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Three-Part-Harmony

THREE-PART HARMONY

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THREE-PART HARMONY

Today, we will follow up on our previous harmony article. This post will explain how to create two harmony lines following a melody’s up-and-down contour.

Harmony parts can go below, above, or below and above a melody. The direction depends on who is singing and the desired warmth of the resulting sound. We need to consider the comfortable range of the singers, and each line has to be a good line to play or sing in its own right. That should take priority over making every note fit into simple close triads. We will explain the process in simple terms. Let’s begin!

1. KEY AND TONALITY

First, we need to know the song’s key and its major or minor tonality. The first chord is not, as some people think, always the Tonic chord – or key center, although it may be. Your ear will tell which chord feels like “home” each time you land on it. Note: the last chord of a song is usually a more accurate indicator of the key and its tonality. Our example in this post is in the key G major. (Click here to view music notation)

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2. CHORD PROGRESSION

Chords provide the harmonic context for your melody and any harmony lines you create. Therefore, you need to establish a chord progression before making harmony lines; It can be as simple as you like – even with only one chord sounding through the passage you wish to harmonize. In our example, we will use a progression that sits on G major for two bars and then C(add9) for two bars (the IV chord in the key of G with an extended ninth tone).

3. MELODY LINE

TABLE 1 shows our melody notes and their relationship to the root of the corresponding chord. It is important to understand the three basic concepts to write good harmony lines” Chord tones and extensions, Triads, and Tritones.

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a) Chord extensions

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Below are two octaves of our G major scale. The chord tones are in the first octave of the scale; they are the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th degrees of the scale; chord tones establish the tonality of the chord. The chord extensions are in the second octave of the scale; they are the 9th, 11th, and 13th; chord extensions add “color” to the chord. 

c) Triads and Inversions

When we add two harmony lines to a melody, we create momentary three-note chords as the lines move along “horizontally.” These brief chords are called triads and typically contain a root – third – fifth structure. However, the order of the notes in a triad can be flipped or inverted. When the fifth is the lowest note, the triad is in the first inversion, and when the third is the lowest, it is in the second inversion.

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4. FIRST HARMONY LINE

The notes of our first harmony line are on the third row in TABLE 3 below, and the arrows indicate the interval between melody and harmony notes. The first eight harmony notes are triad notes as follows:

The first harmony note is G: The the next note above the melody (D), in the first inversion of a G triad (D-G-B).

The second harmony note is B: The next note above the melody (G), in the root position of the G triad (G-B-D).

The third harmony note is C: The the next note above the melody (A), in the root position of an A triad (A-C-E)

We harmonized the following five notes the same way; each harmony note is the next note above the melody, in a G or A triad. We colorized G-triad notes in red and A-triad notes in green.

The first harmony note (G) is a perfect 4th above the melody note (D). Then, the harmony line follows the melody’s contour, in 3rds, up to the third note in the second bar (G), where it becomes a 4th again to fit the G triad.

Note: C is the 4th to the G major scale. We generally avoid the 4th because it creates a harsh, dissonant interval with 3rth in the accompanying chord. However, C is a short eighth note and resolves to D in the next harmony stack. In this context, C functions as a passing note.

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5. SECOND HARMONY LINE

We deviate from harmonizing straight root/3rd/5th triads, starting with the first black melody note in the second bar (A). Notes in the first harmony line follow the melody a perfect fifth above, and notes in the second harmony line double the melody up an octave.

Parallel octaves and fifths were “forbidden” in traditional part-writing rules, but you go with what sounds good in modern harmony. Remember that we want each line to be a good line to play or sing in its own right, and that should take priority over making every note fit into closed triads.

Notice that we used G instead of F# In the first bar, even though F# would have been a 3rd above the harmony note D. We do not use thirds to comply with a rule of thumb; we should always use notes that sound good to us. In this example, it sounds better to land o the root of the accompanying chord (G) than on the Major 7th (F#).

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THEE-PART HARMONY VIDEO

Summary

Here is your pathway to great songwriting!

You will write better songs or get your money back.

THE MINOR-KEY HARMONY COURSE

$20 Lifetime Access!

7-Day Money Back Guarantee

WATCH THE FIRST THREE LESSONS FREE OF CHARGE

COURSE PREVIEW

YOU WILL LEARN