Psychoacoustic Foundations of Contextual Harmonic Stability in Jazz Piano Voicings

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James McGowan


While many written sources on tonal jazz harmony are implicitly aware of the fundamental differences between "stable" and "unstable" chords, little significant work has examined an improvising jazz pianist's harmonic options in terms of stability, or "consonance." For this article the author focuses on the vertical dimensions of this issue, providing a "harmonic dialects" model that accounts for variants in chordal membership of stable sonorities, and an outline of psychoacoustic phenomena that affect how various piano voicings are interpreted as stable or unstable in different contexts.

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