Harmony using piano

What Makes a Harmony Good?

October 6th, 2017 Posted by Lessons No Comment yet

I love this question. The very nature of this question has fascinated me for over two decades.

Harmony is defined as the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a “pleasing effect”.

But who decides what is “pleasing”?

Ever since I began singing in middle School chorus, I’ve often found myself pondering the origins of harmony. Music and singing date back as far as human beings themselves do, so at what point did someone decide that pitches a major-third apart feel satisfying to the ear in a “pleasing” or “happy” way, but pitches a half-step apart, when sounded together, would instill a sense of “conflict”, “uncertainty” or even “danger”? I would find myself sneaking into my high school auditorium to tinker on the piano. I would play a “C”, “E”, and “G” together and wonder why my body, mind, and soul would respond positively to that sound, while, if I played the same “C” and “G”, but with an “E-flat” between them, I would suddenly be hit with a clear sense of “sadness”. Little did I know at the time, but by adding that “E-flat” I was making a “Minor Chord” instead of the “Major Chord” I had previously played. The more I learned about music theory, the more I began to understand that composers, from Mozart to Bruno Mars, used harmony to illicit very specific feelings in the listener. They are experts in the emotional resonance that happens in us when we hear certain combinations of notes.

So, again, what makes a combination of notes “pleasing”?

I guess it depends on both the intentions of the composer, and the expectations of the listener. So, while a composer writing a “feel good pop song” would never consider smashing their flat hand across the low end of a piano to create a “pleasing effect,” another composer, writing the score for a horror film, might do this very thing to scare the heck out of its audience. To that composer, that is a perfectly “pleasing effect” in that it achieves the intended emotional impact.

As the singer of harmony, there is one factor that is essential to making a harmony pleasing: It must be sung correctly.

Whether we are belting out a profoundly satisfying major chord to end the finale of a Broadway Musical Comedy, or singing complex arrangements of tragic songs about heartbreak, it is of utmost importance to the integrity of the music that the singers hit the correct notes if the intended emotional response is to be evoked. This skill, like any other, is only achieved with practice. Harmony Helper will not only assist you in your training, but will also allow you to form your own definition of what makes a harmony “good”.

There comes a time in every aspiring singer’s life when you successfully create harmony for the first time. The hair stands up on the back of your neck and flutters of goosebumps run down your arms. It’s in that very moment that you begin to define what makes harmony “good” to YOU.

Harmony Helper is here to provide you with that moment. Get ready.

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