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Harmonies

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guitarheaven
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I've searched around these forums for threads about harmonization, but couldn't really find any. I consider tone, range, and breath support to be important parts of singing, but I also think the ability to harmonize is also there. What I mean be harmonizing is the ability to create harmonies on the spot, without an instrument or pre-written harmonies at hand to be of assistance. Sometimes I can do this to the melodies of the music that I listen to, but mostly, it fails. I'm wondering if any of you are successful at improvising/creating harmonies on the spot, because it's a skill that I want to learn.

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I can do a second and third harmony on the spot as long as the melody stays fairly simple. Knowing the third and fifth of a scale on a guitar neck off by heart probably helps a lot. For example, the notes in the E minor scale are the exact same notes as in the G major scale. G major is also the second harmony scale of E minor, so all one needs to know for that basic second harmony is to start off a little higher on the guitar neck, but still in the same scale, as the lead harmony.

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Making up harmonies is an arranging skill where knowledge of music theory helps. Although I think a lot of people can intuitively make up harmonies on the spot. The most common way to harmonize is to sing either above or below the melody line at an interval that would start to form a triad. if you had a 2 part harmony, the three notes together would form a chord. The chord would move up and down with the melody. Of course there are a ton of variations, and you also hear a lot of harmonies that don't move up or down with the melody. When I make up harmonies it is a trial and error type of thing using my ear as the judge - whatever sounds good.

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Extending what has already been said, the first harmonies that can be added 'by ear', without any other accompanyment, are the parallel 3rds, in the key, above the melody, or down an octave from that, which gives the parallel 6ths in the key. This gives a reasonable 2-part harmony.

What is not included in this approach is the fact that most song melodies are constructed to fit into an harmonic structure. The undergirding harmonic structure for almost all pop, rock and folk songs contains chords, and being able to hear these chord tones in the musical imagination is the first step to being able to sing them.

IMO, the very best way to learn how to do this is simply to sing along with songs as they are played. Learn the melody by listening several times to the song, and then focus your attention into the harmony in the instrumentation... and sing along with it.

Though I had training as a singer in this as a youngster, when I really started to get better at this was in high school, singing along with songs at parties, or at home with a pair of earphones on. After doing this with dozens of songs, you begin to recognize patterns of harmony that occur commonly in songs, which fall into certain patterns. Knowing how to sing into those patterns is very helpful in your overall development as a harmony singer.

All that will help your 'ear' for harmony.

Advanced development can come from getting multi-part song books (like hymnals, for example) and singing those harmony parts.

Finally, there are very good books for getting 'head knowledge' about how song harmony works, which can be learned to help in the harmonization, by planning, or by improvisation.

I hope this helps.

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The idea about working with parallel thirds above the melody line or as 6ths below it is a great starting place to learn how to harmonize.

The only thing I would add is that you need to be aware of whether or not the song is in a minor or major key so that the 3rds follow along as either major or minor 3rds.

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The idea about working with parallel thirds above the melody line or as 6ths below it is a great starting place to learn how to harmonize.

The only thing I would add is that you need to be aware of whether or not the song is in a minor or major key so that the 3rds follow along as either major or minor 3rds.

singingmastermind: Excellent point!

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I never realized until I read the post above that this is, of course, why we call the sad scale minor and the jolly scale major, simply because of the minor or major size of the 3rds, 5ths and 7ths (we dont use that terminology in Swedish). Hmmm, interesting.

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I never realized until I read the post above that this is, of course, why we call the sad scale minor and the jolly scale major, simply because of the minor or major size of the 3rds, 5ths and 7ths (we dont use that terminology in Swedish). Hmmm, interesting.

I'm glad it got you thinking. I'm curious, though. What terms do you use in Sweden?

I visited your country many years ago and LOVE it and the people, so I'm wondering how you explain it there.

You guys have been around a whole lot longer than we have, after all! :)

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Thanks ;)

We call minor=moll, and major=dur. Apparently, they're taken from old latin words, moll means soft and dur means hard. I think the Germans do the same thing? We call a minor 3rd a "small 3rd", and a major 3rd a "large 3rd," (although everyone understands and uses the English terms too).

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Singing in harmony with a song frees my up to learn the lyrics and timing. Since I am not trying to match the pitches of the singer and just be in harmony, I can focus on those other aspects. And, at times, I will do it in funny voices. Sometimes a low monotone, as if I were just another instrument in the sonic mix. And then I will try it in different accents. I can do a fairly decent austrian accent ala Schwarzenegger. I can speak English with a mexican accent (I have a lot of exposure to that.) Anyway, I will try these different things and I think they strengthen a sense of harmony.

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Choir singing can be a good way to learn how to harmonize. After you've sung in choirs for a while, you'll probably start to "hear" the notes that would "normally" go with a melody. And when you start listening to harmony in pop music, you won't be able to stop. :) To harmonize by ear, it may be easier to start with "oooh" instead of also trying to sing unfamiliar words.

To answer Matt's question, yes, in German, "moll" and "dur" are also used. In French, we say "majeur" and "mineur", although "bémol" means flat and and "dièse" means sharp.

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What makes a scale "major" or "minor" is the third only. The fifth and seventh don't indicate major or minor.:)

If you're interested, below is a little explanation:

The fifth doesn't change with major or minor; that's why it's called "perfect" (and so is the fourth). The seventh is flat or not depending on the minor scale you use.

There are three minor scales: natural, harmonic, and melodic.

The easiest way to find the natural minor scale is to use all the same notes as its relative major scale which is three half steps up. A minor has all the same notes as C major, which happen to be all the white keys on the piano. E minor has the same notes as G major, B minor is "related" to D major, etc.

To find the harmonic minor, play the natural minor but raise the seventh. Or to find this minor scale from its parallel major, the third and sixth are flatted, and the seventh is not. So a C major scale is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, and a C harmonic minor scale is C-D-Eb-F G-Ab-B-C.

The melodic minor uses different sixths and sevenths depending on whether you are ascending or descending. In the key of C, the melodic minor is C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C going up and C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C going down.

Regarding harmonizing, listen to the chord that is being played under the melody note and pick a note from it (usually the note closest to the melody.) It's important to hear that chord because the melody note may or may not be in that chord. If neither your harmony note nor the melody note are in the underlying chord, it can sometimes sound too dissonant, though sometimes it can work.

Respectfully submitted.:lol:

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By the way, there is a chord that includes both a major and a minor third. It's a major chord played with a minor tenth, and a great example of it is the D-10 in "Maybe I'm Amazed" by The Beatles. It's in the chorus after Paul McCartney sings, "Maybe I'm a man, maybe I'm a lonely man who's in the middle of something that he doesn't really understand." The notes are D in the bass and F#-A-D-F in the chord.

Also, you can play a chord without expressing major or minor by playing just roots and fifths. I notice this a lot in blues music.

Hope this is of interest to somebody (besides me!)

Maggi Bass Player

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Also, you can play a chord without expressing major or minor by playing just roots and fifths. I notice this a lot in blues music.

hardrock does that a lot too, sometimes adding an octave. If you think of smoke on the water, for example, the root chord, G, would indicate a minor, by its relation to the following chords, but the G in itself is only a root and a fifth.

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By the way, there is a chord that includes both a major and a minor third. It's a major chord played with a minor tenth, and a great example of it is the D-10 in "Maybe I'm Amazed" by The Beatles. It's in the chorus after Paul McCartney sings, "Maybe I'm a man, maybe I'm a lonely man who's in the middle of something that he doesn't really understand." The notes are D in the bass and F#-A-D-F in the chord.

MaggiBass: With that voicing, its functioning as an augmented 9th chord without the 7th. :)

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