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Music harmony is the art of simultaneously employing pitches and chords in the enrichment of sound. The study of music harmony, therefore, entails unveiling the intricate characteristics of chords, the way they are built and the principles of their connection.
Harmony is the opposite of melody since the latter is taken as the horizontal characteristic of music while the former is taken as the vertical characteristic of music. Some definitions of harmony even include the word melody such as; “Harmony is anything that accompanies the melody” (Serge, 1998, p. 1).
Forms of harmony
In many cases, listeners of music are unable to distinguish harmony from other components of music because it is always the intention of the composer of the harmony to hide it from them. Therefore, an explanation of the different forms of harmony may seem like theory despite their practicability.
Some of the forms that harmony takes include chords. These are a combination of notes that are played together. Broken chords can also be used to achieve harmony. Broken chords in this case mean the notes in a given chord that are strategically played one after the other in order to achieve harmony. Among the most basic and the commonest harmonies in music are the triads.
The major triad is a perfect example that can be used to make people understand the nature of triads. It produces a nice sound and thus it is used in major scales as the basic chord. Also usable in exemplifying triads is the minor triad which is used in a minor piece as the basic chord (Serge, 1998, p. 1).
Chords are, essentially, meaningless if they do not help in making the music sound better. This fact is what necessitates the use of harmonic progressions. Harmonic progressions are created as composers of music move from chord to chord in a bid to make the music sound better and create some kind of continuity in the music.
There are a myriad of harmonic progressions in music today, and more harmonic progressions are continually developed by creative artists. Cadences are one of the commonest types of progressions in music. They are utilized before sections end since they give the listener a thought-settling feeling. The two main Cadences that are widely used in the music industry are the authentic and the plagal.
They have similar and simple composition and thus composers have an easy time using them. However, most composers avoid using them because they may give a listener the impression that the music is ending while it is only the section that is ending (Schneider, 2002, p. 1). Due to this concern, most composers are fond of using cadences when the entire piece of music is ending in order to have that appropriate impression at the end of the music.
Inversions are almost the same as harmonic progressions in their nature. However, they do not bring a change to the triads and thus they are disqualified from this classification. Basically, inversions are formed by changing the order of the notes within a given triad. This statement means that after the inversion of the notes, the triad is not changed and hence my aforementioned point.
Inversions are useful if the composer would like a given note to be isolated within the triad making it stand out in the music (Schneider, 2002, p. 1). For instance, when playing a piano, the top note has to stand out since it is more audible than the others. To achieve the objective of making certain desired notes stand out, composers usually form the top of their triads using melody notes so that the note can be easily heard.
Although this discussion is a perfect description of the theoretical intricacies of what goes on in a composers mind when composing songs, the theory discussed cannot be successfully used to compose songs. This is because, as we all know, music is largely experimental, and in order to learn harmonic progressions and their chord counterparts, there is need to experiment with less involvement of the mind.
Thus the ears should be worked more than the mind in any efforts to learn harmonic progressions and chord progressions. If you go through harmony theory posted on a website or written in a book, the theory will make you think of music harmony as an undecipherable code that one must spend a lot of time internalizing. This will be a misleading conception because in practice and with experimentation, music harmony is much simpler.
Another important thing to note is the fact that personal preferences are important in music harmony. This is to say that what will be to one person a perfect harmony may not be that appealing to another person. The reason for the application of tastes in music harmony is the fact that harmony is composed of dissonant and consonant forms, each of which may be pleasing to certain people and not to others.
Schneider, E. (2002). The four elements of music – melody, harmony, rhythm, and dynamics.
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Serge, M. (1998). What is music harmony? Retrieved from http://ababasoft.com/music/teory08.html