Mo Li Hua

Trad. Chinese song: Mo Li Hua. From the 18th century (Qing Dynasty), this song was one of the first Chinese folk songs to be known outside China, used in opera (Puccini’s Turandot), film (The Good Earth, 1937), and in ceremonies (such as the Olympics).


Trad. Korean song: Arirang. Often considered the anthem of Korea, it is estimated that this song is more than 600 years old. My beloved one / Crossing over Arirang Pass / The one who abandoned me / Shall not walk even 4 kilometers before their feet hurt.

Fish Dance Song

Iroquois Social Song: Fish Dance Song. Performed by Joanne Shenandoah. Lyrics are in the
Oneida language from the current region of central New York. Shenandoah is a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and composer for film and TV.

New Britain (Amazing Grace)

Hymn sung by The Boston Camerata. Influential as one of the most popular folk hymns and a signature black spiritual, this song was set to lyrics by John Newton (1725-1807), a slave trader (as a shipworker, captain and investor) who later renounced his trade, became a prominent supporter of abolitionism, and evangelical clergyman in the Church of England.

Counterpoint in Chord Symbols

Chord symbols do much more than show a chord root and quality; through close investigation, one can find hidden lines of counterpoint made explicit. This counterpoint is something that can be revealed and played with in performance, especially in jazz, where these chord symbols are treated as a springboard for creative expression.

Note that this activity can be completed online or as a print-out PDF (download here). If you choose to follow along online, you should have staff paper available to copy out and complete examples.

The tune we will use to explore this is Billie Holiday’s God Bless’ The Child listen to the song, following this lead sheet, before continuing.

To explore hidden chromatic lines in this tune, we will simplify the choral accompaniment to a simple four-voice “SATB” chorale texture. Please note that this is an exploration of implied melodic motion rather than “by-the-rules” polyphony, so our concern is not with part writing principles (such as parallel fifths, voice ranges, etc.).

Activity Part 1

The song begins with a harmonic pattern of EbMaj7 – Eb7 – Ab6. With the remaining voices as written, complete these chords by adding notes to the “alto” voice (top line, stems down). Note that the symbol “Ab6” is an A-flat major triad with an added major sixth above the root (F).

Check your work against the answer key before continuing and note the chromatic line that is revealed simply through completing the chord symbols.

Now continue by completing the missing voices in bars 3-10.

Activity Part 2

Again, check your work against the answer key. Return to the music and play through it on a piano, exploring the sounds created by these chromatic lines and accentuating them in your performance.

Activity: Part 3

Now try a section on your own by creating an SATB harmonization of this phrase. Note that the G7(b9) chord will require a fifth tone, or else you may omit the chord fifth. And remember that m7(b5) is jazz-code for a half-diminished seventh chord.

One possible realization is in the answer key (yours may differ based on how you voiced the chords).

Activity: Part 4

Common-tones may also be revealed through finding pitches in chord symbols. For instance, the symbols Dm7(b5)– G7(b9) may look complicated because of their alterations, but an investigation of the chords reveals that these alterations reflect a sonorous common-tone: Ab. This is a frequent trope in jazz harmony, especially in the minor mode since these tones refer to the diatonic sixth scale-degree. It is possible to hear this progression in a major mode, however, such as in bar 18 (notate chords for this bar):

Note that, in the answer key, the Bb7 chord has an extra “optional” inclusion of the chord fifth since doubling the Bb makes possible the resolution of the tense flat-fifth of the Fm7(b5) chord. 

Answer Key


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Composition II – Pitch Sets

The study of set theory is one that is deep and often covered in music theory courses devoted to the analysis of 20th century music. A “nutshell” description of it is here. The typical approach to pitch set analysis involves considering pitches numerically (0=C, 1=C#, etc.), understanding the different pitch-class sets that are possible (there are 208!) considering three-note collections (trichords), four-note (tetrachords), five-note (pentachords), and so forth, with each set representing both the notes in “proper” order and under both ansposition and inversion, as is the common practice.

Why use set theory as a composer?

One point of set theory is to create a “language” for understanding music that is not based on triads as a fundamental feature of melody and harmony. Indeed, pitch sets are used like notes of a chord — they can be a framework for melodies, stacked as chords, embellished, and so forth. The order of pitches isn’t what is important (as it is with twelve-tone music).

For instance, music could be composed that features the pitch-class set 0,1,4 (it’s called “3-3,” since it is listed third on the standard table of pitch-class sets), transpositions of that set, and inversions of it:

3-3 is, in fact, a main feature of the second movement of Bartok’s String Quartet No. 2. We can most easily see this by looking at the intervals between notes of the piece; when motives are framed by a major third that is divided by a half-step on one side or the other, it is “3-3,” like in this music at rehearsal 1:

This passage also has a couple of extra notes – the G# in bar 19 helps expand 3-3 into more of a scale, as does the C# in bar 23. The C# in bar 23 also helps make another version of 3-3 (0,1,4 transposed up by a half step).

Another way that Bartók used this trichord is as main notes of the melody in rehearsal 4:

At rehearsal 7, this trichord is found alongside 3-4 (0,1,5 – imagine a perfect fourth with a half step-in the middle, like C-C#-F or C-E-F).

At bar 166, there is a very strong chord that combines 3-3 and 3-4 into a single unit.

As the music continues from this point, the cello performs a melody that also blends 3-3 and 3-4.

…and forth it continues.