Upper Structures (Olivier Chabasse)


Composer : Olivier Chabasse


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Upper Structures

Olivier Chabasse

For many years I have tried to transcribe to the Chapman Stick what pianists or guitarists explore in Jazz harmony. I have tried guitar techniques (see pdf 3-Notes Chords or Spread Triads). But this did not entirely convince me, because the Stick is not a guitar.

A little bit by chance I discovered piano tutorials on the Internet describing this concept of Upper Structures. To resume, it’s the fact of mixing two simple triads left hand, right hand to obtain a complex chord, integrating most of the possible extensions and alterations. And what works on the piano works very well on the Chapman Stick because we can make a chord with the left hand and a chord with the right hand. The left hand will play the basic notes of the chord (usually third and seventh) and the right hand the higher degrees (ninth, eleventh, thirteenth and their alterations).

We can play with all types of triads: major, minor, sus4 ….

In order not to be satisfied with a plated harmony, the left hand can play walking bass by integrating the chords in spaces, the right hand can play the chords in arpeggios, in rhythmic patterns ….. all combinations are possible.

The general principle is to reduce a very complex harmony to an association of two very simple triads.

For example if we play : D major on C7, we end up with a C7(9/#11/13). So C7 on the left hand (C/E/Bb) and D major on the right hand (D/F#/A).

So: tonic/3 major/7b/left hand and 9/#11/13/right hand.

To use a simpler example, if we play a triad of G major on Cmaj7 we get a Cmaj7/9. So Cmaj7 on the left hand (C/E/B) and triad of Gmaj on the right hand (G/B/D).

And so: tonic/3 maj/7 maj/left hand and 5/7 maj/9 right hand.

If you want to equilibrate the chord, you can remove the major 7 on the left hand to avoid doubling with the right hand. This frees up fingers of the left hand for a possible walking bass. But it’s not necessary and I advise you at the beginning to play the complete chords without worrying about doublings.

The principle is very simple, the implementation much less ….. as usual. Because I didn’t find any real logic to the association of the triads so you have to memorize them. That’s why I added a small spreadsheet where the chords are written in degrees (Roman numeral). For example we can transcribe D/C7 as II/I7.

So if we want the same chord in G we will make II/I7 or A/G7 to obtain a G7(9/#11/13). And so on. In this same spreadsheet I added a column where I put the right hand notes that will be found in the voice to allow you to harmonize a melody.

Obviously the triads work with their three inversions, mainly on the right hand because the left hand chord positions on the Stick do not offer many possibilities.

This nevertheless allows a lot of different voicing colors.

This concept requires a lot of practice to be able to memorize these triad mixes. But with time you will get there. Start by memorizing the chords that you like and integrate little by little more altered chords that we do not necessarily hear spontaneously. Try to integrate these voicing in the pieces you already play.

As it works with triads we could mix this technique with the concept of Sread Triads (open triads). But as the treble of the bass block and the bass of the treble block are in the same tessitura we end up with very tight voicing that I personally find very interesting and rich and so I rather explore the possibility of “normal” triads. But other ways are to be discovered.

With this technique I begin to hear what I was looking for in the Stick in relation to the Jazz. That is to say this very rich harmony that we find in pianists (the best example being Bill Evans). And as it is built with triads, even very altered chords remain very “audible” because we have this sound of triads unconsciously inscribed in our ear.

And once again the basic principle is very simple.

In the Pdf the complete chord is written at the top of the system and the superposition of the two triads is between the solfeggio system and the tablatures. I started with the major chords, then the minor chords and finally the dominant chords.

To finish I put you some examples of voicing on II/V/I based on this principle.

I hope you’ll enjoy exploring this concept as much as I did. This concept has confirmed me in the fact that, for Jazz at least, the Stick works more like a piano than a guitar.

Good work …… it’s worth it !


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