Harmonic analysis of "Infant Eyes" by Wayne Shorter | Improvise For Real
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Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" is a great tune for the advanced IFR student. Its tonal ambiguity and multiple key centers provide an ever-changing backdrop against which to improvise interesting melodies, yet most of the harmonic material comes directly from the sounds we study in IFR Exercises 3 and 4.

This article is intended for advanced IFR students who are already working at the level of IFR Exercise 4: Mixed Harmony or IFR Exercise 5: Free Harmony. The harmonic concepts I will discuss in this article are actually quite simple to understand, but in order to apply these ideas you need to be very comfortable visualizing musical shapes within the octave. In most cases the chord or scale involved will be one that you probably already know. But because the key center is constantly changing, you need to be able to visualize these musical shapes in unusual places. This ability to visualize a "scale within a scale" is really the key to learning how to improvise comfortably over a composition like "Infant Eyes". So if you're at the level of IFR Exercise 4 and you want to learn how to apply your skills to a more sophisticated composition, then this article is for you!

Establishing the key of the music

For simple music like pop songs, blues songs, jazz standards, etc., establishing the key of the music is straightforward because essentially everyone who hears the song will feel the tonal center in the same place. But what do you do when the composition is so ambiguous that different people might feel different things? The composition "Infant Eyes" for example is sometimes written in the key signature of Bb and sometimes in the key signature of Eb. Which is correct? And with so many chords coming in from different scales, what's the point of trying to identify an overall key signature in the first place?

For the improviser, choosing a key in which to visualize the composition is not merely an academic exercise. It's a creative decision that lets us decide how we are going to think about the sounds in the composition. And the only criterion for that decision is your own comfort level as you are improvising. So you want to choose the key that allows you to visualize all of the chords and scales of the composition in the simplest and most natural way possible. This is what I have tried to do with the tonal sketch below.

Download the tonal sketch

The drawing below is a tonal sketch of "Infant Eyes". (You can download this drawing in full size by right-clicking on the image and selecting "Save Image As..." or "Save Linked File As..." and then choosing a folder on your computer.)

harmonic analysis of Infant Eyes

This is the way that I personally hear the harmony, and the way that it's most comfortable for me to visualize all of the sounds of the composition. From this point of view, we could say that the song is in the key of Bb because note 1 in my tonal sketch corresponds to the note Bb on Wayne Shorter's original recording of "Infant Eyes" (from the album "Speak No Evil").

Analyzing the first line of "Infant Eyes"

chord changes to first line of Infant EyesI hear the opening chord of the composition as the 6- chord, followed by the 5- chord which begins the modulation to the 4 chord. If you have been practicing with IFR Standards Workout 1, you will immediately recognize this progression for its similarity to the opening chords to both "There Will Never Be Another You" and also "Blue in Green". I suggest that you study this chord progression in those songs first, because they provide a much simpler harmonic context in which to clearly hear this modulation.

The final chord in the first line is the 7D13b9 chord, which creates a dissonance very similar to the function of the b7D chord that appears in the analogous place in "There Will Never Be Another You". And although the notes of the 7D13b9 chord may be new to you, the overall effect that this chord gives to the line should be very familiar to you from your experience with "There Will Never Be Another You".

The difference is that here Wayne Shorter is using a much more complex sound which also appears in many other compositions by Shorter and Miles during this same period. When I listen to the recording, I hear this moment as a diminished scale of eight notes. I have sketched out this scale and indicated the notes that make up the basic four-note chord. You may hear the harmony differently but this is the way that I would summarize what I hear and feel in this moment.

Analyzing the second line of "Infant Eyes"

chord changes to second line of Infant EyesThe second line opens with a great sound that every advanced IFR student should take the time to study and master. It's the sound of a major chord based on the note b6 of the original key. This sound appears in many jazz standards including Jobim's "Triste", and I hear this as a lydian scale starting from the note b6. (By "lydian" I simply mean the fourth harmonic environment of the major scale.) So we are taking the scale that goes with the 4 chord and we are building it in a new location. Starting from the note b6 in the drawing to the right, can you trace the intervals of the fourth harmonic environment? This is the ability I mentioned earlier to visualize a "scale within a scale" that we need in order to comfortably see the harmonic flow of a composition like "Infant Eyes".

The rest of the second line contains sounds already familiar to IFR students. The 5Dsus chord is like the 5D chord that we have been studying ever since IFR Exercise 3: Pure Harmony, except that the third of the chord (note 7) is now suspended up to note 1. The 4- chord appears in countless jazz standards including "Green Dolphin Street", "After You've Gone" and "But Not for Me". And the 1D chord is one of the very first secondary dominant chords that we learned about in IFR Exercise 4: Mixed Harmony.

Analyzing the third line of "Infant Eyes"

chord changes to third line of Infant EyesThe third line of the composition is a very simple harmonic device that consists of displacing an entire harmonic environment by a half step. The line opens in the 4 chord and then moves this entire scale up one half step to b5. Then this entire system repeats itself. This half step displacement is incredibly fertile terrain for creating beautiful melodic lines. I encourage you to study these two chords until switching between them becomes essentially effortless.

Note: The slash chord that I indicated in the chord symbol b5/4 is just there to remind us that in the original recording the bass player stays on note 4 during this measure. But this doesn't alter the basic harmonic environment. (Notice that the scale for the b5/4 chord is identical to the scale for the b5 chord that appears two measures later.)

Analyzing the fourth line of "Infant Eyes"

chord changes to fourth line of Infant EyesThe fourth line of the composition perfectly parallels the second line except that now the sounds are displaced to a different location. The line opens with a major chord build on b2 of our tonal map. Again this is the lydian sound, so what we are really doing is building the fourth harmonic environment starting from the note b2. (If you have trouble seeing that, don't worry about it. The important thing is to study and master each chord on its own, regardless of what it may have in common with other chords.)

The next chord is the 1Dsus chord which we already discussed earlier, and the following chord is b7-, which is essentially a 2- chord displaced to the note b7. The 4Dsus chord uses the same mixolydian scale that we used for 5Dsus and 1Dsus in other moments. ("Mixolydian" just refers to the scale of the 5D harmonic environment. This entire scale is displaced down to note 4 in the current measure.) And finally the line ends with our old friend the 3D chord, which was the very first chord that we ever studied in IFR Exercise 4: Mixed Harmony.

Lines 5 and 6 of "Infant Eyes"

For completeness I will include scale drawings of the chords to lines 5 and 6 but these are the same chords that we already saw in lines 1 and 2 so I won't repeat my comments about them:

chord changes to fifth line of Infant Eyeschord changes to sixth line of Infant Eyes

How to approach your practicing

Take your time. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to slow down and really take your time to truly explore and master each harmonic environment of this piece. There isn't as much new material here as it may appear at first. If you are already working at the level of IFR Exercise 4: Mixed Harmony, then you probably already know 80% of these chords. The chords that are most likely new to you are 7D13b9, b6, b5, b2 and b7-. That's only five new chords! If you just go about your work methodically and add one of these chords to your repertoire every two weeks, in a matter of ten weeks you will have everything you need to improvise with complete confidence over "Infant Eyes" for the rest of your life. More importantly, the lessons that you learn in each of these new harmonic environments will keep coming up in song after song. So don't forget that when you study "Infant Eyes" you are learning much more than just one composition. You are also learning important lessons about harmony that will enrich your playing over any song.

Use a keyboard. Because of the amount of root movement in this piece, I think it's going to be essential for you to have an external reference to make sure that you are hearing the notes and chords correctly. I would encourage you to use a keyboard for this part of your music study. Start by choosing a key in which you feel comfortable playing, and pick just two chords from the song. Play the first chord with your left hand and use your right hand to walk through the entire scale that corresponds to this chord. Sing these tonal numbers out loud as you play. Then advance to the second chord and do the same. Play the chord with your left hand as you play the scale with your right hand and sing the notes out loud. Stay with these two chords until the change feels natural and you don't need to think about it anymore. You should get to the point where you can picture both scales in your mind at the same time, so switching between them becomes effortless. Use this technique to study any chord change in the composition that gives you difficulty.

Improvise, improvise, improvise. I think that the best way to truly understand any chord progression is to spend lots of time improvising your own melodies across it. With a composition like "Infant Eyes", there is an additional step that you will probably want to practice first. Because this composition uses so many scales built from unusual tonal centers, it's worth taking the time to practice improvising in each of these harmonic environments separately just the same way you studied the seven basic chords of the major scale in IFR Exercise 3: Pure Harmony. Specifically, you can use the exercise Seven Worlds Expanded to practice improvising in each chord on its own. This will give you the ability to project both the overall harmonic environment and also the specific chord notes in any octave on your instrument. I think that this preparatory step will make it much easier for you to enjoy improvising across the entire progression later on.

Follow your own creative voice. The chords and scales that I outlined in this article are not intended in any way to limit your creative choices as an improviser. This article isn't about the creative contribution that you will add to the music, but rather it's about the underlying composition itself. The scales that I have listed above are the scales that I hear the musicians using at each moment in the composition. So I encourage you to study these sounds deeply because understanding the harmony of the piece will make it much easier for you to express your own melodies when you are improvising. But don't forget that your own music doesn't come from this harmonic analysis. It comes from your own imagination. And when you are improvising over "Infant Eyes" I encourage you to follow your own creative voice and to play directly from your imagination. Don't worry about whether the sounds you imagine clash with the underlying harmony or not. By the mere fact that you are imagining a sound, it can't be wrong. Sometimes your musical idea will harmonize peacefully with the chord of the moment, and sometimes your musical idea will stand out violently. But in both cases it will be perfect, because that's how you imagined it.

I hope that this analysis of "Infant Eyes" empowers you to add this beautiful composition to your repertoire. And I hope that your explorations of these unusual harmonic environments lead you to many interesting discoveries about melody, harmony and our musical system.