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The Complete Language of Music - Harmony

Harmony is a word that sounds really posh but it is just the title given to how layers of music work together. When you listen to a piece of music you can hear a range of things going on, these are all layers in the music. So how do the people know what to play to get the overall piece of music?

Generally they know the language. The bass player knows that when the guitar plays a chord he plays a note that works with it and they work with what the singer is singing. The drums provide the rhythm and everybody is influenced by that. They all play and sing at the same speed. It is painful to listen to when they don’t play together and amazing when they do. So how do we get to that amazing combination that inspires and entertains?

Harmony plays its part. Harmony dictates the layers that work together and, when you get really good at it, how to break the rules to sound even better.

So, we have looked at how to create the A Major Scale back in the first Foundations blog. The scale gives the notes that the singer will use to create the melody of the song. The next step is add layers under it to give emotion, drive and energy.

The chordal instruments – Guitar, Piano and Keys create the emotion under the melody depending on how they put the chords together.

The Drums and Bass are primarily responsible for the rhythm and drive but the Bass also plays individual notes that work with the other instruments. I will look more at them on a later blog when I talk about rhythm.

How do we know what chords work with the melody and how they create an emotion in the song?

If we start with the notes of the A Major Scale:-

A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A.

By making chords that only use the notes above we know that that there is a really good chance that they will all work together.

The next, undisputable, fact in music is that the basic chords must have at least 3 notes in them to be a chord. I don’t know why but it just is.

The next, undisputable, fact is that the basic 3 note chords are called Chords or Triads and have a number of combinations of notes. The most common are the Major and Minor Chords (Triads).

They both have the combination of the Root note (1st note) and the 3rd note and the 5th note.

We can take any note in the scale and work out the other notes. So if we take the scale again and add some numbers we get the following.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A.

If we make each of the notes of the Scale number 1 we get the other notes of the Chord or Triad, as shown below:-

So we know that, say, if the guitar player played the notes A, C# and E together they would sound good on their own but they would also sound good if the singer was singing one of the notes in the melody, say an A note.

We can also see that if the singer was singing an A note there are 3 chords that have that note in them – A Chord, D Chord and the F# Chord.

Each chord gives a different emotion when they are played with the sung A note.

We will look at why that is in the next instalment on Friday. But for now Enjoy.

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