The question of how to add movement within static harmony comes up a lot. I thought I would write a practical explanation using the first seventeen bars of the tune “All of Me” as an example. The inspiration for this approach comes from the teachings of the great pianist Barry Harris born, I am proud to say, in Detroit in 1929. Mr. Harris has a unique way of looking at the workings of music which can sometimes be a bit confusing for those of us who had traditional training. I will attempt to explain these concepts in more traditional terms. Open the pdf file below to follow along.
Measures 1-2. The CMaj7 chord is shown in the chart as lasting through both measures. One approach to adding movement in this situation is to move from the root position tonic chord to its first inversion through a scale passage that incorporates a chromatic passing tone as follows:
1 - 2 - #2 - 3 in which the numbers correspond with the scale degrees C - D - D# - E.
This bass line is then harmonized at the tenth with the upper voice giving us a nice series of parallel tenths in the outer voices. Notice the outer voices in the example and play them separately.
This by itself is enough to create motion, but let’s add in the inner voices and fill out the harmony.
I chose to use the common jazz harmonization I - ii - #iidim7 - I (first inversion) or iii if preferred.
The important thing to notice here is that we are filling the space harmonically as well as melodically. This gives us nice smooth voice-leading. Pianists seem to do this all the time quite naturally.
Measures 3-4. In the chart the E7 chord is shown as the harmony for these two measures. My approach here is similar to the first two measures except that now we are starting and ending with a dominant seventh chord.
I used the same parallel tenths in the outer voices with the same chromatic passing tones harmonized with the diminished seventh chord (passing diminished seventh) as in the first example. The only difference now is I used the V of the E7 (B7) to harmonize the second beat (F#). I like the quartal sound so I used the B7sus4 which sounds much less dominant and makes for a smoother passing harmony to my ear.
Measures 5-6. Exactly the same approach as in mm. 3-4.
Measures 7-8. Dm7 is shown over these two bars in the chart. Again I used the parallel tenths in the outer voices but since we are only covering the distance of a minor third here in the bass (D-F) I used only one passing diminished seventh chord to fill the gap.
Measures 9-10. Except for the use of the Bm7 (ii/V) to harmonize the second beat (F#) and the slightly altered E7b9 (because of the A minor that follows) it is the same approach as in mm. 3-4.
Measures 11-12. The single Am7 harmony in the chart is elaborated with its dominant (E7) as well as with melodic motion which create harmonic extensions. Notice the parallel tenths are still used in the outer voices in measure twelve moving into measure thirteen.
Measures 13-14. D7 is the harmony shown for these two measures. This was a bit tricky since I ended up on a first inversion D9. I passed between the first and second inversions with my usual diminished seventh and simply changed the voicing of the D9 (third inversion) on beat two of measure fourteen to add motion; a simple but effective trick.
Measures 15-16. The ii-V progression is filled with a passing diminished seventh between the ii and the V in measure fifteen and the V is simply altered and re-voiced in measure sixteen before returning to the tonic in measure seventeen. Again the parallel tenths are used in the outer voices to create a strong melodic content in this progression.
I know this seems rather complicated to explain. There is an intuitive component to music in which you know what to do because it sounds good. Everything I tried to present here is stuff I have heard millions of times played by the great pianists and guitarists of our time. Try to incorporate these sounds into your ear so that the next time you come across a situation like this you won’t have to think; just play!