The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #93230   Message #1793277
Posted By: Artful Codger
25-Jul-06 - 10:29 PM
Thread Name: Theory of Harmony Singing
Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
My remark ("sanity") was meant generally, not personally. In reading Internet posts, one should remember to keep his sense of humor close by and his personal sensitivities at a distance. It's best for everyone's sanity. ;-}

The main thing that prompted my post was the advice a person quoted to "find one note that works, then stick with it till it doesn't". The Garrison Keillor approach to harmony--need I say more?

I question the assertion that folk harmony came from church hymns - seems backwards to me. Harmonic innovations were generally pioneered by folk musicians and minstrels long before they were adopted into church music. Many hymns are watered-down formulaic settings of folk tunes; even if those tunes were originally unaccompanied, the underlying harmony was implicitly understood (and often fleshed out by improvisation). Hymns seldom reflect the diverse influences that have been incorporated into even the relatively conservative folk music of England. At best, hymns simply represent the most basic form of a widely shared harmonic culture.

We are fortunate to live in an age where musical recordings abound--anyone who wants to practice harmony singing can just put on their favorite music and have at it. He can either copy what someone else is doing or experiment with improvising his own lines. He can pause and review at any point. Ain't technology wonderful (sometimes)!

When I sing harmony lines, I don't explicitly think of chords and progressions. Rather, I just "hear" the kind of thing I should do next. Sometimes I think in terms of intervals: up a sixth here, or this needs to be a semitone higher, or start this on the fifth of the scale. But that's it--more mental reminders than real-time deliberations. Even when I'm trying to work out a formal arrangement, I'm more apt to figure out the individual notes and phrases I hear mentally, deriving chords from them, than to work from chords to the individual lines. It's more of a horizontal than a vertical orientation: I hear chord inversions produced by several moving lines--I don't have to first know what the chords or inversions are, per formal theory. The lines include transitional notes that aren't part of the basic harmony; I have an instinctual awareness of this, too. As a kid I was improvising harmonies before I had any formal theory training whatsoever. Isn't this the way it is for most of us? That's why I advise ear practice far more than chordal analysis, and particularly eschew church music as a model for emulation.

Perhaps you could provide a bit more context and clarify what sort of problems you're having working out or singing harmonies.