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(Mine) Bb Gm Bb C7 F

(Regular) Bb Gm Bb C7 F

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,

Bb F Bb F Bb

Bb F Bb F Bb

What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?

Bb Bbmaj7 Eb C C7 F

Bb Gm Bb C7 F

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,

Bb * Dm + Bb F Bb

Bb F Bb F Bb

O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?

Bb Adim Abm

Bb F

And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Fmin7 G Ab Bb F Gm & C F

Bb F Gm C7 F

Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.

Bb Cm $ Eb Cm Gm Fdom7

Bb Eb Cm F

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

Bb Eb Dm-Gmin7 Bb Bb F Bb

Bb Gm Bb F Bb

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

*Bb/Eb/F

+Bb/C/F

&G/D/A

$G/D/Eb

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I think the biggest deviations come between "bombs" and "night," but it was kind of intentional. I wanted "bombs bursting in air" more bittersweet/forlorn than proud. And then it was just a race to get back to the normal chord on "night."

If you can help me make sense of my mess, I'd appreciate it.

-Roger

Excellent question, Roger.

Let me preface by saying that music theory is just that: a theory. Its not a set of rules to be followed, but when youre having trouble, you can turn to it to help you get out of a jam (like your race to get back to the normal chord) or need inspiration.

"The Star Spangled Banner" is a song we know well (at least in America) and perhaps like apple pie, its something were used to with little variation. The occasional altered chord or added chord factor can add interest, but when you get too far afield, it might be like having ginger or chocolate in your apple pie. Both are delicious, but might not belong here.

Your chords follow the standard version of the song (the chords you found online are close enough) in many places. Where that happens, any odd or unbalanced sounding chords would be the result of having an unusual spacing (thirds between the lowest voices and large spaces between the highest voices, for example), or not having the root of the chord in the bass.

Taken one at a time:

Every pitch you hear is actually a series of pitches. If you know anything about overtones or the harmonic series, you know what Im talking about. If not, Im gonna have to save that topic for another column (too much to fit in here). Suffice it to say that your group will have the easiest time tuning when you have larger spaces between your lower notes and smaller spaces between your higher notes. And, most importantly, the root should be in the bass.

Having a note other than the root (in the bass) definitely affects the overall sense of harmonic progression. If you're dealing with a close harmony treatment where there's a reason to keep the bass note in a particular place (for melodic reasons, or to hold a pedal note across several chords), then it won't sound so strange. However, jumping from chord factor to chord factor can be aurally unsettling, especially since it can change the chord: a Gm7 chord with the third in the bass may sound more like a Bbadd6.

Different chords can also contribute to your arrangements weird sound. Example: your Gm chord on "hailed" works against the melody, but since the chord progression just moves from and back to the tonic, it's a bit confusing to the ear - kinda like leaving home, meandering 1/2 way around the block, then heading home again because you lost your keys. This wouldn't have the exact same effect in a tune that was written with that progression, but since people are used to a specific progression with this particular song, other chords are measured aurally against the standard.

Most chord substitutions in jazz songs only diverge for a few chords, and then come back to the same place, but have a harmonic flow to them - usually around the circle of fifths, or some other recognizable pattern (although with a different tonal center). It's usually not enough to just find a chord that also works with the melody note - there needs to be a direction and/or purpose to the "road trip."

Your chord progression can perhaps work more convincingly if the bass line is treated like a second melody. Think about how to shape your bass line, touching down on roots when important, and having a melodic shape when it's not. In fact, a good exercise is to see if your bass line and melody hold up alone - just the two together. If they make "sense" to your ear, then you're on the right track. If they sound confused, you probably need to reshape the confusing parts. J.S. Bach treated his bass lines as a second melody, and correctly so, as your ear will gravitate first to the highest part (usually soprano), and then the lowest part (usually bass). Thats why they have such pretty lines in four part choral writing, while the altos and tenors are usually stuck with the leftover chord factors that need covering.

I hope this helps, Roger. Keep arranging, with your ear as your guide, and call on your theory when youre worried that your ear might be leading you astray.

If any of you have questions, feel free to email me: deke at totalvocal dot com