Harmony, the basis for music creation

What is harmony?

This time we leave aside the technical information and focus on the artistic and musical part. A tonmeister (expert in arts and sciences of sound) must master both the technical and the artistic sides of music production. To learn music we must understand many concepts: melody, rhythm, harmony, instrumentation, etc. We'll begin with the basis for the music development: the harmony.

Harmony is the way we can combine the musical notes so that they generate some effect on the listener. Harmony has centuries of development, or rather, of discovery. In reality it is based on physical phenomena: vibrations, stationary waves and harmonic oscillations. (hence its name). These phenomena have always existed in nature. The human beings discovered that certain frequencies or vibrations sound good when combined. They analyzed and studied these combinations. This is the foundation of harmony.

In musical terms, harmony shows which notes can be used together in a "nice" way and which not. As I often say to my students: engineers and physicists call them 'frequencies' (Hz) and musicians call them 'notes', but they are two sides of the same coin. It's important to say that harmony will always be somewhat subjective. The idea of pleasant sound cannot be generalized at all.

In these days, we can name two basic types of harmony: the tonal or classical harmony and the modern harmony. Tonal harmony has strict rules that have been accepted for centuries and comes from ancient cultures like Greece or Rome. These rules were perfected in the Renaissance. Modern harmony is developed in the twentieth century and it is the basis of almost all popular genres today: blues, jazz, rock, pop, electronic, etc.

Traditional music schools, i.e. conservatories, teach tonal harmony. It shows the guidelines that have been used since the time of Bach and Mozart and remain valid in certain styles of music. Contemporary music schools often teach modern harmony. This is a less strict method and allows the use of resources that are forbidden in the classical field. Anyway these resources are an essential part of popular styles like jazz or rock.

You can get great results creating music from either of the two mentioned systems. That is, the music uses harmony and learning about it will allow us to develop our musical ideas. The goal is to master a tool that will be the basis to compose, arrange, improvise or play instruments. Harmony helps us to understand music in general.

In this space we will focus on modern harmony concepts. Stay tuned on my next articles about harmony. Next time I will talk about the basic building blocks of harmony: scales.

If you want to learn more about harmony and theory, check out my online course: Applied Modern Harmony, part 1!


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