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Introducing the Line of the Day Series

A critical component of developing your musical vocabulary and identity is line writing. I prefer to refer to it as micro composition, as it encourages taking a more musical approach to your lines. In an effort to not only “talk the talk” I will be publishing a line each day for this series, being batched into articles in groups of 10. Don’t sweat it if you open the article and see less than ten lines currently, they will be added each day until the full amount is complete and we’ll move the next ten into a subsequent article. I will not only share the lines in each article, but also an in-depth description of the devices I’m using, so that you can take ideas and run with them if you so choose. If you are inspired to try this out for yourself I’d encourage you to share some of the lines you write with me by emailing them to and in the future I may publish some of the “best of” submissions.


For this series I’m going to solely focus on lines over a ii-V-I, a jazz staple, in the key of G major. This would be the chords A-7, D7, and Gmaj7 respectively. Before we dig in to the first lines I want to give a quick overview of the architecture of this progression in terms of tension and release. We’ll be paying a lot of attention to this concept in the lines we write, so it’s good to understand how it works in the progression. Typically, your ii chord is considered a subdominant chord, which means it is a little unstable and wants to move to a different chord. The V chord contains the interval of a tritone, in the case of the D7 it is between the F# (major 3rd) and C (flat 7th). This makes the V chord sound more unstable than the ii, creating more tension and sonically begging for resolution. As you’ll see in the coming days, this instability allows for a lot of harmonic flexibility and makes the dominant chords in a progression the ideal place to play with a large variety of substitutions. Finally, the I chord, is a tonic chord and feels the most resolved and at rest. So an abstract way to think about the ii-V-I progression is a series of tension leads to more tension and then finally resolution. In the lines we’ll be looking at we will try to reinforce this concept, enhance it further, and even subvert it occasionally. We’ll often want to take the concepts we learn and try and understand them in the context of how they effect the overall tension and release of the musical statement. Learning how to manipulate this concept broadly will greatly enhance your musicality and allow you to keep an audience on their toes. Let’s dive in!

Line #1

Line #1 is stereotypical jazz language, with a little bit of complexity added to the V chord to help enhance the flow of tension. Our first bar starts with a chromatic approach note placed on the upbeat. It is more common in jazz to place chromatic notes on upbeats, the downbeats are stronger and tend to make the chromatic note sound a little more out of place. You can certainly still place chromatic notes on the downbeat, as you’ll see in the next bar, but it’s good for beginners to get used to using chromatic notes on the upbeats so that you develop your ears for that sound. The chromatic D# leads us into an E-7 arpeggio, against the parent A-7 chord this gives us the 5th, b7th, 9th, and 11th chord tones. I really enjoy the 9th and 11th extension on minor 7th chords, which leads me to using this idea of playing a minor 7th chord of the 5th of the parent chord often. We then descend the Dorian scale leading us into our next bar.


Bar 2 is a little spicier. Even though the backing harmony only has one chord, the D7, I’m using my single note lines to evenly divide the 8th notes to outline 2 chords. This way I can imply more harmonic movement. In this case I’ve decided to use tones from an Eb-Maj7 arpeggio over the first half of the bar, and notes from the parent D7 in the second half. The Eb-Maj7 idea comes from Eb melodic minor (or D super Locrian if you like) and is a common substitution for the V chord. A hand way to remember this is to think of the melodic minor up a half step from the original V chord. The reason this idea works is because it gives us the notes Eb, Gb, Bb, and D, containing the 3rd and root from the D7 chord (Gb=F#) and the b9 (Eb) and #5 (Bb=A#). Using this substitution in tandem with the parent D7 arpeggio refines the movement of tension with this bar, starting with higher tension with the altered dominant sound of the Eb-maj7, resolving a little with the D7, and resolving further when we finally move into the next bar. You will also notice a chromatic enclosure used on the final note of this bar, the F# we are targeting is arrived at by using a scale tone above, a chromatic note from below (F natural) and landing on our target note.


The final bar is pretty straightforward as I am trying to really emphasize the resolution here. Rhythmically I’ve made a small reference to the triplet line in the 1st bar, motivically placing it on the same beat and creating some rhythmic symmetry over the whole line. I’ve also used a chromatic bridge note in the final bar, adding just a tiny bit of tension before we end very satisfyingly on the biad of the 7th and 9th played together.


A few things to note about the overall architecture of the line. I’ve purposefully done my best to ensure the bars flow very smoothly into one another, trying to use half step intervals wherever possible, especially when they strongly identify with the parent chord in their bar. In bar one we moved from a final A note, the root of the first chord, into a Bb, the #5 of the D7. In bar two we move from the F#, the 3rd of D7, to the G, being the root of our final chord. You will find that this is a very punchy sound when you can achieve it, and it’s great to practice this often, that is, ending a lien on one note and finding the closest note to it which will strongly outline the next chord. You will also notice that we’ve slightly refined the movement of tension in the ii-V-I from slight tension, tension, release to slight tension, high tension, tension, release. A subtle change, yet very effective.

Line #2

 Line #2 Has some fun harmonic ideas in it. In Bar 1 we start off with a Cmaj7 arpeggio over the A-7, giving us the 3rd, 5th, b7th, and 9th from the parent chord. We use a rest for two reasons in this bar, first to let us start the next part of the idea on an upbeat, which gives it some rhythmic interest, and to help separate the first line in the bar from the second so that the end of bar one feels like it carries over the bar line, into bar 2, essentially making the end of bar 1 and bar 2 a single idea. You will also notice that the triplet on beat 4 creates a nice sense of flow into bar 2.


Bar 2 is using the tritone substation over the D7. The tritone substitution is using the dominant 7th chord of the b5th of the D7, Ab (a Tritone is two minor thirds, or a b5th). You will notice that the Ab7 contains Ab, C, Eb, Gb or the b5th, b7th, b9th and 3rd from the D7 chord. So we have the most important chord tones, the 3rd and 7th, and some altered tones creating high tension. You might also notice that this series of chords creates a very nice linear chromatic bass movement for the ii-V-I progression, A to Ab to G. I’ve also tried to break up all the linear motion of this line by adding a nice pivot near the end of the phrase by angularly jumping back upwards and then making a larger intervallic leap downwards leading into the next bar.


In Bar 3 we start with a D7 arpeggio which helps us again carry the line over the bar and creates a delayed resolution by borrowing the parent arpeggio from the previous bar. This effect is subtle because the notes in D7; D, F#, A, and C outline the 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th from Gmaj7. The 11th doesn’t always play nicely over the I chord because of the tritone between the F# and C, but in this case it works in our favor in multiple ways, because we are trying to drag the D7 sound over the bar line this tension is helpful in strengthening this idea, and because it precedes our final resolution on the very comfortable 3rd from Gmaj7, it makes the C natural play out almost like a diatonic approach note to the B.


The broad strokes from this line are using rhythm and harmony to carry ideas over the bar line, and how to use the tritone substitution over the V chord. Give these a shot in your own lines.


 Line #3

Line #3 is an exercise in integrating comping and single not lines. This approach is great in a lot of contexts, rhythm parts with moving lines are typically more ear catching and groove harder. This is treated in a sort of solo jazz context. Because of that, in Bar 1 we are trying to emphasize the Charleston rhythm comping style by using chord stabs on the 1 and on the and of 2. You’ll notice in the second bar we carry this rhythmic idea over by using the modified Charleston rhythm hitting on the and of 1 instead (typically with the modified version you comp on the and of 1 and the 3rd downbeat, alternating these two rhythms can sound quite nice).


In Bar 3 we transition to fuller chords and linger on the inversion of the Gmaj7 longer than the other chords used in the line to help us feel the resolution more strongly.


For the most part, these single note lines are pretty simplified in this line, as the emphasis is on the comping ideas. It is worth paying attention to the placement of the chromatic notes in the phrase and how they effect the overall feel. I especially enjoy the chromatic notes on the and of 4 that lead into a chord tone of the next bar. To me this always feel like really good line manipulation and emphasizes the character changes of each chord.

Line #4

 Line #4 is a creative take on comping through a ii-V-I. This kind of comping approach is worth investing time into if you play a polyphonic instrument. As satisfying as it can be to rip blazing single not lines, musical comping will land you far more gigs as a musician. It’s worth paying attention to how the chords in this line use voice leading on the top notes to make sure there is a melodic component to the comping.


Bar 1 uses biads to keep the harmony relatively thin and moving. There is also special attention paid to how rhythm is used here. A nice ornamental device is the use of a slurred grace note, these sort of added articulations can add a lot to the overall feel of a phrase.


Bar 2 carries over the biad idea from bar 1 and starts to build upon it. When we move into the first three note chord, we use a shell voicing of D7 that drops the bass note (this works well whether you have another instrument supplying the root note or not) and we break it up a little rhythmically. The last two chords in this bar are an altered dominant voicing using the b7, 3, #5, and #9 that voice leads down into the b9. This builds maximum tension before resolution in the final bar.


Bar 3 uses an inversion of Gmaj7 that sounds great but delays a hard resolution. A quick single note phrase using a Gmaj7 arpeggio breaks up the feel of the line, and, to my ear, slows down the pacing of the line right before resolving on a pleasant inversion of the root chord that lands with our tonic note on the top of the chord.

Line #5

 Line #5 is all about the harmonic idea over the V chord.


Bar 1 starts with a straightforward root arpeggio. Often times when I am writing lines I will look at transcriptions of solos and shamelessly pilfer rhythmic ideas from other players. In this case I was looking at a transcription of Charlie Parker’s solo on the tune Bloomdido. Parker usually uses these 16th note triplets like an ornamentation between two notes, I’ve instead used it in an arpeggio in this case. I’ve also used an idea that occurs often in these lines, which is the chromatic note on the last eighth note of the phrase, giving us some added tension before moving into the next chord.


Bar 2 is an interesting concept blending a G#maj7 chord with the root arpeggio. I got this idea from a Julian Lage video where he described replacing all the tension of the ii-V chords in the progression with one tense chord that resolves to the I. I’ve used the same chord here that he did, a G#maj7 but have truncated it within part of the 2nd bar instead of using it over the first two bars entirely. This could be analyzed as a sort of tritone substitution, or with the tensions it outlines against the V chord, but in its conception it is much simpler, just a dissonant voicing to build tension in the phrase. I find that these dissonances are typically much more palatable when they have an underlying structure, even when it doesn’t relate strongly to the parent chord. In this bar I move from the G#maj7 to the D7 slowly working down our tension. It likely would be just as effective, or possibly even more so, moving in the opposite direction. I suggest you try writing your own line that plays with the placement of this interesting substitution on the bar and see what works best for you.


Bar 3 is linear, purposefully so. I wanted a very strong and peaceful resolution after all the crunchy notes in the previous bar. A lot of my compositional ideas are geared towards balancing dissonance and consonance in a way allows for challenging ideas but keeps things relatively palatable. In a longer format I might push the lengths of these dissonances out over more bars, depending on what mood I want to evoke in the song. The bar is finished with a simple descending line with a chromatic passing note, resolving to a pleasant biad that puts a nice cap on the line.

Line #6

 Line #6 is purposefully kept straightforward harmonically and is concentrating on rhythmic contrast and ornamentation.


Bar 1 is starts by using an E minor triad to get the 5th, b7th, and 9th of the A-7, and then descending a part of the A-7 arpeggio with an added chromatic passing note headed into the next bar. Rhythmically we are starting on an upbeat, something you’re hopefully noticing is cropping up in a lot of these lines. We’re also using chromatic grace notes to accentuate the linear direction of the line and where there are slight harmonic changes. These grace notes also break up what could be perceived as a monotonous eight note run.


Bar 2 is very simple, a quarter note run of an F# diminished triad (which can be looked at as a D7 arpeggio without the root). This quarter note run is designed to slow the pacing of the phrase, and to create maximum rhythmic contrast between the three bars.


Bar 3 immediately upsets the slowed down pacing from the previous bar with a triplet run that employs larger intervallic leaps. I really love the sound of moving in larger intervals like the 5ths used at the beginning of this bar, to my ear employing these sounds more modern and adds an austere quality to the line. We end the phrase using some interesting ornamentation with the grace note referencing the grace notes used in the first bar, and the slurs creating some smooth articulation for a pleasant texture to finish the line.

Line #7

 Line #7 has moved in the opposite direction from the previous. We’ve now simplified the rhythms and (though not entirely without contrast) intensified the harmony. All of the bars in this line are employing two harmonic ideas, mostly revolving around the “V7 of” idea, where we add harmonic movement by using the arpeggio of the dominant 7th chord up a fifth from the parent chord of the bar in the line. This creates a nice motif of tension and resolution within every bar of the line.


In Bar 1 the V7 of ii chord is an E7, so we use the E7 arpeggio and then resolve to the A-7 arpeggio within the bar.


In Bar 2 the V7 of V chord is an A7. Because there is only one note different between the A-7 arpeggio from the previous measure and the A7 arpeggio we begin this bar with, the b3rd moving to a major 3rd, I’ve purposefully targeted this note so we get that punchy sounding half step transition between measures. A rest is used between the A7 and D7 arpeggios to accentuate the change and to get a syncopated feel.


In Bar 3 we run into a small dilemma. The V7 of I chord is the D7 we’ve used from the previous bar. There are a few ways to handle this, the easiest being to carry the D7 arpeggio over the bar line. I decided to go for something with a harder edge and to keep the harmony moving, so instead of carrying over the D7 I transitioned to the tritone sub of the D7 instead that we discussed in a previous line. I emphasized their common tones by starting the D7 arpeggio and the Ab7 arpeggio on the same note, F# which is the 3rd for D7 and the 7th of Ab7 (Gb). This makes this dissonant sounding chord a little more palatable and has the added benefit of landing on an Ab when descending the arpeggio linearly, allowing us to transition to the Gmaj7 arpeggio by a half step. This chord is still very dissonant over the Gmaj7, but I quite like the squirmy effect it achieves before getting to a comfortable resolution.

Line #8

 Line #8 is a doozy. I wanted to explore the concept of negative harmony, an idea created by composer Ernst Levy that picked up a lot of steam a few years ago thanks to a popular youtube video featuring Jacob Collier. I have played around with the concept in the past, but this is a perfect opportunity to explore it further. Briefly, the idea creates a dividing axis relative to the key you are using to symmetrically mirror notes over. The axis point relative to the key is typically the microtone perfectly between the b3rd and major 3rd. Since we are working in G major, the axis will be between Bb and B. We evenly divide the chromatic scale on either side of this axis and the notes on either side are mirrored over this axis relative to their equivalent intervallic distance to the axis. I understand this may sound confusing so here is a link to an article that explains the concept in more detail. We want to keep the target I chord the same in the phrase for musical continuity, so we will still resolve to the Gmaj7 in bar 3, but the A-7 and D7, using negative harmony will become D-7 and C-6 respectively. Since this series is focusing on how lines sound over the original harmony we will essentially be exploring how the D-7 sounds against the A-7, and how the C-6 sounds against the D7. The result may not be successful, or may take more reworking in the context of a broader song to become effective, but that is the point of this whole series, that we are testing ideas out to see what they accomplish. It’s not essential that every line creates something pleasant or clever. Results may vary by the taste of the individual musician, and there is a lot of value in taking a challenging concept and developing it until you get a result that you are pleased with. For the sake of this line we will stick strictly to the harmonies we get from this harmonic concept and in the future we can revisit it and attempt to alter the idea until we get something that suits our tastes.


Bar 1 starts with a brisk triplet that picks us up nicely into the line. Here, as previously mentioned we are using a D-7 arpeggio against the A-7 giving us some interesting tensions. The notes of D-7 are D, F, A, and C, giving us the tensions of the 11th, b13th, root, and b3rd respectively. This is fairly consonant, save the b13th, but at least contains the strong root and b3rd chord tones. I’ve treated this bar in a stereotypical fashion, ascending with he arpeggio and descending with scalar tones, to avoid over emphasizing any dissonance, and use a chromatic passing note to get us into the next bar.


Bar 2 is employing a C-6 over the D7. C-6 contains the notes C, Eb, G, and A, giving us the tensions of b7th, b9th, 11th, and 5th respectively. As we’ve discussed in previous lines, the instability of the V chord lends itself nicely to harmonic flexibility. We can see that the C-6 contains notes that all play pretty well with the D7 giving us the harmonically strong b7th, the weaker 5th, the 11th that adds a touch of the suspended sound, and the b9th that gives us a dash of an altered tonality. I would argue this is a strong option for substitution and, in an effort to not need to go through the process of extrapolating negative harmony in the future, might make a quick rule for myself that a -6 chord played off the b7th of a dominant chord creates an altered sound. This way, in the future, if I happen to be playing a ii-V-I in C major, I know I can play a F-6 over the G7 and it will work well. Some things you may notice that I’ve done melodically in this line is that I’ve essentially used beat 1 to end the phrase from the previous bar, and purposefully used the note A to land on, as it is shared by both the C-6 and parent D7 chord. This delays the introduction of the dissonant sounds of the substitution in the bar. I’ve also targeted Eb as my last note as it is only a half-step away from the D chord tone from Gmaj7 in the following bar.


Bar 3 departs from the negative harmony and lands on our home chord. This is so that as our imaginary song continues we have harmonic continuity, and allows us to progress as a typical ii-V-I might, without the negative harmonic equivalent to Gmaj7 in this key (Ebmaj7) might force us to change following harmonies to make the song sound good to our ears (it would also be fun to explore what these necessary changes may be, as it may have cool implications for the rest of the tune, but that is outside the scope of what we’re exploring here). We start this bar with the note D, as it is the 5th of our parent chord, but also, importantly, because it is a note that is not contained within the C-6 we were using from the previous bar. This helps delineate the change more firmly, though still gives a nod to the parent chord from the previous bar, D7. We use a triplet at the beginning of the bar to motivically reference the first bar, but add a rest so that we achieve a nice syncopated end to the phrase moving from the 9th to the 3rd with a chromatic passing note.

Line #9

 Line #9 is rather maximalist, combining the concepts from Line #7 and Line #8. We’re now using all the chords from the V of concept, but mirroring them using negative harmony. In this way we turn E7 to Bb-6, A-7 to D-7, A7 to F-6, D7 to C-6, and Ab7 to F#-6. I’m structuring the changes the same way I have in Line #7, the Bb-6 and D-7 over the parent A-7, the F-6 and C-6 over the D7, and the F#-6 and Gmaj7 over the last bar. Because this concept is so harmonically dense, I’m going to keep rhythmic ideas on this line extremely simple and use only 8th notes. I’m tempted to combine these lines into a solo over a jazz standard down the road as a demonstrative tool, so it will also be useful to have some pure 8th note lines for future employ. Because of all the substitutions we are driving dissonance hard on this overall line. Even though a great deal of it is crunchy you will notice that this makes the final resolution feel that much more satisfying when we land it.


Bar 1 starts out using Bb-6 and D-7 as negative harmonies of E7 and A-7. Against the parent A-7 chord the Bb-6, using the notes Bb, Db, F, and G, creates the tensions of b9th, major 3rd, b13th, and b7th. Pretty crunchy! The D-7 contains D, F, A, and C, giving us the tensions of the 11th, b13th, root, and b3rd respectively. We can see that we get a sort of tension and slight release as we move from a more dissonant chord to a less dissonant one.


Bar 2 begins with an F-6 arpeggio, containing the notes F, Ab, C, and D. This gives us the resulting tensions of #9th, b5th, b7th, and the root note against the parent D7. We move to the C-6, containing the notes C, Eb, G, A with the tensions b7th, b9th, 11th, and 5th. This works well as an altered line with moving tensions on the 9th and 5th.


Bar 3 again replaces the tritone Ab7 with a F#-6 containing the notes F#, A, C#, and D# giving us the tensions 7th, 9th, #11th, and #5th against the parent Gmaj7 chord. Although the 7th, 9th, #11th all play pretty nicely with the major 7th chord, the #5th in combination with the others really delivers a lot of dissonance right before ending on some good old fashioned pure chord tones. Those last four notes might as well be drops of gold in context of the rest of the phrase!

Line #10

 Line #10 is an exercise in minimalism. This style of music is best illustrated by the works of Arvo Part (Tabula Rasa being my personal favorite). One of the main conceits of minimalism is long stretches of repeating lines that create a big stir when altered even slightly. Of course, we are working over only three bars so we aren’t going to be able to achieve the maximum effect here (pun intended). Still, as I’ve stressed previously, these lines are a playground to see what we can make work. If we find an idea doesn’t work well we can always work within wider contexts, but for the sake of this series we are sticking to the constraints of three bars, and a fixed harmony.


In all the bars we are working off a repeating triplet, this creates a pleasant cascading feel. This sounds more classical to my ears, than jazz, in this instance, but a little variety can go a long ways.


Bar 1 uses a repeating motif of the b7th, b3rd, and 11th. The strong chord tones are there to make sure we strongly establish the underlying harmony, and the 11th is added to get that sort of austere and open quality that it achieves. We slightly change the pattern on the last repetition to signal transition.


Bar 2 starts with a simple descending arpeggio, in an order that lends itself conveniently to guitar finger positioning (b3rd, b7th, and 5th). We use the last two repetitions to slightly change the harmony, again flagging an upcoming transition, changing only one note in each transition.


Bar 3 also repeats a straight arpeggio of the parent Gmaj7 chord, but then we have a sudden break of our repeating rhythm with some eighth notes. This violently slows down the phrase, and the angular break of three-note groupings to a four-note grouping really draws attention. With the rhythmic break creating enough departure from the original line I felt, for this line, that added harmonic complexity wouldn’t be necessary, so we end the line sticking to simple arpeggiated notes from Gmaj7, but we do end on the 5th, which isn’t usually as nice a resolution note as the other chord tones, but keeps the open feeling from the rest of the phrase.

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