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29th August 2013

Barry Harris and Scales with 8 Notes - part 1

Barry Harris is one of the legendary teachers in jazz. He's a source from which the river flows.
Inasmuch as I believe you go to the river because the river doesn't come to you, well, that means
only good things happen in a visit to Barry Harris land.


The Major 6th Chord is the Basic Building Block

One of the practical ideas Barry Harris is known for is primacy of the 6th chord.
Meaning a chord like C6 is a basic units of jazz. But why C6? Why not C maj7 like everyone else?
Good question. The answer coming soon but not quite yet ..
In Barry Harris land, 6th chords match to a major scale with one extra note.
A C major scale with a G#.
C D E F G G# A B C
8 note scales, of which this is an example, go from point A to point B in an even number of beats.
Which means in a measure of 4/4, 8 eight notes that begin on a the beat end on the beat.
In contrast, a major scale, because it (only) has 7 notes, doesn't span from one beat to another. If
it starts on a beat, it ends 3 and half - and not 4 - beats later.
Here's the example. The major scale start on the first beat and ends on the and of the fourth
beat. The Barry Harris scale starts on the first beat of a measure and ends on the first beat of the
next measure.


Scales Express Harmony

The big idea is 8-note scales express harmony with more clarity than do 7-note scales. Because
they start and end on the beat. Start and end points on the beat express stability that's very easy
to hear.
Is it coincidence that John Coltrane - who innovated in jazz more than anyone in his own
exploration of scales - had contact with Barry Harris and his teachings [] ?

The Leading Tone and a Diminished 7 Chord

That G# in the Barry Harris scale - the note that differentiates it from a 7-note major scale - it's a
game changer.
123456 781
c d e f g g# a b c
Pull out the notes under the odd numbers - C E G A. That's a C6 chord and that's why and how
Barry Harris land advocates for C6 as the basic chord.
Pull out the notes under the even numbers - D F G# B - a diminished 7th chord. Here's another
big deal!
The diminished 7th chord opens the door - the box of Pandora ['s_box] as
it were - to the symmetrical properties that come with all diminished 7th chords.
To hear this first play the Barry Harris scale: C D E F G G# A B C.
Then play it like this.


Like this


And like this.


The diminished 7th chord becomes more and more prominent in each successive example.

When improvising over a C6 with the Barry Harris scale we can focus on the C6 chord that's in the
scale and use the other notes as passing dissonances or approach notes or whatever and however
they get used in common practice.
Or, we can emphasise the diminished 7 chord because it is right there in the scale. In that case
the notes in the C6 chord becomes the in-between notes - the approach and the passing notes.
The diminished 7 chord, with this kind of emphasis, will want to resolve somehow somewhere.

Diminished 7th Chords are Dominant Chords are ...










so-called "inventor" of the 12-tone row, the teacher of Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and John Cage,
[] - explains diminished 7th chords as dominant 7th chords
with a b9. The thing about a diminished 7th chord as really being a dominant 7th chord with a b9
is that works. For sure. But to believe it you have to take for granted the simple fact that the root
is missing!
[] , Arnold Schoenberg -

In other words, G7b9 is G B D F Ab and B diminished 7 is B D F Ab. You can see - the diminished
7th chord is almost the same as the dominant 7 chord with the b9. The only difference is the
diminished 7th chord doesn't have the root note (G).

When Dominants Get Superimposed Over Tonics

In general, dominant chords superimposed over tonic chords open doors to fabulous techniques
that are as simple as playing a V or aV7 or a V7b9 over a tonic chord. The dominant chord
superimposed over the tonic chord usually gets resolved to the tonic chord - usually. The
resolution doesn't have to be anything major - resolving to any chord tone in the tonic chord is
just fine.
But let it be said: The keyword here is "usually" which has a very different meaning than "always."
For examples, listen to (and look at transcriptions of) Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Herbie
Hancock, Miles Davis. J.S. Bach and others. It's there.

What's Next?
More about the Barry Harris system in Barry Harris - Part 2 [] .
Posted 29th August 2013 by Mark Polishook
Labels: Barry Harris, concept, style, theory

View comments

Rick Stone 02 October, 2013

Mark, Have we met? I studied with Barry Harris about 30 years ago when he had his place on
8th Avenue Jazz Cultural Theatre (from 1982-1987). I've written some articles on this awhile
back too (in Just Jazz Guitar). Great stuff. Barry is a true master. I was just listening to his
brilliant rendition of the "I Love Lucy" theme this morning on the way in to work. Still remember
being there when they recorded that album "For the Moment" on Uptown Records (recorded live
at JCT)! :-)

Mark Polishook 02 October, 2013

Rick, I've actually wondered the same thing ... I went to Barry's Jazz Mobile classes in 1974 or
so. So that's where I first came across him as a teacher. In the first part of the 80s I was was
freelancing in NYC. I didn't go to Barry's classes at the Cultural Theatre (but I should have FOR SURE). I knew any number of musicians who did go at that time so I wonder if our paths
crossed through mutual acquaintances and circles of friends. The stuff you've written about BH
is wonderful ... I've been listening lately to trio stuff he recorded in San Francisco with Elvin
Jones. Ok. I gotta find "I Love Lucy!"

Pascal Camors 14 February, 2014

Hello !
I sometime play music of Balkans.
there is a lot of odd bars , and 7/8 is frequent ( black, black, dotted black )
Well .. In this music , seven notes are perfect !
I was wondering what note may be suppressed in the Barry Harris scale to match with the 7/8
pulsation ? ( In the key of C I would say the F ... ? )
Mark Polishook 14 February, 2014
Pascal! That's a good question. Major and minor scales have 7 notes. So if ""7" is
what you need that's one set of scales. But, instead of working w/scales, you might
try thinking of an overall sound. And then play to that sound as you hear it.

felipe romero 05 September, 2014

Hi!! I m Felipe Romero from Colombia, I would like to know talking about the
dominants superimposed over tonics and it s movement Barry Harris style, which
superimposed dominant chord applies over Cmayor 7? I found this:
I was exploring and found that the 3 half whole tone scales apply in 3 movements,
over C mayor: RH.... BDEG....THESE VOICES OPEN Bb Db F# A......this is the
C(HWtone scales?
2): RH.... ACDF.................................Gb B E G......................... G( HWtone )
3) RH..... EGAC.................................Eb Gb B D........................D) HW TONE)
but could you tellme if there is another approach, tank you

thanks best regards.......


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