Reharmonization Techniques


Authored by Steve Rochinski


Course Code: OHARM-412

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 4

Level 4

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Reharmonization, or modifying the original harmonic content of a song, has been at the center of some of the most compelling and timeless versions of jazz standards ever recorded. For aspiring arrangers and film composers, it's a fundamental requirement in how to apply your craft. For improvisers, it's another level of mastery of the art of spontaneous expression that will deepen not only your sense of harmony but melody as well.

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Reharmonization Techniques teaches where and how to approach changing the harmonic form, especially in the context of historical stylized treatments. You will learn to make a creative judgment about how much or how little to change a song and then make logical, creative choices to achieve that outcome. The course begins with an historical overview of reharmonization techniques and moves quickly into using basic substitution techniques (e.g., tonic for tonic, subdominant for subdominant, dominant for dominant, and so forth) in selected areas of the form. It then expands into bass line reharmonization and the various approach techniques covering larger sections of the song, techniques such as diatonic and dominant approaches relative to a target chord and chromatic and parallel approaches relative to a target chord.

The course concludes with expanded approach and substitution techniques, also known as phrase reharmonization, applied to an entire song form. Through learning these techniques, you will sharpen your understanding of the functional major key, minor key, and modal systems. The course will be taught with a variety of media, including sound and video clips from the great masters (Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Gene Puerling, Jeremy Lubbock, and others), written and recorded examples, workshops, quizzes, discussion activities, and guided weekly assignments that incorporate application and analysis of the techniques studied.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • increase or decrease tension and release through substitution and approach techniques
  • prolong expectations for resolution of non-tonic functions
  • create a more, or in some cases, less active harmonic stream
  • enhance the bass line
  • change the chord quality—converting a chord from minor to major, or major to minor, without changing the root's basic location
  • chromatically alter the original root with or without a change in the chord quality
  • convert diminished seventh chords into functional II-V patterns
  • use delayed cadences and deceptive resolution of V7 to create or reharmonize a turnaround
  • replace chords with other chords of the same or similar function
  • add chords that approach a target chord in a functional or other logical manner
  • create new bass lines as a foundation to generate new chords and consolidate various techniques
  • replace entire phrases or sections with a common chord pattern not associated with the song
  • use a chromatic line element to create motion on a static chord
  • convert a chromatic line element into a chord pattern
  • use modal systems as a way to reharmonize modal and non-modal tunes
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: What Is Reharmonization?

  • Why Reharmonize?
  • The Performer's and Writer's Influence
  • Reharmonization Affects Harmonic Rhythm
  • Substitution by Converting the Chord Quality
  • Structural Conversion
  • Assignment 1: Using Conversion Technique

Lesson 2: Reharmonization of Diminished 7th Chords

  • Diminished 7ths with Diatonic Resolution
  • Reharmonizing Ascending Diminished Chords
  • Reharmonizing Descending Diminished Chords
  • Reharmonizing Auxiliary Diminished Chords
  • Diminished Chords with Nondiatonic Resolution
  • Assignment 2: Reharmonizing Using Various Techniques

Lesson 3: Reharmonizing Turnarounds

  • Delayed Cadence and Standard Deceptive Resolutions of V7
  • Using Deceptive Resolutions
  • Delayed Cadence
  • Creating a Turnaround
  • Assignment 3: Reharmonizing Turnarounds

Lesson 4: Substitution Techniques: Tonic for Tonic, Subdominant for Subdominant

  • Tonic and Subdominant
  • Substitution Axioms
  • Functional Identity
  • Assignment 4: Reharmonizing Using Tonic and Subdominant Substitutions

Lesson 5: Substitution Techniques: Dominant for Dominant and Axis System

  • Dominant
  • Tritone Substition
  • Symmetric Dominant Scale
  • The Axis System
  • Assignment 5: Reharmonizing Using Various Techniques

Lesson 6: Approach Techniques: Diatonic and Dominant Approaches Relative to a Target Chord

  • Adding Chords
  • Diatonic Approach
  • Dominant Approach
  • Progression, Retrogression, Displacement
  • Assignment 6: Midterm Project

Lesson 7: Approach Techniques: Chromatic and Parallel Approaches Relative to Target Chord

  • Chromatic Approach
  • Double Chromatic Approach
  • Parallel Approach
  • Assignment 7: Applying Chromatic and Parallel Approach Techniques

Lesson 8: Working from the Bottom Line: Bass Line Reharmonization

  • Descending Stepwise Bass Lines
  • Specific Descending Stepwise Bass Lines
  • Ascending Stepwise Bass Lines
  • Assignment 8: Bass Line Reharmonization

Lesson 9: Expanded Substitution, Approach, and Key Area Techniques

  • Expanded Substitution and Approach Techniques
  • Key Area Reharmonizations
  • Phrase Reharmonization
  • Assignment 9: Identifying the Reharmonization Techniques

Lesson 10: Tonicization and Line Cliché Reharmonization

  • Tonicizing Diatonic Regions
  • Tonicizing Nondiatonic Regions
  • Reharmonizing Descending Line Cliches
  • Ascending 5th Line Cliches
  • Assignment 10: Tonicization, Descending, and Ascending Line Cliches

Lesson 11: Blues Form Reharmonization

  • Review of Blues Characteristics
  • Reharmonization of 12-Bar Blues Form from Basic to Bop Changes
  • Reharmonization of 12-Bar Blues Form with Cycle Blues and Line Cliches
  • Reharmonization of 12-Bar Blues in Minor with Line Cliches and Modal Interchange
  • Assignment 11: Reharmonization of 12-Bar Blues

Lesson 12: The Moods of the Modes: Modal Reharmonization

  • Review of Modal Systems and Modal Cadence Chords
  • Using Modal Reharmonization in Blues Form
  • Using Modal Reharmonization in Major and Minor Key
  • Using Modal Reharmonization in Major and Minor Modal systems
  • Assignment 12: Modal Reharmonization


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music Theory 201 or Getting Inside Harmony 2Basic Ear Training 1 and Guitar Chords 101 or Berklee Keyboard Method or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. An arranging course is also recommended but not required. You should have a good working repertoire of various pop and jazz standards, along with some experience as an arranger and/or improvising soloist. You will benefit from an understanding of basic small form composition, such as AABA, ABAC, and blues forms. Arranging 1: Rhythm Section is recommend.


  • No textbooks required


  • Recommended: A basic audio recording tool that will allow you to record yourself and save the recording in MP3 format, such as GarageBand (Mac only), Audacity, etc.
    • A chordal instrument (guitar/piano) is necessary if you choose to record/submit audio.


  • Students are required to create notation and submit it in PDF format. Options include:
    • Notation software (recommended option), such as Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, MuseScore (free), etc.
    • Handwritten notation captured by a digital camera or a scanner can be used in lieu of notation software.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Steve Rochinski

Author & Instructor

Steve Rochinski is an independent jazz musician, educator, recording artist, composer, arranger, and author. He is a professor emeritus of harmony and jazz composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he has taught since 1984. In 2014, Steve received the Berklee Distinguished Faculty Award. He currently resides with his wife, Kathy, and their dog, Jacob, near the edge of the earth in Southeastern Massachusetts.


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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