Sunday, April 8, 2012

Harmony and Improvisation in Bebop and Baroque Music

Hello, everyone!
I'm Jesse Garcia and welcome to my blog!

The purpose of this blog is to compare and contrast harmony and improvisation in Baroque and Bebop music. Both of these genres of music are very unique. Therefore, this investigation should be very interesting and even a little fun.

Before we begin:
IB Music SL: Musical Investigation
Coral Gables Senior High School
Mr. Kevin Muncy
IB May 2012 Candidate Number: (000419-043)
Word Count: 1977

Introduction to Baroque Music

Baroque music is a sub genre within Western European Art Music. Its origins begin in Europe between 1600 and 1750 during a time of intellectual growth. Scientific discoveries and philosophical explorations left the European society in constant awe, questioning how the world works  (Thornburgh). This naturally led to a revolutionary art development period.

Baroque Music is commonly characterized by a “sense of movement, energy, and tension (Music).” Its purpose was to identify with its audience, representing the true emotions of real life, to create a more attached musical experience. Because of this, many new harmonies and melodies were created, some defying all previous established rules for musical composition and creating dissonance that transformed and resolved throughout the music. For example, in a fugue, the statement of the piece will transform in the development period and will resolve back to consonance in the recapitulation.

Introduction to Bebop Music

While Baroque music is a European art form, Bebop is a uniquely American genre of Jazz music. It was created in the 1940s by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, signaling the beginning of a more sophisticated era of Jazz, a break from the Swing era (Lectures). Bebop music is characterized as a fast and technical form of Jazz for the listening audience. Smaller bands reign and the aesthetic value of the music is based on improvisation.

Bebop became a cultural phenomenon as it shocked many older musicians and impressed the younger generation (Lectures). Therefore, musicians such as Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong rejected this form of Jazz due to the lack of a dancing beat. This meant that improvisation was a huge component of Bebop. Bebop music added extensions, such as 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, and 7ths to swing era chords, which had thirds and fifths, to add more dissonance to the chord progression and potential for more technical improvised solos.


Harmony is a term derived from ancient Greek society, meaning to join together. Therefore, the purpose for harmony could be understood as a way to connect different musical lines and voices to produce a perfect work of art. Thus, harmony is what give music its sense of wholeness and textual complexity. It is what impacts the audience. Over time harmonies have become more complex. Consonance has transformed into dissonance, and simplicity into complexity. New harmonic structures build on the successes and failures of past composer.

Baroque Harmony

The Baroque Era brought a new importance on chords. Therefore, tonal and chordal harmony became the focus of the Baroque Era (Music). Simple major and minor chords became chord progressions and resolved to create cadences. This was accomplished by emphasizing the bass voice. The new chords were written using a figure bass system and the intervals of the chords above the bass were written in the music. These intervals were played and empty space was either improvised by the basso continuo, adding more complexity to the harmony, or embellished by the melody. Non-chord tones, tones that were not a part of the accompanying harmony, were used. Suspensions added dissonance to chords by holding over a tone from a previous chord into a new chord before resolving down a step. Pedal Points created dissonance by sustaining non-chord tones through harmonic lines until the harmony resolves back to consonance.

Also, contrapuntal ideas and styles added texture to the music. Counterpoint is “the art of combining two or more melodic lines harmoniously (Thornbough).” With more contrapuntal independence between voices and instruments, harmony was transformed and emphasis was shifted to chordal harmony. This means that harmony finally became functional: a V chord resolved to a I chord, a I chord to a IV chord, a ii to a V, etc., creating cadences and a harmonic line that resolves to the closest resolution. Inversions and varying chordal movements were explored and added variety, complexity and dissonance to harmonies. Secondary dominants strengthened harmonic movement by adding “the root movement of a descending fifth” and resolving the secondary leading tone, which would resolve up as to not double a leading tone in a consequent chord, a process called tonicization (Spencer). Also, chordal movements through the cycle of fourths added melodic dissonance through the leading tone and tritone intervals of the 3rd and 7th of each dominant chord. The seventh resolved down to the third of the next chord; the third resolves up to the root; and, the root of each chord carried over to the next one, becoming the fifth of a new chord.

Bebop Harmony

Much like Baroque music, Bebop created new harmonic concepts by adding extensions to chordal structures. By adding complex harmonic substitutions to previous developed chord progressions, Bebop music was able to emphasize dissonant intervals. Bebop re-harmonized harmonies and structures from Blues and Swing music pieces to create a complex music form.

Like Baroque harmony, Bebop harmony used secondary dominants and harmonic progressions. Chords like B7 and A7 chord in the key of G major were a V/vi and V/V chord, respectively. The ii-V progression is one of the most common and fundamental progressions in Bebop. Chord progressions and harmonic lines played by accompanying voices also followed the same rules for resolutions as Baroque music; 3rds resolved up, 7ths resolved down, 5th resolved to the closest resolution, and roots usually carried over. However, unlike Baroque music, this was not a set rule, and if, for example, a E7 chord(V/ii) was followed by a Amin7 chord(ii) in the key of G major would resolve to the closest resolution: E(root) would carry over and become the fifth of the new chord, G#(third) could resolve up to an A(root) or down to a G(seventh), B(fifth) would resolve to the C(third), and D(seventh) could resolve down to the C(third) or up to the E(fifth). This is the choice of the accompanying musicians ans is similar to how Baroque basso continuo musicians played.


Improvisation has many definitions ranging from a simple immediate response to a chord written on a piece of music to a complex, creative, meaningful and instantaneous composition. It is a skill that is highly valued, respected, and appreciated by both a sophisticated audience and the common listener. Improvisation builds on the skills of a musician to combine basic and fundamental teachings of music, such as scales and rhythmic patterns.

Baroque Improvisation

Improvisation in Baroque music took different forms. The most influential form was in the basso continuo line of music. Because Baroque music adopted the figured bass system for notating chordal structures that lacked all the tones in the chords, it was up to the musician playing this line in the music to choose the chordal tones that were not written. This allowed musicians to play an embellished harmony, creating dissonance and an improvisation. This also filled in any empty space in the music, as well as fixing the polarity created by solo instruments and a plucked instrument. In the melody, soloist musicians embellished their melodic lines through cadenzas following the figured bass system and through a process called ornamentation, which is the addition of trills, vibrato, grace notes, and other elements not written in the music (Music).
Figured Bass

Bebop Improvisation

All of Bebop music was characterized by solo improvisation. Bebop songs begin with a complex and quick melody, and then break off into extended solos for multiple choruses of the song, taking up most of the actual song. Because of this, the melody of each song is not as important. Instead, the soloists try to create a new melody in their solos by improvising over a series of chord progressions and embellishing all moving lines, including the initial melodic line, by using arpeggiation concepts, scale concepts, and chromatic ornaments, such as non-chord tones (Lectures). As with Baroque music, Bebop improvisation adds much of the texture and complexity to the music and is based on the chords that are written in the leadsheets, a sheet of the melody and chords. These chords must be realized by the accompaniment parts and improvisation is used to embellish the melodic line and harmonic line, making improvised solos unpredictable, complex and irregular due to the almost superfluous emphasis on improvisation (Bebop).
Lead Sheet

Actual Comparison with Music Examples

In Johann Sebastian Bach's “Sonata BWV 1021” the soloist violin is accompanied by a basso continuo played by both an organ and a cello. In terms of harmony, the figured bass is written out and each unique chord is played whenever the music dictates a change. This figured bass includes major and minor chords, along with their sevenths, inversions and seventh inversions, to create a sense of harmonic difference and dissonance throughout the piece. Each of these chords resolves to the closest possible resolution, allowing the harmony to be more connected. This is called voice leading and is common in both Baroque and Bebop music. While harmonic pattern seems to repeat with embellishments throughout the piece, the music ends in an authentic cadence. As for improvisation, the basso continuo musicians follow the figured bass, but add their own improvised harmonic ideas to the piece, which change every time the melody and piece is repeated. This fills up all empty space in the music and give it a sense of wholeness. The violin melody is constantly being ornamented by adding trills, vibrato, and grace notes to add more context and technicality to the piece. 

Click here to listen to the Sonata.

Charlie Parker's “Anthropology” is in the key of G major. The piece begins with a 4 measure drum solo that leads into the main melodic line played by the saxophone and the trumpet, usually called the 'head,'which turn into the solo choruses and a recapitulation of the main melodic line. In terms of harmony, this song seems to be a re-harmonization of George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." The bassist and piano outline the resolutions of each chord by leading each voice to the closest resolution (voice leading), emphasizing the 3rds and 7ths to add the dissonance of the tritone interval. For example, in the bridge(measures 11-18), the chord progression follows dominant chords in the cycle of fourths starting on a B7 and ending on a D7, which resolves to a G major chord (V-I cadence). In each chord the seventh resolves down, the third resolves up, the fifth is given liberty whether to resolve up or down, and the root note carries over to become the fifth of the next chord. This song also has many ii-V chord progressions, like the Amin7 to D7 in measure 4, secondary dominant chords, such as E7(measure1) which is a V/ii, and even secondary dominant ii-V chord progressions, such as the Bmin7 (ii/ii) to the E7 (V/ii) in measure 7. In terms of improvisation, each performer improvise over the chord progressions. Each solo stems from simple modes and scales. The Charlie Parker solo sample below shows a ii-V-I chord progression in "Anthropology." Parker plays, over the Amin7, a F# arpeggio (F#ACEb) in the key of G major with a flat seventh that leads into the root of the D7 chord. The D7 chord is played with a Gmaj7 arpeggio (BDF#) that resolves to the root of the I chord(Gmaj7).
Above: main melody for Eb instruments from the Real Book in Eb.
Below: Sample transcribed Charlie Parker solo for Eb instruments from

Click here to listen to Anthropology.


Bebop harmony mimics Baroque harmony, having similar resolutions and chord progressions. While Baroque music often used improvisation, Bebop built on the effectiveness and complexity of improvisation. Both genres have complex improvised harmonic lines that are guided by chord progressions. Both genres revolutionized music during their respective time periods and are unique art forms.

Works Cited 

“Bebop.” History of Jazz V. < > Web.

“Lectures on Bebop.” California State University<> Web.

“Music of the Baroque Era.” MUSI 4350/4360. <> Web.

Spencer, Peter. The Practice of Harmony. 5th Edition. The Florida State University. Pearson Prentice Hall:
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 2004.

Thornburgh, Elaine. “Baroque Music.” M151. <> Web.

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