Harmony #6 – My Ship A

An excellent analysis of My Ship can be found online already.

In the following harmonic analysis of the first A section of My Ship, I have categorized the functions of each chord to show how, and maybe why, Gil has inserted all the wonderful new chords into what is otherwise a simple starting harmony.

As I covered in the first harmony post, notice that Gil tends to use chords with 5 different pitch classes (5 distinct pitches not including doublings). This is the case with most of this section. I have omitted octave doubling except for where the melody and bass are on the same pitch class.

In the examples I have named the chord above each note, and the chord below the stave is from the original lead sheet.

Some clarification of terms is necessary first:

Target chord – The chord that was aimed toward in the harmonisation. The target chord usually occurs at a melodically or rhythmically important point in the bar and can help explain what harmony precedes and proceeds that moment.

Functional chord – A chord that has a dominant function (V), it leads to a target or other chord. It is often a secondary dominant.

Diatonic chord – A chord that is within the key but does not function, secondary dominants that don’t lead to their respective I’s are included in this category. It is often used to “plane” in scalar passages.

Voice Leading/Other chord – A chord that is hard to define and usually arrived at via voice leading or to create a particular sound.

First A section – bars 1 & 2

The first two bars are well established by the target chords. The chromatic descent to the D7 is very strong as the bass moves in contrary motion and the melody reaches the high point in the phrase. The Db7#9#5 is an astute use of tritone substitution with a counterpoint bass line. It adds some tension to the phrase which resolves elegantly at the C13.harmony6b

The chromatic descending chords I found tricky to label as the bass line and melody largely define what sort or chord is placed there. However, I labeled the first E7b9 as a functional chord as it could be viewed as a II7 to the D7 with the Ebmaj9 recalling a tritone substitution. The second E7b9 is another functional chord as its acting as a substitution for a G7b9.harmony6d

The last chord acts as a pick up for the next phrase and is a diatonic chord. Gil has kept the C13 sound for the last two beats of these bars.

That leave the last two chords – The Ebmaj7 and the D triad over Eb triad I have categorized as other chords. The Ebmaj7 (bVIImaj7) would usually be a Eb7 chord acting as a tritone substitution in this situation. Gil has opted for a maj7 sound which keeps the sound of the phrase bright.

The D over Eb is an atypical chord and is a interesting moment. The Eb in the bass means there is some nice contrary motion and the D triad in the upper parts keeps the sound of the harmony in that part. Often a diminished chord would be used in this situation as they make for nice passing chords, but Gil has avoided doubling the F#/Gb in the tenor part by using a ‘G’ and thereby enhancing the voice leading. Look at the example below and compare Gil’s harmonisation with some more regular options.


First A section – bars 3 & 4

The target chords follow a similar pattern in bars 3 & 4.




Note the intervallic structure of the first Fmaj7/6 and how it compares to the last chord in the previous bar (C13/E). This shows how Gil would have voiced the target chords first to establish a solid harmonic progression. This technique ensures good voice leading, and allows the pickup to continue smoothly.


The Bmi7b5 is a clear substitution for the G7 and acts as a functional II chord for the E7b5. The 2nd Fmajor keeps the same basic intervallic structure and is an extension of the Fmajor sound.


The D7b5b9 I have categorized as an other because it isn’t really a full D7 chord. Its a Cdim7, but there is no doubt we still hear this as a D7 chord as we have just come from the D7b5b9.


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