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Introduction to Harmony Theory

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In general, one thinks that harmony is the know-how for building chords. This is true but only for a very small part. The science of harmony is much beyond this.

Harmony is for music what grammar is for literature. So that if there was only one content to choose for making music, it shoud be harmony.

it is interesting to notice that exist (in Occident) two concepts of harmonic science ; one of them is the traditional concept followed by the composers of music classical proper.

The other concept is Jazz harmony, named by certain authors the "Lydian Concept". Those two concepts have been considered for a long time as being incompatible. But this incompatibility was more founded by the conflict of the cultures (Jazz has been considered for a long time as being marginal and uncivilized) than a real incompatibility (so much the worse for the ardent supporters of the traditional culture).


We will profound later these two know-hows, but we will say for the moment that : for the traditional harmony, chords come from scales, while for the Lydian Concept scales come from chords. If you don't understand these definitions at this time, simply keep them more or less in a corner of your memory. When we will profound this lesson, they will appear to your knowledge in full perspicuity.

We'll begin by the traditional harmony because it is imperative to do the progress in the order in which it has been done historically, this will make it possible for us to have a development from the simpler to the more complex.

We will begin our study by learning how to build some entities more and more complex. So, music will be explained as a thing that must work. Its aesthetic aspects will come from its way of working. Thus, it will be up to each of you to find your own aesthetics by putting together the elements, according to their own rules.

We will start from a simple basic diagram. We will start from a 4-voices framework, based on the model of choral society. Even if all of that seems to be too much simple for you, it will become quickly complex till it proceeds in the actual music...

We will start to work with 4 voices that will be called :

1st voice : Soprano

2nd voice : Contralto

3rd voice : Tenor

4th voice : Bass

These are some wordings based on vocal music, they are often used in treatises of harmony.

But these wordings are applied also to orchestral music and have the following form.

Voices

Strings

Brass

Wood

Percussion

Soprano

1st violin

Trumpet

Flute

Crash

Contralto

2nd violin

Horn

Oboe

Snare drum

Tenor

Viola

Trombone

Clarinet

Kettledrum

Bass

Cello

Tuba

Bassoon

Big drum


This diagram corresponds to the one of a more or less typical symphonic orchestra. Let's notice that certain instruments like the doublebass or the piccolo don't appear here. We will understand why when we'll see that it is about some instruments used to "function" inside an "expressive range" (See previous chapter).

Now, the harmonic center of an arts work is setted inside this range, outside of this range the proceeded instruments are used to double the main instruments. For example, the doublebass can double the cello one octava lower (it's often used but this is not a rule). In a same way, the piccolo can double the flute one octava upward (same notice).

We will start soon our study about harmony with some exercises based on 4 voices.

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Mario LITWIN, on the 07-11-1999

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