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Theory of Harmony Singing

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HiHo_Silver 23 Jul 06 - 05:33 PM
Peace 23 Jul 06 - 05:38 PM
HiHo_Silver 23 Jul 06 - 05:45 PM
Jeremiah McCaw 24 Jul 06 - 06:26 AM
Paul Burke 24 Jul 06 - 06:45 AM
AggieD 24 Jul 06 - 07:10 AM
AggieD 24 Jul 06 - 07:11 AM
Leadfingers 24 Jul 06 - 07:36 AM
s&r 24 Jul 06 - 08:44 AM
Richard Bridge 24 Jul 06 - 08:57 AM
s&r 24 Jul 06 - 09:15 AM
GUEST,Russ 24 Jul 06 - 09:30 AM
s&r 24 Jul 06 - 09:41 AM
Kaleea 24 Jul 06 - 06:38 PM
Artful Codger 24 Jul 06 - 07:39 PM
HiHo_Silver 24 Jul 06 - 08:22 PM
Ferrara 25 Jul 06 - 01:23 AM
Anglo 25 Jul 06 - 02:17 AM
GUEST,pattyClink 25 Jul 06 - 09:22 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 25 Jul 06 - 02:45 PM
GUEST,Rowan 25 Jul 06 - 07:09 PM
Artful Codger 25 Jul 06 - 10:29 PM
GUEST,Rowan 26 Jul 06 - 12:26 AM
GUEST,Rowan 26 Jul 06 - 12:48 AM
Wilfried Schaum 26 Jul 06 - 02:06 AM
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Subject: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: HiHo_Silver
Date: 23 Jul 06 - 05:33 PM

Having problems with singing harmony: Alto, Tenor, Bass. What determines the notes you sing for alto against soprano etc. What is the secret of creating good harmony? How n is it written on sheet music?


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Peace
Date: 23 Jul 06 - 05:38 PM

Good place to start the journey.

Also, it would help to know how much 'music theory' you already know.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: HiHo_Silver
Date: 23 Jul 06 - 05:45 PM

Have to say my mnusic theory is limited. I am able to read sheet music enough to learn the melody of tunes but when it comes to singing or playing harmony parts am pretty much lost and can only make a guess at harmony. Do not recall ever seeing a clef sign for alto or tenor. Perhaps there is'nt any.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Jeremiah McCaw
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 06:26 AM

Advice I've heard:

"Find a note that works, and stay on it 'til it doesn't." - Brian Bedford (Artisan)

"When you hit a wrong note, immediately look angrily at the person next to you." - Alistair Brown


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Paul Burke
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 06:45 AM

The best way to learn harmony singing is to be born black and poor in sub-Saharan Africa. My nephew, a born-again Christian, went to South Africa a few years ago... to teach their church members to sing. Talk about fridges to Eskimos.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: AggieD
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 07:10 AM

Having sung Alto in choir, the clef sign is in what you might call the 'normal' range, i.e. same as soprano. Tenors tend to sing an octave below soprano, so if you are writting for Tenors you can write in the 'normal range' & they will just sing an octave lower. Bass voices sing, obviously from Bass clef.

You might want to try this programme: [url=http://www.noteworthysoftware.com/composer/]Noteworthy Composer[/url]


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: AggieD
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 07:11 AM

Oops the link didn't work try again:Noteworth Composer


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Leadfingers
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 07:36 AM

Simple harmony is indeed simple - When I found myself trying to sing with two singers who were used to harmomising , we taped all the rehearsals - If I was 'on' someone elses note , we found what ever chord fitted at that pont in the music and I found a note in the chord that wasnt one of theirs ! As easy as that !
Of course , if you want more than simple three part , its a bit more difficult , as the chords get more complicated .


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: s&r
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 08:44 AM

Sample

Stu


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 08:57 AM

I think it's probably best to suck it and see. The "feel" of harmony does differ from one type of music to another.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: s&r
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 09:15 AM

Notation is as in the sample above. It's written as 'piano' music: In the treble staff Soprano has note stems pointing up, Alto has them pointing down. In the bass clef tenor has stems up, bass down.

The four voices in four part harmony will generally form a chord at any moment. If looking 'by ear' for a note for your part you can get some ideas by playing a chord (guitar, piano) that is right for the melody (tune) and selecting one of the notes not being used by the tune. It won't necessarily give the best harmony, but it will usually work.

Stu


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 09:30 AM

Just to complicate things a bit.

There are several approaches to harmony with different aesthetics and "rules." It is not just about making any "chord" but about making an "appropriate" chord. If you don't follow the rules you might get nasty looks or patronizing comments from your fellow singers.

For example, if you are singing with people who are doing what is now called "old time" harmony, you'll get looks if your harmony makes things sound to barbershop-y or choir-y. For some songs you might even get looks for adding a third part.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: s&r
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 09:41 AM

Like I say Russ - it won't necessarily give the best (or the most appropriate) harmony. What using a chord gives is a starting point. It's also likely however that chords marked on the music will be in the genre.

It won't follow formal rules about crossing of parts or consecutive fourths and fifths either

Stu


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Kaleea
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 06:38 PM

hmmm. SInce harmony can only be fully understood by hearing it, it is difficult to describe in text form.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Artful Codger
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 07:39 PM

A pet peeve: Too little attention is given to the horizontal flow of harmony parts, with the result that many are both dull to sing and to hear. Chordal structure is only one element of good harmony, albeit an important one. The "notes you should sing" depend on what effect you're trying to achieve, and not all harmony notes will lie in the chord of the moment, any more than the melody does.

To learn to sing harmony, there is no better teacher than doing. If you need to refer to chord tabs, you'll never get anywhere, because you need to sense instinctively what your many options are at any moment, and chord tabs seldom tell you what you don't intuitively know already. If you hit a wrong note, there's often a way to turn it into a right note. On the other hand, if, after years of exposure to music from all sides, you still can't figure out on your own what harmony lines to sing, it's probably better just to stick with melody, and spare your sanity (as well as ours.)

What you should sing also depends on how formal the setting is, how many other people/parts are involved, and whether you're singing with or without instrumental accompaniment. The most demanding type of harmony singing is two-part, because the two parts together must somehow suggest a complete three- (sometimes four-) part harmonic context; this duty most often falls to the harmonist. The harmonist is also more responsible for adding rhythmic interest. On the other hand, he enjoys greater freedom, and seldom has to worry about conflicting with the other part.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: HiHo_Silver
Date: 24 Jul 06 - 08:22 PM

Thanks for all the input. I do sing a bit of harmony by ear but was looking for a correct written form. It was not my intention, as in the last post, to cause insanity for myself or for someone else but only endeavour to increase my knowledge. Perhaps Artful Codger should abstain from posting if such an enquiry bears on his sanity and not his desire to help in the quest for knowledge.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Ferrara
Date: 25 Jul 06 - 01:23 AM

IMO, apart from the ambiguous remark (is it meant personally, or generally?) about "sparing your sanity" there was some excellent advice in Artful Codger's post.

Silver, would you explain more about what you mean by "a correct written form."

I'm assuming you aren't looking for sheet music that has harmonies you can adopt? Rather, it sounds as if you are asking how you could notate harmonies that you want to sing?

You could try to use the conventions of choral music but if you are just trying to make up a harmony cheat sheet to help you work out the harmony, you don't need to be fussy and/or elaborate.

One easy way is to write out the melody line, then just write each harmony note above/below the melody note, on the same vertical line as the melody note. Maybe use a different color ink for each harmony part? To simplify, you could ignore octave differences; each singer will find their own range for the song.

Or you can write parts for your female singers in the treble clef and male voices in the bass clef. Folk music doesn't really use soprano voice most of the time so if you have two female singers just think of them as "melody" and "harmony" and write both in the treble clef. Similarly with tenor, baritone and/or bass.

I think there have been lots of answers to your question about What determines the notes you sing for alto against soprano etc. The link that Peace posted gives an elaborate table that you can use to help fit notes into the proper chords.

Here are some thoughts on your second question, i.e. What is the secret of creating good harmony? Of course there isn't one secret but here are some of my thoughts. I apologize if I'm repeating what some folks have said above but here goes.

First, a good harmony should make you feel good! If after you sing it you think, "Yes! That sounds great!" you are probably on the right track.

Second, to create good harmonies everyone in the group needs to listen. If it's a large group and you're not experienced, you should probably restrict the number of different harmonies. Maybe let one person try a harmony, while the rest listen. Record what you are doing and see where it rings and where it is muddy. Notice the places where the different voices complement each other.

I strongly agree with AC that there needs to be a "horizontal flow of harmony parts." But what does that mean? Well, ideally each contributor is doing more than just hitting notes that are in the current chord and so don't clash with the melody. There is a difference between singing notes that will harmonize and singing a harmony line.

As a kid I learned harmonies to Christmas carols by singing the note printed below the melody note (!). I noticed that this harmony line could be sung on its own and it made sense and resonated with me, it made me feel good even if no one was singing the melody. In a way it was a counter melody although sometimes there were fewer notes in the harmony, or it coincided with the melody for a while.

At some point I started making up harmony lines. I would invent a countermelody that was almost a song in itself -- but it was subordinate to, dependent on, and complementary to the melody. This is really worth trying. It creates harmonies that seem to have a flow of their own. There's nothing wrong with starting out by finding, say, a note that works for each measure, or staying, say, a third above or below the melody for much of a song; but it isn't nearly so beautiful or satisfying as coming up with a flowing harmony line that can really make the song ring.

Well I don't know if this is what you were looking for in any way but I enjoyed writing it, and hope it was worth adding.

Rita F


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Anglo
Date: 25 Jul 06 - 02:17 AM

For the "correct written form," buy a hymn book and look at how the 4 parts are written out. (Or "borrow" one from your local traditional church), Try singing the parts. If you have to go to church to hear - and sing - the parts together, it's not a great sacrifice. You can go to the pub afterwards to get it out of your system. But that's where English trad folk harmony comes from.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,pattyClink
Date: 25 Jul 06 - 09:22 AM

HiHo,
Sorry this has been frustrating, but the subject is pretty slippery. It really does depend on what style of harmony you want to pursue, and the only practical means to get good at is to just do it.   Anglo is right, immersing yourself in church harmony is one way people get an 'ear' for it. Joining a barbershop chorus will teach you specific prescribed harmonies, but in singing lots of them you will get an 'ear' for improvising your own.   If you are interested in a special genre like bluegrass, gospel, or certain a cappella styles, join a big group that doesn't mind an extra singer. And until you can find one, vocalize madly with recordings while you drive your car or dust the house. Just try stuff and see what sounds good.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 25 Jul 06 - 02:45 PM

If you want to sing harmony have you tried throwing yourself under a bus? I wish many harmony singers would!


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,Rowan
Date: 25 Jul 06 - 07:09 PM

When I was still at school the Australian national anthem was "God save the King" (later "the Queen") which Americans know by a different name. We all had to assemble at the flagpole on Monday mornings, raise the flag, salute it, recite the nonsense and sing the anthem. Our school had a unit of army cadets which did the usual military parade stuff and then its band played the anthem while we all sang it.

I got so bored with the main melody that I picked on the part played by the Eb cornet and sang that instead. All by ear, as we were all in the school yard with no sheets of dots. As Artful Codger put it, it was a proper harmony line rather than just randomly chosen chords but it laid a reasonable foundation for harmony singing later on. Every country has a national anthem and I've yet to hear one that every voice can sing confortably so there is plenty of scope to pick the part of an instrument and follow its line. You'd have plenty of opportunity to practise.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Artful Codger
Date: 25 Jul 06 - 10:29 PM

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.


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,Rowan
Date: 26 Jul 06 - 12:26 AM


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,Rowan
Date: 26 Jul 06 - 12:48 AM

Sorry 'bout that. I've just got a new system.
Artful Codger wrote "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."

When I read this I was reminded of a piece of music that is well known to folkies and others and did a search of Mudcat to see what had been said about it already, as an attempt to support his argument.

"Summer is icumin in" is a round I started singing many years before I was told that it was regarded as the earliest piece of written manuscript still extant. Others may have much better info but I was led to believe it was dated no later than the 11th Century. There are only three messages on Mudcat about it and none gives the text, which is quite unchurchlike.

The relevance, to this thread, of my interest is that that it is quite clearly meant to be a round (or a canon; I don't know enough formal music history to be sure of any differences) with four entries. Moreover, it has a separate set text and melody (pitched below the main melody) acting as a separate two-entry round. This adds up to proper harmony as currently understood but comes from a time when most music history texts describe church music as the only formal music and it was all chanted monotonously (sorry!).

I've never been able to reconcile such academic assertions with the existence of such an obvious esception but I reckon it certainly goes some way to supporting Artful Codger's comment quoted above.

For those who may not know it, the text (in current English and without recourse to notes) is

Summer is icumen in
Loudly sing cuckoo
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
And springeth wood anew

Ewe bleateth after lamb
After calf the cow,
Bullock starteth and buck farteth
Merry sing cuckoo
Sing cuckoo

The lower part is
Sing cuckoo, nu sing cuckoo
repeated with two entries


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Subject: RE: Theory of Harmony Singing
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 26 Jul 06 - 02:06 AM

Too little attention is given to the horizontal flow of harmony parts, with the result that many are both dull to sing and to hear (Artful Codger) - how true, indeed.
So learn it from the masters of Renaissance madrigals, Hassler, Clemens non papa, Morley, Gastoldi et al.
Or get the sheets of one of the major oratories of J.S. Bach and study the choir parts. You often find a number of different stanzas of the same hymn set differently, compare them.
I cannot give a better advice as a former experienced choir singer, then leader.


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