Contra Chords

November 18th, 2022
contra, music
When you see contra dance tunes or other similar music written down there are usually chords along with the tune, but I rarely like them. Some of this is aesthetic differences, where the chords are often written in a style where you switch chords rapidly to closely follow the melody, but the real problem is that writing the chords for a tune isn't really possible. That is, there isn't a single set of chords you that will stay interesting as you play it ten times in a row for dancing. If you listen to great rhythm players they'll often pick different chords every time through the tune!

I was thinking about this with Amy in the context of rhythm for open bands and one idea we had was to get around this by writing several sets of chords for a tune. In an open band context the leader can say "next time, variation (b)!", or if you're playing rhythm on your own you can make your own choices. This still isn't perfect—it's often good to be even more free with choosing chords that fit in the moment than this implies—but I think it's a good step up from the current situation.

I sat down at the piano and wrote a few variations for tunes the way I'd likely play them. With each variation (a) is usually a good place to start, and some of the later ones you wouldn't want to do over and over or the novelty would wear off. The notation has each chord as two beats unless they're squished together, and "/" means to keep playing the same chord (more). I've put a few chords in bold to clarify that I really would play that chord, despite the dissonance.

Coleman's March

  1. |: D G D A  D G A / :|
    |: D A G D  D G A / :|
    
  2. |: D  / / /  G / / / :|
    |: Bm A G D  D / A / :|
    
  3. |: D G Bm A  D G A / :|
    |: D A G D   D G A / :|
    
  4. |: D  G D A  D  G A / :|
       Bm A G /  Bm A G /
       Bm A G /  G  / A /
    

Star Above the Garter

  1. |: G D C CD  G D C / :|
    |: D / C G   D / C G :|
    
  2. |: G / / /   G  /  / / :|
       D / C /   D  /  C /
       D / C /   Am Bm C D
    
  3. |: G Am C /  G Am C / :|
       Am / / /  Bm / / /
       C  / / /  D  / / /
    

Sandy Boys

  1. |: A / / G   A / AG A :|
    |: A / AGAG  A / AG A :|
    
  2. |: A / / G   A / AG A :|
    |: A / ADAD  A / AG A :|
    
  3.    A / / G   A / AG A
       A / / G   D / E  /
       A / / /   G / /  /
       D / / /   E / /  /
    
  4. |: A / / G   A / AG A :|
    |: F / / /   G / /  / :|
    
  5. |: A / / G   A / AG A :|
       A / / /   A / /  /
       C / / /   D / E  /
    

Highland Laddie

  1. |: D /  G A  D /  G / :|
    |: DGAD A /  DGAD G / :|
    
  2. |: D  / A /  D / G / :|
    |: Bm / A /  G / / / :|
    
  3. |: D /  G A  D /  Bm / :|
    |: DGAD A /  DGAD Bm / :|
    
  4. |: D  /  G A  D  /  G / :|
    |: BmDGD A /  BmDGD G / :|
    
  5. |: D  / A /  D / G / :|
    |: Bm / A /  G / / / :|
    
  6. |: Bm / / /  G / / / :|
       Bm / / /  G / / /
       Bm / / /  A / / /
    
  7. |: D A Bm G   D A Bm G :|
    |: D A Bm G   D A Bm G :|
    

Julia Delaney

  1. |: Dm CDm Dm CDm  Dm CDm Dm CDm :|
    |: Dm C   Dm CDm  Dm C   Dm CDm :|
    
  2. |: Dm / /  /  Dm / /  / :|
       Dm C Bb C  Dm C Bb C
       Dm C Bb C  Bb / C  /
    
  3. |: Dm C G /  Dm C G / :|
       Am / / /  Bb / / /
       C  / / /  A  / / /
    
  4. |: Dm CDm Dm CDm  Dm CDm Dm CDm :|
       Dm  /  C  /    Bb  /  Am  /
       G   /  A  /    Bb  /  C   /
    

On the Danforth

  1. |: A AF#m D /  A AF#m D / :|
    |: A /  F#m /  D /    / / :|
    
  2. |: A AF#m D E  A AF#m D E :|
    |: A /  F#m /  D /    E / :|
    
  3. |: A / D /    A / D E :|
    |: A / F#m /  D / E / :|
    
  4. |: A   / / /   D / / / :|
    |: F#m / E /   D / / / :|
    
  5. |: A / D /  F#m / E / :|
    |: D / E /  D   / E / :|
    
  6. |: A / D /    F#m / E / :|
    |: D A E F#m  D   A E / :|
    

Bus Stop

  1. |: Am AmG Am CG  Am / F G :|
    |: Am /   AmCDE  Am / F G :|
    
  2. |: Am / / /  Am / F G :|
    |: Am / / /  Am / F G :|
    
  3. |: Am F / /  Am F / / :|
    |: Am / C /  D  / G /:|
    
  4. |: Am / / /  Am / / / :|
       Am / G /  F  / E /
       D  / E /  F  / G /
    
  5.    Am / C /  G / D /
       Am / C /  D / E /
       Am / C /  G / D /
       Am / C /  D / E /
    

Franks Reel

  1. |: A / D E  A / D E :|
    |: A / D E  A / D E :|
    
  2. |: AD A D E  AD A D E :|
    |: A  / D /  A  / E / :|
    
  3. |: A / / /  D / / / :|
       F#m / D /  F#m / D /
       F#m / D /  F#m / E /
    
  4. |: A / D E  A   / D E :|
       A / / /  F#m / / /
       D / / /  E   / / /
    
  5.    A / / /    D / / /
       F#m / / /  D / / /
       F#m / / /  D / / /
       F#m / / /  E / / /
    
  6.    A C# D /  A   C# D /
       A C# D /  F#m D  E /
       A /  D /  F#m /  D E
       A /  D /  C#  D  E /
    

Marie's Wedding

  1. |: G Am C D  G Am C D :|
    |: G Em C D  G Em C D :|
    
  2.    G  / C /  Em /  D /
       G  / C /  Am Bm C D
    |: Em / C /  G  /  D / :|
    
  3. |: G / C D  G / C D :|
       G / C D  G / C D
       G / C D  G C D /
    
  4. |: G / /  /  G  /  / / :|
       C / Bm /  Am /  G /
       C / Bm /  Am Bm C D
    
  5. |: G Bm C /  G Bm C / :|
       Am / / /  Bm / / /
       C  / / /  D  / / /
    

Hundred Pipers

  1. |: A D A E  A D E /:|
    |: A D A E  A D E /:|
    
  2. |: AC#m D AD E  AC#m D E / :|
       A    / /  /  D    / / /
       F#m  / /  /  E    / / /
    
  3. |: A  / / /  D   / / / :|
       Bm / / /  C#m / / /
       D  / / /  E   / / /
    
  4.    A F#m D E  A F#m D E
       A F#m D E  A D   E /
       A C#m D E  A C#m D E
       A C#m D E  B C#m D E
    
  5. |: A C#m D F#mE  A C#m D E :|
       A /   D /     A /   D /
       A /   D /     A /   D E
    

All the Rage

  1.    E / A B  E / AB EB
       E / A B  E / AB E
    |: A / B /  A / B / :|
    
  2. |: EG#m A    C#m B     E G#m  A B :|
       A    AC#m B   /     A AC#m B BG#m
       A    AC#m B   BG#m  A /    B /
    
  3. |: E / / /  E   / /   / :|
       A / B /  C#m / G#m /
       A / B /  C#m / D   /
    
  4. |: E / A /  E   /    A B :|
       A / B /  A   AC#m B /
       A / B /  G#m A    B /
    
  5.    E C#m A /  E C#m A /
       E C#m A /  E C#m A B
    |: A /   B /  A /   B / :|
    

Shenandoah Falls

  1. |: A AD A DE  A AD AE A :|
    |: Bm / A /   Bm / DE A :|
    
  2. |: A  / / /  A  D   E A :|
       Bm / A /  Bm /   A /
       Bm / A /  Bm C#m D E
    
  3.    A   / / /  F#m / / /
       D   / / /  E   / / /
    |: F#m / D /  F#m / E / :|
    
  4.    A  / /   /  D / / /
       A  / /   /  D / E /
    |: Bm / C#m /  D / E / :|
    
  5. |: A AD A DE  A AD AE A :|
       Bm / / /   C#m / / /
       D  / / /   E   / / /
    

The Wren

  1. |: Em C D /  Em C D / :|
    |: Em / D /  Em / D / :|
    
  2. |: Em C D Bm  Em C D / :|
    |: Em / D /   C  / D / :|
    
  3. |: Em C D Bm  Em C D Bm :|
    |: C  / D /   C  / D /  :|
    
  4. |: Em / C /  Em / C / :|
    |: Em / C /  D  / Bm / :|
    
  5. |: Em / / EmD  Em / / EmD :|
       C  / D /    C  / Bm /
       C  / D /    C  / B  /
    

Lady Anne Montgomery

  1. |: D / G A  D / G A :|
    |: D / G /  D / A / :|
    
  2. |: D / / /  G / / / :|
       A / / /  A / / /
       A / / /  G / A /
    
  3. |: D DG D A  D DG A / :|
    |: Bm / G /  D /  A / :|
    
  4. |: D  / /   /  D   / / / :|
       Em / F#m /  G   / A /
       Bm / G   /  F#m G A /
    

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