Chord and Harmonic Environment

I’m currently going over the IFR Jam Tracks Level 2, Pure Harmony and was wondering how other people hear the chords. When you hear the 4 chord (say after the 1 chord in the first progression), do you hear/feel the 4th Harmonic Environment ?

When I’m playing over one of the Seven Worlds tracks for the 4th HE, note 7 always stands out, and characterises this HE. But when I play over the 4 chord I don’t get the same feeling.

Is this something to do with with the tonal centre being different in these two cases?

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The PDF that goes with jam track 1 in that set ‘Chords 1 and 4 (campfire guitars)’ has something to say about the 7th of the chords? I’m not quite sure if it’s the same thing you are describing, but have you seen that?

I’ve had that set of tracks for ages and have only just got around to starting with them myself, so I happen to be on the same ‘page’. :wink:

Yes, I’ve looked though the PDFs that came with the Jam Tracks. I don’t think it has to do with 7ths in chords and triads. It’s more about getting the same sense of the HE that we develop when playing over the Level 1 Jam Tracks (Seven Worlds), getting that same feeling when it’s the 4 chord being played in a chord progression.

At the moment I’m not making the connection between the 4th HE and the 4 chord in a progression.

Hi Marie-Elaine
Have confidence in what you hear. I think what you’re hearing correctly what’s going on in the 1-4 chord progression.

When you play the 4th harmonic environment alone, you’re hearing the tonal center as the 4 (say F in the key of C), and all the other notes move away and come back to the 4 as the tonal center home base. In that, the 7 (B in the key of C) has that distinctive sound as a tritone from the 4 (F in the key of C).

When you play the 1-4 chord progression (say C-F chord in the key of C), then you’re typically hearing the 1 (root C) as the tonal center, not the F (4). Especially if the progression starts on 1 and moves to 4 then back to 1. So the F chord tones (F A C E) are more consonant to the chord of the moment, and other tones are dissonant while the F chord is in the air. But it has a different sound flavor because the tonal center is the 1, not the 4. (B keeps more of the sound of a major 7th interval to C, and not a tritone to F.)

I think the point of learning to improvise in the harmonic environments is to recognize when the tones are consonant (chord tones) and when they are dissonant (non-chord tones), and develop a relationship to those basic consonant sounds. In short, when the F chord is “in the air” the tones F A C & E are more consonant than when the C chord is in the air (when C E G B are consonant). Of course the C & E are consonant over both chords.

But all this is fluid. The relationships among all the sounds are shifting all the time in a piece of music … with different degrees of tension & release. What music does for me in general is play with the sounds so that the flow goes in one direction, then another; patterns in the air with degrees of consonance & dissonance that move around in pretty ways. I’m sure a good musician (not me) could make the 4 chord transition sound like the 4th HE by fiddling with rhythm and what tones fall on stressed and unstressed beats, but to me, it’s not what usually happens to my ears.

David Reed has a nice video that explains some of tonal centers and harmonic environments & modes here:

In short, theory is only a rough guide to what you are hearing. What you hear is the real point.


Thanks Allan @hender99 I think you’ve hit the nail in the head. It’s all about how I’m feeling the Tonal Centre. Note 4 is definitely the TC when I’m listening to the Seven Worlds Jam Tracks, but this is not the case when I’m listening to the Pure Harmony tracks. You’re right, the other chord (eg the 1 chord) sets up the TC, and in that context the 4 chord has a certain sound.

I had a play with track 10, where the 6- chord sets up note 6 as the TC and alternate 6- chord and 4 chord. Again, different feeling created on the 4 chord.

A whole lot of combinations possible here, I guess.

@hender99 You beat me to it. I’d been pondering & was just logging in to offer an explanation along the same lines. It’s very nice to find that your thoughts concur with mine. :slight_smile:

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