Barry Harris' theory of reharmonization

Barry Harris is one of the most influential Jazz educators of all time . He has profoundly influenced several generations of Jazz musicians, including one of my all-time favorite saxophonists- Charles McPherson. Over the years Barry has developed his own unique system of reharmonization techniques.
  • Barry Harris' harmonic and improvisational teaching is based on the theory that chords come from scales. The scales at the foundation of his theory are the major sixth diminished scale, the minor sixth diminished scale, the seventh diminished scale and the seventh flat 5 diminished scale. Barry's teaching methodology emphasizes that 98% of the chords we play come from one of these scales.
Here are a few links to a few articles about Barry's reharm theories by clinician Howard Reese:
Evolutionary Voicings, Part I -Barry Harris Keeps Things Movin'
Evolutionary Voicings, Part II -Applying the Barry Harris Method to Tunes
Chord Explorations- Looking for a way to master chord voicings?
Diminished Dimensions

One of Barry's students, Masahiko Uchino, has developed a tool to display the appropriate scales for any chord structure that you specify. Give it a combination of notes for any chord and this tool will list the scale(s) that can be used in your playing. Scale reminder Java tool

Thanks to Jonah Dempcy for these links. He has just started an interesting Jazz educational Blog that has some helpful practice ideas with accompanying MP3s:



MonksDream said...

Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle! I started looking at this stuff and it's way more than I can handle in one sitting. In some ways, it reminds me of George Russell, and, well, it just goes to show you that you can structure harmonic approaches from a myriad of points of view.

Anonymous said...

Aren't those Barry Harris harmonies great?

I sent these links to the "justjazz@yahoogroups.com" email list and the consensus was that Barry's harmonies are "invalid" somehow .. Isn't jazz about experimenting and furthering the art form? But, a lot of people are stuck in their ways, and they basically flamed Barry's subs as "nonsense" ... of course the people doing the flaming may have had a vested interest in the status quo, as most of them were teachers and authors, such as Marc Sabatella, Paul Rinzler ... I left the justjazz email list shortly thereafter, as it was just too dry, and mostly consisted of RNA and overly-technical explanations of harmonies using Classical theory.

Anyway, I think all of that stuff has its place, but I'm always open to finding alternative explanations ...

David Carlos Valdez said...

I really haven't had the time to get very deep into the Barry Harris material. That's funny about the Yahoo group. Barry Harris is a Jazz master and if that's what he's playing then they obviously work. It doesn't really matter what some theory nerd says about his system, they don't sound as good as Barry Harris. If Charles McPherson finds it useful then I'm certainly interested. He's the baddest bebop saxophonist alive and I want to know where he came up with his shit. It makes sense to me that you could substitute diminished chords just about everywhere, as you can do when arranging. The fact is that players are using Barry's system because he's been teaching it for forty years. It could be argued that it's more theoretically valid than a lot of three-tonic systems that players are using today.

I like how Barry uses a Genesis metaphor. The foundations of harmony happen with the creation of the universe. God=unity=1 is first and the integers that follow create the world of harmony. 1:2 and 1:3 are the first symmetrical scales. In the Hebrew esoteric philosophy of Genesis these are described by the letters Aleph and Beth. Harmony mirrors the creation of the multi-verse, so by studying harmony you can learn about the very fundamentals of creation.

Brian Berge said...

Opinion: God (ADNI) is a Unity, but a Unity of the microcosm. It's difficult for me to sympathize with the harmony of pitches corresponding to parts of the Supernal Triad. As far as pitch harmony corresponds to the Qabalistic model of the universe, I just can't see any scale or chord having any significant primary connection to Aleph or Beth, e.g. (as these paths are between supernal sephiroth). Perhaps another harmony besides that of pitches exists amidst the Supernals: There are Qabalistic connections between transcendence of the microcosm & Silence. In other words, I don't doubt that the foundations of harmony begin there, but connecting the "1:2" & "1:3" structures to supernal navitoth is a big leap to my mind: You mention that harmony mirrors the creation of the multi-verse. I think this is a good choice of words. Aleph & Beth, as the navitoth from Kether to Chokmah & Binah respectively, are above multitude, at least of any sort that can be counted. I think Chokmah as Chaos COULD be interpreted as a multitude, but it has no order or even number until it's given form by Choronzon, to borrow the Hermetic term; or in other words given form by passage from the supernals to the microcosm. Still opinion of course but just to share viewpoints: Considering the above I consider the "1:2" to be the middle pillar of the microcosm (especially Yesod & either Tiphareth ill-dignified or the veil of Paroketh being opened [depending on other harmonic context]), which I think could be interpreted as Bhakti progress or at least the discontent which may be a precursor to it. The "1:3" may be Netzach (dignified) & Geburah ill-dignified, which I suppose could represent a fragmented consideration of incomplete ascent to Tiphareth. I dunno. I think the harmonic structures of the "1:2" & "1:3" are a little bit unfortunate in application to Qabalah, or to nature for that matter (though useful harmonic study aids). They're following a chromatical scale linearly where nature doesn't, e.g. the Overtone Series adds upon itself a constant frequency, while the chromatic scale (or any pattern following it linearly) is adding upon itself in a manner which is accomodating the doubling of frequencies in each octave.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Let's look at this a different way then. Think of Kether=1=root as the first note. It is a note, yet because it is the only note that ever was and you have nothing to compare it to you don't even hear it. All there is is this one note, there is no rhythm or harmony yet. At Chokmah=2=8va we are barely able to tell that there is a new note at all. It still just sounds like the one ever-present note. There is no real harmony or tonal gravity yet, no color, no dominant to tonic motion. The motion between 1 and 2 is root to octave, no real harmonic motion at all. This is not anything like harmonic progression, it is totally static. It isn't Major or Minor, tonic or Dominant, it's just one note. Like Aleph the 1:2 ratio has no color, it's just the clear air that creates all the other notes and ratios.

All I'm doing here is looking at the
integer ratios as musical functions (which they obviously are) and then examining the tree is these musical terms. Aleph is 1:2 more than ANY other correspondence (Ox, air, yellow, Transparent intelligence) that we choose to describe it by. It just so happens that 1:2 also means something very specific in music. That's where I'm starting from. Aleph=1:2=8va, this is self evident and undeniable. The tree in these terms describes the genesis of tonal harmony NOT our perception of number through tone, as you seem to be describing. The perception of tone through number can of course also be placed onto the tree, as you suggest, won't fit onto the tree in the same way.

I'm saying that music is the purest perceivable expression of the whole number ratios and so is QBL. They therefore MUST be compatible and intelligible in terms of each other.

It does make sense Qabbalistically AND harmonically that at 4,5,6 (Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth) you get
root, 5th and 3rd in the overtone series. These three are the first manifest form. They are the building blocks of tonal harmony, the first expression of tonal color, key and sex (major/minor). These three are the primary colors- root, third, fifth. I could go on if you like. Let me know :-)

I apologize to the non-qabbalistically inclined readers
for this digression. I'm sure this is sounding pretty out-there by now.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Let me add this about the harmonic implications of Aleph and Beth. Aleph is tonic moving to tonic, or static harmonic motion. Beth is tonic moving to dominant, this creates dissonance and a need for resolution back to tonic. So Aleph doesn't really create harmonic motion. So Daleth=2:3 is basically the same harmonic motion as Beth=1:3. These three letters map out the boundaries of harmonic motion, the most essential and determining qualities of all chord progressions. You can't go any father away from the tonic than dominant, it is the limit of the tonal universe. All harmonic progression moves between these terms, like all color happens between the poles of black and whites. Daleth is the door to come back inside after being outside at the dominant=3=Binah.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Thanks, I see your view a little better. It makes sense. I guess that does fit a macrocosmic genesis of the fundamentals of harmony & that the perception of musical harmony by/in the microcosm is a different & not more-real matter.

Good stuff. :)

David Carlos Valdez said...

Thanks for your challenging and thoughtful questions Brian.