• Note Relationships: Melody and Harmony

    in Piano,Theory

    melody and harmony

    A note can be defined as any sound that belongs to any of the twelve pitch classes on the piano.

    It is a music sound with a precise pitch. Here are the twelve of them:

    If you know what alphabet letters are to language, atoms are to chemistry, then you’ll appreciate what notes are to music.

    Even though music scholars don’t emphasize the subject of notes enough, HearandPlay.com places much value on them. In more occasions than one, our president and founder has taught us that notes can become anything in music.

    Notes can form scales.
    Notes can form intervals.
    Notes can form chords.

    This explains why we stop to make notes our focus every once in a while.

    The process of making music largely depends on the relationship between these notes and in this lesson, we’ll be looking at two levels of relationship that exist between notes. Note relationship basically refers to the way in which two or more notes are connected.

    Even though this lesson is suitable for beginners, I’d also recommend it for everyone, especially teachers.

    Note Relationship #1 – Melody

    When a sequence of notes are connected in such a way that they are played or heard separately, the outcome is known as melody.  Any idea that is an outcome of the relationship between single notes is said to be melodic.

    Even though melody is a sequence of notes, subjecting it to a detailed examination (aka – “melodic analysis”) will show you that it is deliberate, it has a sense of direction, and most importantly – a meaning.

    Let’s look at the two most important observations to make in melodic analysis – melodic direction and motion.

    Melodic Direction

    In music, there are two directions – the ascending and descending directions.

    On the keyboard, the ascending direction is to the right-hand side while the descending direction is to the left-hand side.

    A melody can move in both directions at the will of the composer. If you eventually start composing your own music, all you need to do is to choose a note, and then ascend or descend at your discretion.

    Let me add that it is not musical to have just one direction. A creative melody alternates between ascents and descents.

    While trying to determine an unknown melody, do your best to move towards the direction of the melody. Below are the notes for the melody of the song “Kum Bah Yah”

    Kum:

    Bah:

    Yah:

    The melodic direction of the song is in the ascending direction. No matter how you move towards the descending direction, you’ll never produce the kum bah yah melody.

    Melodic Motion

    When a melody is played or heard, the notes related can move in stepwise or skipwise motion.

    Stepwise Motion

    The movement of a note to its adjacent note will produce a stepwise motion, regardless of the direction (ascending or descending).

    In the ascending direction, stepwise motion from C:

    …will either be Db:

    …or D:

    …and that depends on the key that we’re in. While in the descending direction, stepwise motion from C will either be B:

    …or Bb:

    …and that depends on the key that we’re in.

    Skipwise Motion

    Skipwise motion is the movement of a note in such a way that it skips adjacent notes to other notes in both the ascending and descending directions.

    In the ascending direction, skipwise motion from C:

    …can be E:

    …G:

    …or even C:

    While in the descending direction, skipwise motion from C can be A:

    …E:

    Note Relationship #2 – Harmony

    When a sequence of notes are connected in such a way that they are played or heard at the same time (simultaneously), the outcome is known as harmony.  Any idea that is an outcome of the relationship between notes that are heard at the same time is said to be harmonic.

    Although, the notes sounded together are usually pleasant (aka – “consonant”), harmonic relationships can also be unpleasant (aka – “dissonant”). However, this does not mean that we can label any set of pitches sounded together as harmony.

    Harmony is the outcome of the relationship…

    In our definition of harmony, there is emphasis on the word relationship. Before a set of pitches is qualified to be called harmony, there must be a relationship between the notes.

    There are two basic relationships between notes that are harmonically related – scale relationship and interval relationship.

    Two common harmonic ideas are intervals and chords. In this segment, I’m going to break down the relationship between the notes of an interval or chord.

    Analysis of Intervals Using Scale Relationship

    Interval is the relationship in pitch between two notes in terms of the distance between them.

    Further reading: Six Characteristic Features of Intervals & Beyond Distance: The Second Dimension of Intervals.

    Intervals can be analyzed using scales.

    Let’s analyze the interval C-E using the C major scale.

    C and E:

    …when sounded together can be described as an interval because they are related by the C major scale:

    Considering that C and E encompass the first and third tones of the C major scale (emphasis on the word third), the relationship between C and E is known as a third.

    The description of all intervals in music is built around the relationship of the notes to a given scale.

    In the analysis of intervals, the major scale is usually used as a reference.

    Given another interval F-B…

    F and B:

    …when sounded together can be described as an interval because they are related by the F major scale:

    Considering that F and B encompass the first and fourth tones of the F major scale, the relationship between C and F is known as a fourth.

    If we go deeper comparing F and B:

    …with the first and fourth tones of the F major scale, which are F and Bb:

    …we’ll see that F and B is larger than F and Bb, which are the first and fourth tones of the F major scale, because it consists of a note (B) that is not in the F major scale. However, because this interval uses the “B” letter, we know it’s some type of fourth.

    Such larger intervals are known as augmented intervals (“augment” means to make bigger). Therefore, F-B is an augmented fourth.

    Any combination of two notes that are not related by a particular scale cannot be determined.

    Analysis of Chords Using Interval Relationship

    Although a chord is a collection of three or more notes sounded at the same time, not all collection of pitches will produce chords.

    The notes of a chord are related by the interval¬†(aka – “class of harmony”) between them.

    The distance (aka – “interval”) between the notes of a chord can be in second, third, or fourth intervals.

    Attention: Using intervals to analyze chords will entail the use of scales too. This is because you can’t determine an interval without making reference to a particular scale.

    Let’s consider these classes of harmony before we round up.

    Secundal Harmony

    In this class of harmony, the distance between chord tones are in seconds. A second is basically an interval that encompasses two tones in a given scale.

    Using the major scale of C, chords can be formed by stacking notes in seconds. Starting from C:

    …a second from C is D:

    …and a second from D is E:

    Stacking all three notes would produce:

    The chord formed is correct because it can be analyzed as the relationship between notes in an interval of seconds.

    Tertian Harmony

    The distance between chord tones in tertian harmony is in thirds. A third can be formed by encompassing three tones in a given scale.

    Using the major scale of C, chords can be formed by stacking notes in an interval of thirds. Starting from C:

    …a third from C is E:

    …and a third from E is G:

    Stacking all three notes would produce:

    The chord formed is correct because it can be analyzed as the relationship between notes in an interval of thirds.

    Quartal Harmony

    In this class of harmony, the distance between chord tones are in fourths. A fourth is basically an interval that encompasses four tones in a given scale.

    Using the major scale of C, chords can be formed by stacking notes in fourths. Starting from C:

    …a fourth from C is F:

    …and a fourth from F is B:

    Stacking all three notes would produce:

    The chord formed is correct because it can be analyzed as the relationship between notes in an interval of fourths.

    Final Words

    Notes are the genesis of music.

    Understanding how notes are related is of the greatest possible importance in music.

    You can apply your understanding of:

    Melody. By analyzing any known melody, determining the melodic motion and direction and more.

    Harmony. By understanding the relationship between harmonic ideas, whether chords or just intervals.

    We’ll be exploring these relationships more in subsequent posts.

    See you then.

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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