In this post, I will be proposing eight ways that you can use this technique. Each has a different feel or vibe so, you will have to choose depending on the harmonic effect you are going for. This particular harmonic technique consists in moving a chord or a harmonic interval and maintain the relative distance between pitches, or put another way, it’s when all the voices of a chord move in the same direction. It can be used to connect with a more important chord or to thicken a melodic line.
Parallel harmony can be tonal or real. If it is real parallel harmony, then an exact transposition of the chord occurs, meaning that the chord or intervals will be moved around in a fixed formation. On the other hand, in tonal parallel harmony the chord is moved while maintaining its relative interval distance, using only the notes from the scale you are working on, like in the following example:
Chords in 1st inversion forming a melodic line over an A pedal note
In the next example you will notice that the harmonic melody, or top note of the chords, is tonal. However, the rest of the chord voices move in a fixed formation and thus using chromatic tones in relation to the C major tonality:
Same harmonic melody as the previous example but with real parallel chords – in perfect 4ths
Now that we have covered what parallel harmony is, let me show you some of the ways in which you can use this technique in your music:
1 – Resolving to a Target Chord as a Chromatic Approach Chord
In the context of C major tonality, the target chord is Am7 and I am using minor seventh chords in real parallel motion to make a chromatic approach to it
2 – To Create Harmonic Tension Over a Pedal Note
In this example, the first bar is a real parallel chord motion example while the second bar is tonal
3 – As Chord Cycles
A major third chord cycle using major seventh chords
or Back-cycling to a target chord using a minor third cycle:
Minor third cyclic approach to target chord using altered dominants (#5, #9)
4 – Mixing Tonal Parallel Chord Motion and Real Parallel Chord Cycles
In the upper staff we have a tonal parallel chord motion while on the bottom staff I am moving the chords in minor third cycles
5 – To Create Harmonic Contrasts
In this case the Dm9 is my reference chord that I used to create contrasts but instead you can create a succession of chords. Just make sure that there is enough time in each chord so that the listener can settle in.
6 – As a Modulation Device
In this case I am modulating from Db major to Eb major tonality – Ab Lydian
7 – Over Basslines That Have a Melodic Role
In these two joint examples we have the chord tones in red that are being used as reference to make tonal and real parallel chord motion over a chromatic bassline
8 – Experimenting With Different Chord Types
Because each chord formation will give you a different feel while using this technique, here is a comparison while using the same melodic line represented in red
This last example is a reminder that depending on the type of chords you are using you can get different results so, make sure you experiment with not only different chord types but also different chord-voicings.
When you are using parallel harmonic movement, you don’t need to be concerned with voice-leading. Instead, the focus is on the harmonic melody and its role in a particular musical context. As seen, there are lots of ways in which you can use this technique and the only limit is your creativity!
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