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Home LJS Podcast Jazz Tips and Advice LJS 147: Writing Tunes With Non-Functional Jazz Harmony (My Composition Analysis)

LJS 147: Writing Tunes With Non-Functional Jazz Harmony (My Composition Analysis)

Welcome to episode 147 of the LJS Podcast where today we are taking a look at one of my compositions and exploring how some of the non-functional jazz harmony works within it. Often on this podcast, we cover functional harmony in jazz standards, but this time we discover how you can take that knowledge and start to break the rules. Listen in!

Listen to episode 147

Today’s episode is slightly self-indulgent, but I think you are going to enjoy it as well.

By no means do I consider myself a prolific composer. That’s why in general, I leave it to guests on this show to talk about composing. However, when I do compose a tune, I usually feel pretty good about it.

Today we explore a tune I wrote over 5 years ago called “Elliott.” 

This composition was inspired by the great singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, who still to this day is one of my favorites.

In this composition, I use a lot of non-functional harmony. This means that not all of the harmony can be related to a tonic or home key center. In fact, it sometimes can be a disservice to try to do that.

I’ll walk you through how I wrote the song and how I relate the chords to each other and the melody.

For reference, here’s a link to the pdf if the chart so you can follow along.

Here’s what I cover in today’s episode:

1. What non-functional harmony is.

2. My solo rendition of “Elliott.”

3. Chord-by-chord walkthrough of the harmony and how it works.

4. My process for composing the song by starting with the melody.

5. A demo recording of “Elliott” with a quartet.

The goal of this episode is to get you starting to think outside of the box. Whether this is way over your head or in your wheelhouse, there is some food for thought and a challenge to break the “rules” of conventional harmony.

Important Links

PDF of Elliott

The Jazz Standards Playbook

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."



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