“Speak Low” Chord Melody

by | Chord Melody

Transcribed from video:

This is the third in a series of video tutorials entitled “Standards for Jazz Guitar” in which I first teach you the single note melody and then show you how I harmonize each note and come up with a chord melody arrangement for a given standard.  And for today’s lesson I’ve selected  “Speak Low” written by Kurt Weill. Unlike the last 2 lessons which featured jazz standards over the short 12 and 16 measure forms, this one is a 32 measure one, so a lot of harmonic territory to cover here. But enough said! Next you are going to hear me play and improvise over the main melody. Right after that I will analyze the tune for you and show you how to harmonize the melody… as well as how I improvise over it.

( “Speak Low” chord melody and solo in video)

“Speak Low” Melody, Chords & Harmonic Analysis

Let’s begin by analyzing the harmony to Speak Low in 4 measure segments as I teach you the melody. Following this you’ll better understand my demonstration on how to place a chord underneath each melody note.

First things first. In order to understand functional harmony we need to know what key a tune is in and this one is in the Key of F major. In case you’ve never seen a harmonic analysis taking place in real time, I want you to know that what I’m going to do here is label each chord with roman numerals as I explain its function within the tonality. Furthermore, so you can better understand the short recurring progressions known as harmonic cadences, I will occasionally show you simultaneously how they progress through the cycle of descending 5ths in this chart. (shown in video).  And this is something I do because in most jazz standards, at least those written using conventional major & minor tonalities, you’ll learn to spot several reoccurring progressions that move sequentially through portions of the cycle of 5ths. This is helpful not only to understand the chunks that make up a given composition but also to make it easier to memorize and improvise over.

MEASURES: 1-4 (A Section) (Chord Melody & TAB included in Download)

Speak Low_meas. 1-4

So we start out with a Gm7 and C7 for the 1st 2 measures. This is a II-V in F which repeats again for the 3rd and 4th measures and a third time for the 5th and 6th measures. Easy to improvise here. Dorian for the II- and mixolydian for the V7.

MEASURES: 5-8 (A Section)

Speak Low_meas. 5-9

Starting at measure 5 we have the same II-V through measure 6. We ordinarily would expect the C7 eventually to resolve a perfect 5th down to F but this doesn’t occur here. Instead it is followed by an Amin7b5 on measure 7. Well…Surprise, surprise, surprise! II-V cadences don’t always resolve! In the study of harmony when this is the case we call it a “half cadence”. That’s because it is not followed by the I chord which would make it a full or complete cadence.

There are various standards with “half cadences” that come to mind. One that you’re most likely to know is Satin Doll which has several non resolving  II-Vs, one right after the other. But getting back to Speak Low, it is similar conceptually speaking to Satin Doll. This is because the Am7b5 is followed by a D7b9 in the 8th measure which you’d expect to resolve back to G in the 9th measure but again, it doesn’t! So here is a 2nd II-V in this tune which also turns out to be a half cadence. However, we still need to know it’s function in the key. It is actually a Secondary II-V. Simply put, Secondary II-Vs resolve a perfect 5th down to chords other than the root. So in this case we have a secondary II-V of the II .The Am7b5 is the II-7b5 of the II and the D7b9 is the V7b9 of the II because D7 would resolve a perfect 5th down to G which is the II in the key of F. They would employ the locrian and the super locrian respectively.

MEASURES: 9-12 (A Section)

Speak Low_meas.9-12

On the 9th measure as I pointed out previously, we don’t have a G which is the expected resolution of the D7b9 in measure 8. Instead in measures 9 and 10 we have another II-V which at first glance leads us to believe it may be another half cadence. And I say this because if we look ahead, we see that it repeats on measures 11 and 12 and the final Eb7 does not resolve a perfect 5th down to Ab on measure 13 as expected. It is instead followed by a G7. Here we have some modal interchange. And modal interchange is when you borrow chords from a parallel modal tonality.  In this case it is borrowing  the bVII7 from the parallel melodic minor mode and the preceding Bbm7 is the IVm7 of the parallel natural minor. It can also be analyzed simple as an appended IIm chord to the Eb7 in order to form a II-V cadence.  As far as choice of scales goes, the Bbm7 uses a dorian and the Eb7 would take a Lydian b7. You can think of it as a mixolydian with a #4.

MEASURES: 13-16 (1st Ending) (A Section)

Speak Low_meas.13-16

We now proceed with the 13th measure which contains  a secondary dominant of the V. That’s because G7 is the V7 of C7 which is the V7 in F. And if we look at the 14th measure we see a Gm7, the primary IIm7, in fact followed by C7b9 which is the primary dominant. So as I have pointed out in other lessons, the IIm chord here is just retarding the resolution through the cycle of 5ths from the G7 to the C7. IIm7 chords are added in jazz to create motion and color, but in reality it is the dominant that has the main function in a II-V cadence. Because of its unstable nature, the dominant is responsible for establishing a sense of tonality by resolving down to a stable chord in the key. As a result, jazz harmony is in an ongoing cycle of tension and release.

So moving on, if we look at the 15th measure we see that the C7 or V7 chord is resolving down to the Fmaj7 or I chord. This is also the 1st ending and is followed by a turnaround chord on measure 16 which is the D7alt or secondary dominant of the II. And this is because it resolves back to the beginning which is occupied by a Gm7 or IIm chord…..So what scales do we use here? Dorian for the Dm7, mixolydian for the G7, dorian for the Gm7, super locrian for the C7b9, ionian for the Fmajor7 and super locrian for the D7alt.

MEASURES: 15-16 (2nd Ending) (A Section)

Speak Low_meas. 15-16 2nd Ending

So I’m not going to repeat the A section after the first ending. Therefore let’s examine the 2nd ending. On measure 17 we have an F6 which is the I chord. All major 6th chords are exchangeable for maj7 chords and vice versa because they are both extracted from the ionian mode or major scale and thus have the same function. Normally you use a maj6 chord when the root is predominantly in the melody. This is done to avoid the 1/2 step dissonance that may result between the 7 and the root…that is if you play a maj7 chord in root position.

And now for something completely different in measure 18. Any Monty Python fans out there? Never mind…Here we have a temporary key modulation. And what we actually have here is a II-V cadence which leads in to the key of Eb. Bbm7 and Eb7 are the secondary II-V of the IV in Eb.

MEASURES: 17-20 (B Section)

Speak Low_meas. 17-20

So let’s look at measures 19 and 20 which begin the B section. Here we have an Abmaj7. How do we know it’s the IV chord and not a I chord? Well, there are 2 giveaways. First of all, if we analyze the melody we will soon realize that it is based on a lydian scale. This is evident in the first 3 notes. It starts with an Eb which is the 5th, followed by a D natural which is a #4 or #11 and resolves to a C which is the 3rd. Normally a I chord would use an Ionian or natural major scale with the perfect 4th. Interestingly enough, this is followed by a Db7#11 in the 21st measure which uses a lydian dominant in the melody. That G is the #11. It is then followed by a regular Db7.This again is a modal interchange chord in Eb. In this case it is borrowing the bVII7 from its parallel melodic minor mode. If we peak at measure 23 we’ll see that it is followed by an Ebmaj7.Here it clearly establishes itself as the I making the key of Eb evident.

MEASURES: 21-24 (B Section)

Speak Low_meas.21-24

Continuing at measure 23, we have the temporary modulation key which is Ebmaj7 for two measures. Then in measures 25 and 26, we encounter a turnaround that smoothly takes us back into the F major tonality. Let’s examine the final C7 first. This is the primary dominant in F. As a C7#5 it is implying an altered chord, meaning that you could add a b9, #9 and #11 if you like, and use the super locrian.

But what is the function of the previous chord…the Db7? It is simply a tritone substitution of G7 which resolves a perfect 5th down to C7. All substitute dominants resolve a half step down to their target and employ a lydian dominant scale. And this is exactly what is happening here from Db to C.

MEASURES: 35-38 (C Section)

Speak Low_meas.35-38

And now for the C section. Is there an obstetrician in the house? No??? Well, I guess I’ll have to do the job (lol). But I’m not going to break down the entire C section measure per measure, because the first 8 measures are identical to the A section. I’m going to start at the 35th measure and teach you the final 8 measures that are different. After that I’ll play the entire chord melody slowly so you can hear everything in context nonstop.

So Measures 35 and 36 again feature the Bbm7 and Eb9. Measure 37 introduces the I chord or Fmaj7. Notice that you can substitute this for an Am7 and form a II-V with the D7b9 in the next measure. Even though this D is over the 6th degree of the key of F, it is in turn functioning as the secondary dominant of the II minor.

MEASURES: 39-42 (C Section)

Speak Low_meas. 39-42

Let’s proceed to the final 4 measures. We will see that in measure 39, instead of a Gm (IIm7) we have G7 here, which is the secondary dominant of the V or C9. If we go back to measure 38 we see that we have 3 dominants progressing in succession through the cycle of 5ths. Whenever we have more than 2 dominants progressing thru the cycle of 5ths, we call it a dominant chain or in Berklee lingo, “extended dominants”. This C9 resolves to the I chord where we can end the tune or we have the option to continue to the final measure with an optional D7alt which resolves back to the initial Gm.


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  1. Scot Lange

    AHHHH! What a Wonderful Solo !!!!!!!

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