Understanding and Utilising Upper Structures

Upper structures in harmony refer to the practice of adding additional chords or intervals above a basic chord to create richer sounds. This technique is invaluable for bassists looking to enhance their harmonic vocabulary.

What Are Upper Structures?

Upper structures are chords or intervals built above a given chord’s root, often adding extensions like 9ths, 11ths, or 13ths. These structures can significantly enhance the harmonic color and complexity of a chord.

Why Upper Structures Are Useful

Enhanced Harmonic Color:

  • Adding upper structures introduces new notes that enrich the chord’s sound, making it more interesting.

Improved Voice Leading:

  • Upper structures can facilitate smoother transitions between chords, creating a more fluid and cohesive harmonic progression.

Expanded Chord Vocabulary:

  • Utilising upper structures gives musicians access to a broader range of chords, enabling more creative and sophisticated improvisations.

Example: C Major Chord Upper Structures

  1. Major 9th Chord (Cmaj9):
    • Chord: C E G B D
    • Upper Structure: E minor triad (E G B) over C major triad (C E G)
    • Benefit: Adds a 7th (B) and a 9th (D) to the chord.

Advanced Chord Analysis

C Major chord and extensions:

  • Major Triads: C Major (C E G), G Major (G B D), D Major (D F# A)
  • Minor Triads: A Minor (A C E), E Minor (E G B), B Minor (B D F#)
  • Major 7th Chords: Cmaj7 (C E G B), Gmaj7 (G B D F#)
  • Minor 7th Chords: Amin7 (A C E G), Emin7 (E G B D), Bmin7 (B D F# A), Bmin7b5 (B D F A), F#min7b5 (F# A C E)
  • Dominant 7th Chords: G7 (G B D F), D7 (D F# A C)

Exercises for Mastering Upper Structures

  1. Warm-Up:
    • Play triads, arpeggios and scales up and down the fretboard from each extension.
  2. Advanced Trill Exercise:
    • Integrate trills into scale patterns. For example, play a major scale and add trills to build the chord.

Understanding and utilising upper structures is a powerful tool for any serious bassist. These techniques not only expand your harmonic vocabulary but also enhance your overall musicality, allowing for more expressive playing. Practice incorporating upper structures into your playing to explore new sonic possibilities and elevate your bass skills.

Minor Chords

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