• Keyboard Harmony 101: The Fundamental Precepts Of Harmony

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    In today’s lesson, we’ll be looking at the fundamental precepts of keyboard harmony.

    This lesson covers all the basic things you need to know before you start accompanying melodies with chords (aka – “chordal accompaniment”.)

    Right before we get into all that, let’s review the term harmony.

    “What is Harmony?”

    Harmony is a relationship between pitches that are heard at the same time.

    The outcome of harmony can be pleasant (consonant) or unpleasant (dissonant.) When harmony is pleasant it is said to be concordant and when harmony is unpleasant it is said to be discordant.

    A chord is a collection of related notes [in harmony] and in this introductory lesson to harmony, we will be focusing on concordant chords, that sound pleasant.

    Having defined harmony, understanding what chords are won’t be difficult.

    “What Are Chords?”

    A chord is a collection of related pitches. The relationship between the notes of a chord is based on a scale and a class of harmony. In other words, using any given scale (the C major scale for example), you can combine notes in seconds:

    …thirds:

    …and even fourths:

    …or fifths:

    …to form chords. In this lesson, we are focusing on harmony in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“).

    Using any scale, we can stack notes in interval of thirds to form chords. But before we go into all that, let’s look at consonance – the pleasant outcome of a collection of notes.

    Consonance

    The outcome of a chord depends on the intervals it is made up of (aka -“intervallic constituents”) One of the intervallic constituent that makes a chord sound pleasant is the perfect fifth interval. Time would fail me to outline the scientific and acoustic proofs to this claim.

    In this elementary keyboard harmony lesson, we’ll be focusing on Major and minor triads (that have the perfect fifth as an intervallic constituent.)

    Scale Degree Chords

    Using the C major scale:

    …we can form the following scale degree triads

    A third from C:

    …is E:

    Another third from C-E:

    …is G:

    Altogether, we have C, E, and G:

    …a triad.

    Following the same procedure, you can form other scale degree chords from the tonic (C):

    …to the octave(C):

    The tonic chord (aka – “chord 1”):

    The supertonic chord (aka – “chord 2”):

    The mediant chord (aka – “chord 3”):

    The subdominant chord (aka – “chord 4”):

    The dominant chord (aka – “chord 5”):

    The submediant chord (aka – “chord 6”):

    The leading note chord (aka – “chord 7”):

    The tonic chord (aka – “chord 8”):

    These are the scale degree chords we can form using the C major scale as our underlying scale and stacking notes in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“.)

    At this point, it is needful that I say something on inversion.

    Inversion

    Inversion is the rearrangement of the notes of a chord. Although there are two styles of inversion – the keyboard and the chorale style – we are focusing on the keyboard style in this lesson.

    This rearrangement involves the octave transposition of the lowest note (aka – “bass note“) of the chord. In the C major triad:

    …if we transpose the lowest note (C):

    …an octave higher:

    …this produces the first inversion of the C major triad:

    …repeating the same procedure by transposing the lowest note in the first inversion of C major triad (which is E):

    …to a higher octave:

    …produces the second inversion of the C major triad:

    Primary Chords

    Primary chords are chords that have the same quality with the key that you are in.

    Suggested reading: An Exposition On The Primary Chords In The Key.

    For example, in the key of C major, there are only three major triads…

    The C major triad:

    …the F major triad:

    …and the G major triad:

    …while the rest happen to be triads of other qualities like minor triads of the second:

    …third:

    …and sixth:

    …degrees and the diminished triad of the seventh degree:

    Triads of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees in the key of C major are major triads.

    They are considered as primary chords because they create a sense of the tonality that we are in. Considering that we’re in the key of C major, major chords enhance the major quality of the tonality.

    In this basic keyboard harmony lesson, our goal is to get acquainted with these primary chords and how to harmonize melodies with them on the keyboard. So, at the end of this course, you’ll be harmonizing the tones of the scales on the right hand with left hand primary chords on the left.

    Before we get into chordal accompaniment on the left for right hand scales, let’s consider what music scholars call voice leading principles.

    “What Are Voice Leading Principles?”

    The notes of the chords can be considered as voices or voice parts.

    During chord progression, which is the harmonic movement of chords from one degree of the scale to another, there are strict principles you must follow that would help you make the smoothest progression from one degree of the scale to another.

    These principles are known [to music scholars] as voice leading principles.

    In a chord progression in the key of C from chord 1:

    …to chord 4:

    …you’d see the distance between chords 1 and 4. However, using voice leading principles, two chords that are distant can be connected smoothly.

    “So, What Are These Voice Leading Principles?”

    There are several voice leading principles, however, we’ll be focusing on two of them that are relevant to today’s lesson. The first one that says:

    In a chord progression, the common notes between the chords are retained while the rest of the notes moves to the closest possible option.

    This voice leading principle governs your movement from chord 1 to chord 4 [and vice-versa.] For example, in the case of the C major triad:

    …to the F major triad:

    …the common tone between these two chords is C:

    …therefore C is retained and then the two remaining voices of the C major triad (which are E and G:

    …would move to the closest possible options (which are F and A):

    This is how you can progress from chord 1:

    …to chord 4:

    …smoothly, by retaining the C and moving the two other voices to the closest possible option.

    The second voice leading principle governs your movement from chord 4 to chord 5 [and vice-versa.] It says:

    In a chord progression between two adjacent chords, the voices should move in an opposite direction.

    Chords 4 and 5 are adjacent chords. In the key of C, a chord progression from the F major triad (chord 4):

    …to the G major triad (chord 5):

    …is between two adjacent chords – you can see them side-by-side. If all the voices move to their closest possible option (following the first voice leading principle we covered), we’d have the F major triad move from its second inversion:

    …to the second inversion of the G major triad:

    However, the first voice leading principle holds only for chords that have at least a common tone, not adjacent chords. Instead of moving from the second inversion of the F major triad:

    …to the second inversion of the G major triad:

    …in the same direction, the voice leading principle governing adjacent chords recommends moving in an opposite direction – from the second inversion of the F major triad:

    …to the first inversion of the G major triad:

    Voice Leading The Primary Chords

    Now that you have understood two voice leading principles, let’s put the chords together…

    Chord 1:

    …the C major triad.

    Chord 4:

    …the F major triad.

    Chord 5:

    …the G major triad.

    Let’s end today’s lesson by harmonizing the major scale using these primary chords on the left hand.

    Harmonization Of The Major Scale Using Primary Chords

    The C major scale:

    …can be harmonized using the primary chords we covered in this lesson. Here’s how it works…

    The first tone:

    …is harmonized by chord 1:

    …the root position of the C major triad.

    The second tone:

    …is harmonized by chord 5:

    …the first inversion of the G major triad.

    The third tone:

    …is harmonized by chord 1:

    …the root position of the C major triad.

    The fourth tone:

    …is harmonized by chord 4:

    …the second inversion of the F major triad.

    The fifth tone:

    …is harmonized by chord 1:

    …the root position of the C major triad.

    The sixth tone:

    …is harmonized by chord 4:

    …the second inversion of the F major triad.

    The seventh tone:

    …is harmonized by chord 5:

    …the first inversion of the G major triad.

    Final Words

    I’m glad that we’ve started this journey into the world of harmony together. In another lesson, we’ll be learning how to harmonize in all the keys.

    Until then, explore the ideas we’ve covered so far.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 zino

    great … little secret but very powerful

    Reply

    2 Abas

    hmmm! what an insight.
    yeah @Zino …little secret but powerful

    Reply

    3 godson

    you are the best!

    Reply

    4 Lalio

    I’m sorry, but this wasn’t very helpful…

    Reply

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