fancy, and just please yourself - which is exactly what I would do!
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