Berklee Today

Reharmonization with Constant Structure Chords


THERE ARE MANY APPROACHES TO REHARMONIZATION, but this one, explored by Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans in the 1960s, creates an interesting combination of functional and nonfunctional sounds. It laid the groundwork for tunes with nonfunctional harmony that followed.

The object is to string together a series of chords of the same quality. In turn, the same chord scales can be used over each chord regardless of function. Functional harmony operates under the premise that chord scales are derived from chord tones and passing tones from the key (primary, secondary, or key of the moment). Since this approach treats all chords the same way, they lose their functional identity and sound more like part of a series.

The following are four of the methods that are commonly used to come up with substitute chords.

The standards "You're My Everything" and "Night and Day" are good subjects for this approach. On the lead sheets of these tunes, I have placed the original harmonies above the melody and the new chord series above those. I have placed numbers next to some of the original chords and the new chord choices, and I will explain my thought process below.

Loosely based on a Herbie Hancock reharmonization, this version of "You're My Everything" uses a series consisting almost entirely of minor seventh chords. Use a dorian scale for soloing on each minor seventh chord.

  1. The A minor 7 is a common substitute for C major 7; both have a tonic function.
  2. The G minor 7 was chosen as a passing chord between the A minor 7 and the F-sharp minor 7.
  3. To maintain a series of pure minor seventh chords, I eliminated the B7 and the A7. Even if the bass did move to the dominant (creating a dominant 7 sus4), the upper structure would preserve the integrity of the constant structure.
  4. (see #3)
  5. The D minor 7 of the original harmonization is retained and becomes a target point.
  6. Eliminate the A-flat 7.
  7. Add a C minor 7 as a passing chord between the D minor 7 and the B minor 7.
  8. Change the original B minor 7 flat-5 to a B minor 7 so it will fit into the series.
  9. Eliminate the E7 flat-9 so that the next chord is the A minor 7 from the original progression.
  10. The G-sharp diminished 7 chord, the final change before the turnaround, is the only reharmonized chord that is not of the minor 7 quality. It is a great chord with which to conclude a series and mark the end of a section (in this case, leading to a repeat) because of its vastly different sound quality.

Sometimes the chords that you choose to reharmonize will not work with the melody. In such situations, you can either adjust the melody slightly to fit the new chord or use the new progression for the solo sections only.

For soloing over the new progression, note that chords that can be analyzed functionally may not sound functional when constant structures and scales in the new progression surround them. For example, the A minor 7 in bar 1 looks like a VI-7 in the key of C, but with a dorian scale treatment, it no longer relates to the key the same way. In measure 12, the B minor 7 looks like ii-7 in the key of A, but coming from a C minor 7 and going A minor 7 its identity as part of the series is stronger than the expectation for it to function in the key of A.

Bill Evans used these constant structure chords to improvise on "Night and Day" at an amazingly fast tempo, creating a blur of harmony. He further obscured the hamony by voicing the lydian chords in hybrid form (D-flat major 7 over G flat, B major 7 over E, etc.). A string of major 7 chords appears in the first seven bars followed by a series of minor 7 chords in the next six bars. The upper structure of the D-flat major 7 over the G flat that started the tune can be used for the hybrid of the B-flat minor 7 chord in measure 8 to begin a new series of constant-structure minor sevenths. After the F minor 7 chord in bar 13, the series ends and the F minor 7 becomes part of a traditional ii-7 V7 cadence.

Noteworthy features of this reharmonization include the following points:

  1. The E major 7 and G major 7 (both numbered 1) are added as chromatic-approach chords.
  2. The E-flat major 7 chord is given a lydian treatment so that it will fit into the series, weakening its tendency to sound like the tonic.
  3. The B-flat minor 7 chord is added as an approach to start the series of minor 7 chords.
  4. The quality of the A minor 7 flat-5 has been changed to A minor 7 to continue the series.
  5. The chord quality has been changed from a diminished 7 chord to a minor 7 to be consistent with the series.


Pianist Paul Schmeling began teaching at Berklee in 1961 and has chaired the Piano Department since 1970. An active performer for over 35 years, he has recorded and performed with an extensive list of top figures in the jazz world.


© 1931 (Renewed) Warner Bros. Inc.
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All rights reserved. Used by Permission.
Warner Bros. Publications U.S. Inc., Miami, FL 33014
© 1932 (renewed) Warner Bros. Inc.,
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Warner Bros. Publications U.S. Inc., Miami, FL, 33014