Piano Lesson: How to Use Tritones to Harmonise Melodies

It has been mentioned that one can use tritones as passing chords or as a substitute chords, but little has been mentioned about using tritones to harmonise melodies! Please note that you will not use this technique all the time or right in the beginning of a song. You may want the person whom you are accompanying to get used to the song first before you play this phat chord.

Here is a list of all 12 tritone chord in case you are not familiar with them:

TRITONE CHART

BASS

LH

RH

G

F + B

E+A+C#

Gb

E + Bb

D#+G#+C

F

Eb + A

D+G+B

E

D + G#

C#+F#+A#

Eb

Db + G

C+F+A

D

C + F#

B+E+G#

Db

B + F

A#+D#+G

C

Bb + E

A+D+F#

B

A + D#

G#+C#+F

Bb

Ab + D

G+C+E

A

G + C#

F#+B+D#

Ab

Gb + C

F+A#+D

TIP: let’s say one plays the chord: C + E + G. You see, your ear will be more inclined to ‘hear’ the G note compared to the other notes since the G on top (on the far right). Unless you have done ear training the ear tends to struggle figuring out the middle note, E.

Another point to note is that the ear struggles to make sense of dissonance and understands more non-dissonant tones.

The point is, when using these tritones or any other chords, try to put the dissonant tones in the middle (the ear struggles to hear these) or bottom and the non-dissonant tones on top (far right on your right hand chord). The ear is more likely to hear these pleasing notes.

This is the reason why musicians put the melody on top when playing or harmonising chords for solo performance if the there is no singer to sing the melody.

When playing these tritones we shall be using the same principle of putting the melody on top (far right in the right-hand chord).

What is a dissonant tone?

The scale of C is C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. Then when one plays the chord C + E +G# (this is a C augmented chord), this chord is dissonant due to the dissonant note G#. Note that G# is NOT part of the scale of C and hence creating dissonance in the chord.

Example


Let’s do an example in the key of D with the popular song: I Surrender All

I will only deal with the section that I have chosen to phaten, which is the chorus itself.

First let’s determine the melody for the chorus in this key:

D(I),Db(Sur),B(re),A(nder).

Now, these tritone chords normally move chromatically, so we are going to change the melody just a little to:

D(I),Db(Sur),C(re),B(nder).

This melody may look different now, but if you listen to the midi file you will hear that it makes sense and is recognisable. You can always play around with the melody if in the end it will still be within the context of the song. Use your ear for judgement!

Now, we want to keep the melody on top, all we have to do now is choose tritone chords from the tritone chart which put the melody on top (far right).

Our melody again: D,Db,C,B. Here then are the tritone chords below which have the melody on top:

Melody

LH

RH

Notes

I

D

Db+A+D

D Major 7

Sur

F+B

E+A+C#

tritone

Re

E+Bb

D#+G#+C

tritone

nder

D#+A

D+G+B

tritone

Experiment then with these chords on different melodies or on songs that you already play. One cannot play these chords all the time, just choose a portion of the song that you wish to spice up and then use these tritones, you can’t use them for the whole duration of a song.

Remember: If it sounds right, play it!Let your ear be the judge and then analyze with the theory later.

To listen to midi, please click here


If you would like to be able to download the midi file, please click here

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