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I've come to realise that have a good knowledge of harmony / chords is essential to playing coherent melodic lines throughout a set of changes. But I find it's quite a hard concept to actually go about practicing / studying - mostly as the subject is so broad.

What have people done to accelerate their harmonic knowledge? Has anyone had any good experience with an online course at all?

Thanks
 

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It's a huge question and I could write a book in response, but the one thing I would advise above all is: harmony is probably far easier studied at the keyboard than on the horn. The reason is that you need to be able to hear chords both vertically (i.e. all the notes struck at once) and melodically (arpeggiated, the only way you can play them on the horn). And with two hands you can hear notes against the chord in the left hand and really develop a sense of what each degree feels like. I'm coming to sax from piano, so perhaps I'm a bit biased, but I'm glad I didn't try to learn this stuff on the sax-- it just seems like it would have taken a lot longer.
 

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I improved my knowledge of harmony by getting a Master's degree in Music Composition, so I'm probably the wrong person to ask lol. Having said that, there are a few very good music theory resources out there. For basic stuff, Teoria is a solid resource, though like a lot of theory pedagogy, they're unfortunately too focused on Classical European Tonal theory, which will only get you so far. Still, it's a good place to get a refresher on the basics of harmony before you move into jazz theory. They have a lot of very helpful interactive stuff for you to test your knowledge.
 

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Get a high end melodica.
Spend lotsa time playing the chords of your favorite tunes and the inversions.
Sing along.
No knowledge of music theory is necessary to sing/play a pretty melody over a set of changes.....
Or just create a nice melody without thoughts of anything else.
 

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Walk the bass lines of songs 1357 quarter notes until you have the changes memorized. Then you will have root movement and hear the different chord qualities over and over. Eventually when someone calls a tune you will hear the harmony better that the melody/head of the tune. Piano is good also if you an extra hour a day to practice.
 

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I found "The Jazz Theory Book" by Mark Levine to be helpful and also a good way to explore the jazz canon. I bought a keyboard so I could play his musical examples, which are all transcribed from great jazz recordings. That said, if your goal is to perform, there's no substitute for a good teacher who can help you develop a systematic approach to applying everything on your instrument. I've learned the hard way that knowing theory and applying it are very different things and also that different approaches make more sense on different instruments. I've had very good experience with online lessons via TakeLessons. There are many other options, though. A good teacher is gold.
 

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I've come to realise the same. It is a big topic, but can be learned. But it definitely takes time. And depends how deep you wish to go. Check out Rick Beato's channel on Youtube.
 

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I've come to realise that have a good knowledge of harmony / chords is essential to playing coherent melodic lines throughout a set of changes. But I find it's quite a hard concept to actually go about practicing / studying - mostly as the subject is so broad.

What have people done to accelerate their harmonic knowledge? Has anyone had any good experience with an online course at all?

Thanks
Best think I ever did was memorize most of "Patterns for Jazz" when I was in high school. Every pattern, every chord, every line. memorized. That helped a ton for me and set a foundation that I could build off of.
 

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I've come to realise that have a good knowledge of harmony / chords is essential to playing coherent melodic lines throughout a set of changes. But I find it's quite a hard concept to actually go about practicing / studying - mostly as the subject is so broad.

What have people done to accelerate their harmonic knowledge? Has anyone had any good experience with an online course at all?

Thanks
Not knowing your present level, and assuming that you want to get better in improvising as per your opening statement, one thing to start with could be learning the musical materials the chords derive from, the major, melodic and harmonic scales, then the functional categories those chords belong to, then their function in a given chord progression, and their most common relations, i.e. how they connect and establish a tonal center. Then some musical mechanisms should start to get clearer, and the improvised lines can begin to outline the harmony more effectively. That can be studied too, for example learning how to use bebop scales, to internalize voice leading process. One thing that has been very important to me has been making functional analysis of dozens of tunes.

I strongly would suggest that you get a good teacher, that would help you significantly and - in the end - save you quite some time and maybe getting in some dead ends.

That said, there are plenty of books available on the subjects. A good and concise one to start things off is Jazz Harmony by Andy Jaffe. Another excellent source, more thorough, are the four Jazz Harmony books by Barry Nettles, in use for many years at Berklee College. Just think how many musicians formed themselves on those text.

These books can be good for the theorization side of things. Then there are the books by Bert Ligon:

  • Comprehensive Technique For Jazz Musicians
  • Jazz Theory Resources - I & II
  • Connecting Chords With Linear Harmony

that are awesome and manage to effectively connect the theory with the practical side of things, so to speak. And of course Levine’s books mentioned in a previous post are very good too.

Tackling the various subjects through various perspectives is very useful, but of course can also be intimidating and overwhelming. On the other hand the topic is what it is, it is quite huge, and it can’t be simplified over a certain threshold. That’s why a local teacher guidance and a one to one relation with someone you can ask the many questions that will come to mind during the learning/studying process can be really helpful.

Have fun and good luck!
 

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Definitely agree with Zasterz about using the piano, and also agree about The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine.

I’d also add that for me learning harmony goes hand in hand with ear training. The theory without the ear is kind of missing the point a bit, I think. Which is why using a piano or keyboard is so great.
 

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Berklee School of Music has an online course that might interest you.

I'm not personally familiar with the course, but decades ago, Berklee offered a correspondence course . (Can you believe it?). There were about 25 lessons in the course. I took it and learned a whole lot from it. I am sure that the online course is just as comprehensive. The link provides an introductory sample of a lesson.
 

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I started with piano lessons at 6 or 7. Then at 9, played trombone, and then sax at 12. So I already had the concepts from the keys and was reading music when my classmates were still figuring it out. I still think musicians should read music. If you have no keyboard experience, you can learn to see the chords in the music.
 

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There is a ton of good info out there, both in books and online. One thing you can do, early on, that will help immeasurably, if you haven't already, is to learn/memorize all 12 major scales, assign numbers to each and every scale degree, then get to the point where you can instantly identify every scale degree by number in all 12 major scales. For example, in the key of C, the '5' is G, the '7' is B, the b7* is Bb, the '3' is E. In the key of F#, the '4' is B, the '3' is A#, the b3 is A, the '5' is C#, etc. *Start by learning the diatonic notes (the notes in the scale), then it will be easy to identify the chromatic notes (b3, #5, etc.).

Once you're able to do this for every tone in every key, you will have a good foundation for further study. It gives you a solid reference point. So, for example, to derive a Cmajor7 chord, you can use the formula 1 3 5 7 (C E G B); Cmin7 would be 1 b3 5 b7 (C Eb G Bb); C7 = 1 3 5 b7, and so on. That is only one small example, but the numerical system is how a lot of this is described and will only make sense when you know it in 12 keys.

Roman numerals are used to name chords in reference to a key center. G7 would be V7 in the key of C, and the G7 chord would be spelled 1 3 5 b7 (G B D F) based on the root, G. Of course, you can also have that same G7 chord in other keys; it could be the I7 in a G blues, the IV7 in a D blues, or a bVII7 in the key of A, or VI7 in the key of Bb, etc.

If that's already starting to get confusing, it won't be once you have all those scale degrees down.

p.s. Edited because I kept thinking of things to add; I could go on and on and confuse the issue totally. :)
 

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I studied harmony on my own and continue studying by watching piano theory videos on YouTube. What an amazing resource. I don't play piano (yet) but this is where it's at.

It seems to me most of what you need to know can be written on a single sheet of paper. Know your modes of major scales for major cadences and modes of the harmonic minor scale for minor cadences. Learn to recognize common progressions (i.e. iii-VI-ii-V-I), which often move diatonically (within the key) around the circle of fourths. Learn the common tricks, such as secondary dominants (seen here in the VI, which is not minor vi as its mode would suggest, but major, because it is acting as the V of ii, or a "secondary dominant"). Often relative V's or relative ii-V's are thrown in to lead into a phrase. So if you know all your scales and chords very well, it will be easier to recognize these common cadences. Also, tritone substitutions are very common and very easy to use if you think of them as a downward chromatic movement from the ii to the I, where the V in between gets replaced. There are other interesting substitutions, such as "Coltrane Changes", but that may not be compulsory knowledge.

Anyway, I wrote most of this down on one piece of paper when I was in high school and practiced chord and scale patterns a lot. Never really used books. I think there is a basic core of knowledge required along the lines above, but of course, there are endless levels of sophistication to climb to. I think it helps to write out scales and chords in all keys as an excercise, and make sure you know them instinctively.
 
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