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HELP: Definition of a harmony?

27 Mar 02 - 10:38 AM (#677388)
Subject: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,Jawbone

Does anyone know the technical definition of a harmony? some have said to me that it is simply(!) singing the same note as someone, but in a different octave. This sounds inaccurate to me. Also, any help on how a body could work out a harmony part? Thanks;


27 Mar 02 - 10:46 AM (#677395)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: MMario

it CAN be a simple as octave parts -, though more frequently the second note will be part of a chord.

1 tuneful sound :
2 a : the combination of simultaneous musical notes in a chord
2 b : the structure of music with respect to the composition and progression of chords
2 c : the science of the structure, relation, and progression of chords
3 pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts

27 Mar 02 - 11:08 AM (#677403)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,Jawbone

Thanks MMario

27 Mar 02 - 11:16 AM (#677412)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: MMario

I cannot find the thread now, but a while back someone posted that a very simple harmony is achieved by moving the melody down or up a third.

27 Mar 02 - 12:09 PM (#677439)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,Russ

If I may chime in,

In order to have harmony two or more different notes must be sounded simultaneously. The resulting sound should be "pleasing." To some extent "pleasing" is in the ear of the beholder. What sounds pleasing to a hearer is more or less what the hearer is used to hearing. What sounds pleasing to a Chinese ear might not be what is pleasing to a European ear.

There are basically two way to go about creating harmonies: beforehand and on-the-fly.

If you want to create harmonies beforehand, you can take classes on harmony at your local school of music to learn the theory. Then you sit down with a tune, a piano, and staff paper and create a harmony for that tune. You learn the harmony and sing or play it as needed.

If you want to create harmonies on-the-fly, you need to a little theory, but you especially need to immerse yourself in the harmonies you want to create. Listen, listen, listen. Then listen some more. In my experience, creating harmonies on the fly is not easy for the beginner and the ability is not quickly acquired. For traditional American harmonies it helps to grow up singing in a choir (Southern Baptist if possible).

There are a always a few harmony classes taught during vocal week at Augusta (

27 Mar 02 - 12:20 PM (#677446)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,JohnB

Harmony, is when two or more people head for the melody note and one or more of them miss :) JohnB

27 Mar 02 - 12:35 PM (#677450)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: dick greenhaus

Two or more notes, produced at the same time, that sound good together. Now...define good.

27 Mar 02 - 12:42 PM (#677454)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: pavane

You could look at my program, which attempts to add chords and/or appropriate harmony notes to a tune. It can be downloaded from my site

If you select 'Add 3rds' or 'Add 5ths' then the third or fifth will be added to each note in the tune.

You can add BOTH if you like. This is MOSTLY, but not always, harmonious.

The new version, 2.0.2, available soon (hopefully after Easter), will let you add 4ths above or below the melody. 4ths above give an oriental sound, and 4ths below are a very early form of harmony. (Actually, the same notes as a 5th above, but then lowered by a whole octave)

(PS The new version, 2.0.2, will also play a single bar, or will let you play the notes one at a time, forwards OR BACKWARDS. It also handles abc lyrics)

27 Mar 02 - 06:30 PM (#677693)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: Celtic Soul

Sumfin what aint the melody, but what don't clash with it like flannel and pinstripes?

Guess that's not really the technical definition, but it's my working definition! :D

27 Mar 02 - 06:38 PM (#677696)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: Phil Cooper

A crass definition of harmony that I heard (did not originate it) was, if it's not the melody, but sounds good, it's harmony, if it's not the melody but sounds discordant, it's jazz. Anyone know who first came up with that?

28 Mar 02 - 01:41 AM (#677911)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: Don Firth

According to the strict rules of harmony, octaves are not harmony. It's just the same note, only higher or lower. A 5th is harmony, but if you do two or more of them in a row (parallel 5ths), the prof will dock you points because all you're doing is having one note ride on the second overtone of another. It's too easy and not very creative. Practically, it can sound pretty good, though. Same situation with parallel 4ths, because 4ths and 5ths are inversions of each other.

You can do parallel 3rds and 6ths 'til hell freezes over and it sounds great, but it can get a bit cloying after a bit. It helps for the voices to go in opposite directions from time to time rather than doing everything parallel.

Don Firth

28 Mar 02 - 01:55 AM (#677914)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: Don Firth

harmony, in music, simultaneous sounding of two or more tones and, especially, the study of chords and their relations. Harmony was the last in the development of what may be considered the basic elements of modern music—harmony, melody, rhythm, and tone quality or timbre. The polyphonic superposition (see polyphony; counterpoint) of horizontal melodic lines prevailed until the 16th cent., when the vertical or harmonic construction of chords was established. Rameau, in 1722, presented the idea that different groupings of the same notes were but inversions of the same chord. During the 18th cent. the concept of tonality, with the major and minor modes as its basis and with a certain chord serving as the key center of a composition, became general. The polyphonic music of Bach has a harmonic structure. As the system of triads and their relations was explored, the principle of modulation appeared, and composers developed freer concepts of tonality; Liszt, Wagner, and Richard Strauss greatly expanded the chordal vocabulary of tonal harmony. Finally, in the 20th cent., some have discarded tonality in favor of music that is composed in terms of horizontal contrapuntal lines. --The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright © 1999, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Which is to say, we're right back to where we were before the 16th century.

Don Firth

28 Mar 02 - 02:30 AM (#677924)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,pavane

Also worth noting that harmony has its basis in the mathematics of music, in the ratios of the frequencies of the different notes. The interval of a fifth has a ratio of 3:2 (in perfect tuning - in modern even tempered tuning it is VERY slightly less). (This was first established by Pythagoras)

28 Mar 02 - 07:17 AM (#677990)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,Jawbone

Great, thanks folks!

28 Mar 02 - 07:49 AM (#677999)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,T-boy

I always thought it odd that harmony developed later than counterpoint (polyphony), because counterpoint can only be said to work properly if it doesn't conflict with what is regarded as good harmony. I suspect that people had a feel for harmony even though, stylistically, counterpoint was the thing.

28 Mar 02 - 09:14 AM (#678053)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: RichM

Here's a practical list to help learn harmony singing.

Lorraine Hammond taught us this in a wonderful workshop at "The Woods Music and Dance Camp" in the mid 90's. I've referred to it since, and have used it to teach basic harmony singing. For information about the Woods Camp, held in Ontario, Canada every summer click here!


(major except where specified)

Second: DO A deer
ARE YOU sleeping?

Minor Third: A-LAS, my love

Third: KUM - BA -ya
IF I loved you

Fourth: HERE COMES the bride
A-MA-zing grace
Fifth: TWINKLE TWINKLE little star
DON'T THROW bouquets at me

Sixth: MY BON-nie lives over the ocean
BE-YOND the blue horizon

Seventh: MA-RI -a
All at ONCE AM I several stories high


Second: THREE BLIND mice

Minor third: THIS OLD man, he played one

Third: Down in the VAL-LEY


Fifth: AS TIME goes by
I WISH I was in the land of cotton

Sixth: BYE -BYE blues

28 Mar 02 - 10:21 AM (#678115)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: lady penelope

Richard Digence ( I dunno how to spell his name ) said harmony was "picking a note and moving it round until the person next to you stops wincing" that seems to cover western and non-western ideas of harmony, eh?

TTFN M'Lady P.

28 Mar 02 - 01:48 PM (#678329)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: Don Firth

Good one, Rich. The instructor in my sight-reading class at Cornish School used a similar line-up. Very helpful.

Years ago I watched a TV program on which Leonard Bernstein was explaining the fundamentals of music to kids. Among other things, he lined out a huge number of pieces (popular, classical, everything!) that started out with the first four notes of "How Dry I Am." Amazing! Try "Plaisir d'amour" for openers. . . .

The opening words of "The Star-Spangled Banner" outline a major chord, starting on the 5th, e.g.: O-oh say can you see (G-E-C-E-G-C). The next word, "by" is an E above the top C. No wonder it's a bitch to sing--a span of an octave and a third within the first six words.

All kinds of fun stuff if you look for it.

Don Firth

28 Mar 02 - 02:08 PM (#678344)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: RichM

...And let's not forget that classic:
The Three Stooges: Hello, Hello, Hello!

Three notes that are the 1-3-5 of a major chord!

28 Mar 02 - 03:17 PM (#678396)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: GUEST,Lynn

I learned to harmonize by having an older brother and sister who'd sing with me....became especially good at doing something like an alto part before the voice changed. Later, I'd sing with Simon and Garfunkle recordings and fill in what would be the third harmony part. A lot of it can be done by ear, but depends a lot on what your ear has been acustomed to hearing,.I heard a good deal of PP&M as a kid, so that sort of sound was in my ear all along. Knowing theory is good, but when it starts bogging you down, go for the ear. By the way, in some eastern cultures, the concept of harmony is totally foreign to the music. What happens vertically (ie, harmonically) is purely coincidental.

28 Mar 02 - 06:45 PM (#678574)
Subject: RE: HELP: Definition of a harmony?
From: pavane

If you want to learn by ear, there are MANY examples of folk harmonies (Not the same as classical harmony!). How about the Dransfields on Rout of the Blues (if you can find it - as it has been Bulmerised) or the Young Tradition (their Banks of the Nile is one of my favourites).