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when does harmony actually matter?

Jack Campin 19 Mar 09 - 10:03 AM
GUEST,Don Meixner 19 Mar 09 - 10:11 AM
Jack Blandiver 19 Mar 09 - 10:31 AM
Nick 19 Mar 09 - 10:57 AM
The Sandman 19 Mar 09 - 11:26 AM
M.Ted 19 Mar 09 - 11:28 AM
GUEST,KP 19 Mar 09 - 05:47 PM
The Sandman 19 Mar 09 - 06:02 PM
Peace 19 Mar 09 - 08:04 PM
Howard Jones 19 Mar 09 - 08:27 PM
Jack Campin 19 Mar 09 - 09:06 PM
sharyn 20 Mar 09 - 12:45 AM
GUEST 20 Mar 09 - 01:38 AM
GUEST 20 Mar 09 - 01:45 AM
sian, west wales 20 Mar 09 - 06:28 AM
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Subject: when does harmony actually matter?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 10:03 AM

This was suggested by the "three chord tricks" thread, but maybe ought to be separate.

In that thread, several posters were suggesting alternate voicings for simple guitar chords as a means of creating variety. It occurred to me that I probably wouldn't be able to hear that variety, and neither would most listeners; its real audience was the player alone. In fact it occurred to me that this might be a lot more general: what non-guitarists hear in a guitar accompaniment is mostly texture and rhythm. Even the basic chord isn't usually very important. In folk music harmony is generally "non-functional", i.e. it isn't the harmonic progressions that are driving the development of the piece - they follow the tune. And any number of alternatives follow it equally well, most of the time.

Which suggests two questions.

1. Has anybody every done a scientific study of whether harmonization makes a difference to typical folk material? (Introduce random variations of harmony under a fixed tune, and see if non-guitarist, non-musically-technical listeners either notice the difference or have a preference).

2. What examples can anyone come up with where the harmonization is the distinctive and important feature of a particular arrangement of a folk tune - a particular harmonic effect that absolutely anyone would notice, and which made all the difference to how popular it became? How common are such examples?

One example much beloved of academic musicologists studying popular culture is Beatles songs. I am not convinced. To me, the tune does most of the work, and they communicate equally well in arrangements that ignore the original harmonization, so long as you retain something like the original texture and don't do anything too alien.


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: GUEST,Don Meixner
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 10:11 AM

Well this will start a fight.

I can't think of a time when vocal or instrumental harmony sounds bad but there are times when it isn't necessary.

It is certainly only in the ears of the musician and the audience to decide whether it is or isn't.

Don


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 10:31 AM

A tune evolved in a harmonic context is petty meaningless outside of it; which is to say, if someone sings such a tune unaccompanied that requires a set of changes in the harmony then it'll make no sense to the listener. A modal tune, on the other hand can stand as it is - be it unaccompanied, with a drone, or harmonised by shifting drones or chords. We hear a lot of that thing in traditional Scottish & Irish music these days - even as far back as Alan Stivell & Brigadoon...


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: Nick
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 10:57 AM

One of the things in the Eric Roche book I mentioned that I found interesting was that he took Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and harmonised it various ways. Would people have noticed a difference? Yes. Perhaps not on some but on others (see below). Would they still have recognised the tune? Absolutely.

I happen to have the chords in my pocket. Listed one after another one can see the links from one to another which I found an interesting thing and was a good way to illustrate what you can do.

He starts with the 'right' way:

C / / / | F / C / | F / C / | G / C / |

Then plays it with a C in the bass all the way through (same chords)
Then with a G in the bass all the way through (same chords)

Then with minors:

Am / Em / | Dm / Em / | Dm / Am / | Em / Am / |
which sounds very different and would be noticed ("why's he playing Twinkle Twinkle wrong?")

Then:

C / Em / | F Dm Em / | Dm / C / | Bdim / C / |
(richer?)

With 7ths:

C Cmaj7 Em C/E | Fmaj7 Dm/F Em7 C/E | Dm7 Bm7b5/D Cmaj7 Am7 | Dm7/F Dm7/G C/G / |
(different)

Another:

C Cmaj7 Emsus4 Em | Fadd2 / Em / | Dm Cadd2 Amadd2 | G7sus4 G7 Cadd2 / |

He ends up with a mix of slash chords, inversions, substitutions etc which are a distance from the start but still recognisable:

F#m7b5 B7b9 Em11 A7 | Dm7 G9 Em7 A7 | Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 A7/C# | Dm7 Db7b9 Cm7 / |

Would someone notice the difference. Yes. They might not be with what he's doing but they'd hear it.

Whether it is a good or bad thing is a different matter and it depends what you are trying to achieve. But, for me, it was a clever article on harmony and options. Each of them apart from the relative minor harmony are closish. the relative minor would sound 'odd' to people I'd guess who know the tune.

I play tunes with various people locally. Most of the time they arrive with a stack of new tunes and I play along on the fly and harmonise as we go. Usually a tune suggests a harmony (often very obviously, sometimes not) but being a playful sort of soul I do like to experiment and 'see what works' (sometimes does sometimes not but it is practice and fun NOT a performance) but I learn a lot doing it and incorporate a lot of what I find elsewhere. Often there is an accepted way (or the way that someone leans across and tells me I'm doing it wrong at which point I smile politely and go their way) but there are many ways to skin cats.

An Irish friend I learned a bucket of stuff from by watching and his approach to accompaniment was totally different to my full chord strumming that I once did. He has a great sensitivity for the tunes - perhaps through experience tradition or feel and because he is a fiddle player too - and a great touch and ear.

Audiences spot it too. Definitely.

Rhythm's the thing. All the pretty harmonies in the world can get destroyed if you can't play in time. Better someone muting the guitar strings and making chookah - chookah noises in rhythm with the tune and meaningless chords as a percussion instrument than someone playing out of time.

I was listening to a Liz Carroll and John Doyle CD recently. For many of the tracks - apart from the excellent fiddle playing - the dominant sound is the rhythmic and percussive strumming of the guitar. BUT underneath it there is a lot of nice changes and variations going on (inversions - substitutions - falling bass runs - variations of where he is playing on the guitar and which strings - sometimes more bass sometimes not etc) which may not be immediately obvious and nooticed by most people but would be noticeable if they weren't ie people might just find it a bit samey?


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 11:26 AM

when does harmony matter,when its inappropriate,or doesnt sound right,or is not tasteful.


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: M.Ted
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 11:28 AM

Listen to these two very different ways of harmonizing and see if you can tell the difference --Ladarke Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, etc. Keep in mind that anything you can sing, you can play--


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: GUEST,KP
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 05:47 PM

Jack, you asked
'What examples can anyone come up with where the harmonization is the distinctive and important feature of a particular arrangement of a folk tune - a particular harmonic effect that absolutely anyone would notice, and which made all the difference to how popular it became? How common are such examples?'

I think the main one that springs to mind is this:
House of the Rising Sun (Leadbelly)
compared to this:
The Animals

Having said that, you are probably correct that most of the intricate sus4 chords etc we guitarists put in are largely for our own satisfaction...
cheers
KP


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 06:02 PM

yes, well that was Dave Van Ronk,who was responsible for the chord progreesion of the Animals version,they are both good versions.


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: Peace
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 08:04 PM

Is this a reference to chord inversions?

C E G
E G C
G C E


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 08:27 PM

Firstly, I think most people who actually listen to music (rather than simply have it on in the background) would hear the difference between different chord inversions, although they might not be able to put their finger on what makes the difference. You seem to be suggesting that it doesn't matter what the guitarist plays as long as they keep in time.

"Even the basic chord isn't usually very important". I'm not sure what you mean by that. If it's the wrong chord it's very important. What chord is wrong or right is another matter - folk tunes are often ambiguous in terms of keys and scales, and there may be several possible chords which work equally well - it can come down to personal taste.

What I agree with is that the tunes aren't driven by chord progressions. You have to fit the chords to the tune rather than follow a progression laid down by musical theory.


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 19 Mar 09 - 09:06 PM

"House of the Rising Sun" is a good one. The Leadbelly version sounds weird and cluttered in retrospect.

Where did Van Ronk get the idea? It's a variant of a Baroque passacaglia, I think.


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: sharyn
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 12:45 AM

I just wrote a long answer that vanished into thin air. Can't re-type it now, but I love this thread. Keep it going. Examples are great fun.

Sharyn


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:38 AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5T6gyCPDvM&feature=related


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:45 AM

Speaking of harmonies check these out...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5T6gyCPDvM&feature=related   
and..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vz_fcbKKmQA&feature=related   
and...   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BIVUe8cTz4
ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1


    Please note that anonymous posting is no longer allowed at Mudcat. Use a consistent name [in the 'from' box] when you post, or your messages risk being deleted.
    Thanks.
    -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: when does harmony actually matter?
From: sian, west wales
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 06:28 AM

Jack

I am not a trained musician, and I'm not an instrumentalist, but I'm going to stick my nose in anyway ...

You DID ask, "Has anybody every done a scientific study of whether harmonization makes a difference to typical folk material?" You might like to take a look at "This is Your Brain On Music" by Daniel J. Levitin. (Available through the Mudcat Amazon link!) It doesn't deal with 'folk' per se but you may find it useful.   

It's also worth keeping in mind that, in some traditions, harmony is a key element of folk music and commonalities of harmony are part of the musical social compact entered into between musicians. Changes and developments to the common denominators are 'negotiated' and based on trust and respect. It's why group music making, particularly in the 'folk' genre, is so important to many broader social issues in my work (community social and economic development). I'm currently reading, "Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation" by Thomas Turino which is helping me quite a bit in thinking these things through and giving me bullets to shoot at funding agencies!

Re: obvious harmonization as an important feature, there is a very large and important sub-genre of Welsh traditional music called "Cerdd Dant" (Poetry/song of the Strings) or "Canu Penillion" (Singing Verses) which is based on tunes, harmonies and counter-melodies. It is, at its most basic, a harp playing one melody and the singer holding forth with his or her personal selection of verses that fit and singing them to a counter melody which starts after the instrumental melody, avoids landing on the same notes, but ends at the same time - with the metre of the verses complimenting the metre of the tune. Sort of. There are a few English language pages on the Cerdd Dant
Society's website over on the upper right hand side. I don't think the 'History' article gives sufficient info on the counter melody bit, but you might find it interesting.

The point is that the quality of a cerdd dant performance will be completely assessed on its harmony and assonance, both of music and words. There's a whole festival in November just for Cerdd Dant and, trust me, the people who go to and / or compete at it KNOW what to listen for. Can be very scary ...

sian


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