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Home Music Study Vocal Music Text Book Section 8 - Harmony

Section 8 - Harmony

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 We had an exposure to harmony, when we used chords with melodies.  This is the basic stage of harmony.   When the Organ was invented centuries ago, musicians discovered the existence of harmony in sounds.

Today we know that colour is  caused by waves of light.  Different colors are produced by differing wavelengths which are basically vibrations.  We find that sound waves too generate different sounds, and some of them are inter-related.

A chord exhibits such a relationship.  The chords are classified as primary chords and  secondary chords.   To understand this we should go back to the harmony names that are given to the different notes of a scale:

Key Note, is the first note of the Scale.  It is also called the Tonic.   All the other notes bear a fixed relationship to this note and their distances from the Tonic are determined by the scale structure.

Two other notes, next in importance are the Subdominant (the 4th) and the Dominant (5th).   Chords based on these three important notes are called PRIMARY CHORDS of the major scale.  These are Major Chords.

There are four notes left out.   Excepting the Leading Note (7th), all the other notes produce SECONDARY CHORDS.  In the major scale, these are Minor Chords.

The chord on the leading note is a Diminished Chord in the major scale.

The Minor Scales having different structure, will produce a different set of chords.

Parts of Harmony

  The most common harmony is made of  four  parts  for Choral Music.    The top most part is called the Soprano and is generally in the higher range of the Treble Clef. It is complemented by a lower women’s part called the  Alto,   also in the Treble

Clef.   The Soprano, generally carries the melody or tune, and putting other voices higher than that detracts the melody.   However, when instruments are used to complement the voices, it does not sound objectionable.   However, we find this over-ruled, by many composers for specific reasons.

Imitating these two women’s voices are the Men’s voices: the higher being Tenor and the lower being Bass, both of which are written in the Bass Clef.

These four parts, get sounds from the chord, which is generally made of 3 notes, thus  one of the four voices duplicates one note of the chord.   While aesthetic sense of the composer determines the choice,  we are lucky to have our work cut out for us by the study of people before us.   There are many who have written about Harmony, and all have deduced rules for our guidance from the works of the Masters, and when we adhere to them we get a pleasing harmony.   In modern times with great upheavals in all forms of art, the aesthetic sense has been hijacked by innovators.  Thus everything that is "old" is consigned to the dust bin, and "modern" is in vogue.  Advertising and media pressure influence the choices of people, and only those with an understanding of the art, dare to make their own choices.  Most of the "modern" musicians have had a "classical" training from where they have made judicious choices while departing from the classic tradition.  This sense of judgment is enhanced with a study of the art form in its classical period.

In  traditional music, no two parts go in parallel in octaves or perfect fifths.    This is a fundamental rule.   There are many other rules which one could study from specialized books  on Harmony,

In order to learn to play and sing choral music, we propose to go step by step. In the previous pages, you have already played and sung two part harmony: One voice in the Treble Clef and the other in the Bass Clef.  This does not form four part harmony, because there will be parallel octaves throughout.   But, for the purpose of study, both Sopranos and Tenors will sing the same melody, and the Altos and Basses will sing the lower melody. You have.


Singers should try and sing the note names of the Latin set.  This will give you independence, and as time progresses  it will enable you to sing from the music sheet more easily.

We shall introduce, two voices in treble and one in bass, alternatively, one voice in treble and two voices in bass.   This is to make the work of the keyboard player a little easier.

At a final stage, we shall introduce 4 part harmony, initially easier pieces and later more difficult ones.

Finally, we shall give you Organ instrumental music, which will have more than four parts, and  by putting serious effort, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of the Organ Music, that has come down to us down the ages.


Every major scale has a relative minor scale.   It starts on La and ends on La of that scale.

Thus A minor scale starts on A and ends on A, it has the same key signature as that of the C scale, which is the natural scale.  Both these scales do not have any black keys.  However, in the minor scale, G often gets sharpened, and we sing it as “Sil” – i.e. sol sharp.

The relative minor scale of F major with 1 flat, will be D minor, which also has one Flat.   The Leading Note of the scale is C, and gets sharpened: and since it is Sol in the 1 flat scale, you will call it Sil   From this we can deduce, that the leading note of a relative minor scale often gets raised by a semitone, so that the distance between the leading note and  the following Tonic, can be a semitone.    This scale was called the Aeolian Mode in Gregorian Music which was based on Greek Modes.

Looking at it from another angle, if we want to convert the C  major scale into C minor scale, we will have to make all three primary chords into minor chords.  In order to do it, we have to lower the middle notes of the chords a semitone:

C major is C  E  G.    C minor  is  C  E flat   G.

G major is G  B  D    G minor is   G  B flat   D

F major is  F  A  C    F minor  is   F   A flat   C

Now the major scale with these three flats is E flat scale, with 3 flats.  In this scale  C is the La.     Hence C minor Scale is the Relative Minor of Eflat Major Scale.

Thus to convert a major scale into a minor scale we lower the mediant, submediant and the leading note of the scale by a semitone.   Sometimes, the leading note is not altered, so as to leave a semitone between the leading note and the Tonic.

The Harmonic Minor Scale has a minor chords on the Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant  - i, iv  and v)

A Melodic Minor Scale has two forms:

·        ff
The Aeolian, in which the seventh is sharpened   i   iv   V

·        The Dorian in which the sixth as well as the seventh are sharpened.

·        Students interested in further study of this subject should read specialized books on the subject.

Movements of parts in harmony:

fSince harmony is simultaneous movement of sounds on the horizontal plane, the vertical graph will show various types of movements.   These are:

·        Similar, when two voices move in a similar direction, upwards or downwards.


·        fOblique, when one voice is stationary, and the other moves away or towards it.

·        cContrary, when the two voices move in opposite directions.

In normal music all three movements are interwoven.

Fundamental rules of 4 part writing:

1.      dNo two parts in harmony may move in unison or in octaves with one another.



2.      fConsecutive perfect fifths by similar motion are not allowed between any two parts. The rule is recognized by all current books on harmony of Music

This example is taken from the work of a 'modern' composer..


3.      Hidden Octaves are forbidden between the extreme parts.

Soprano descends from E to C and Bass descends from F to C.  Also we see consecutive perfect fifths in Bass.   Try avoiding such transitions, and you will notice your harmony sounds much more effective.

4.      Hidden Fifths are forbidden between extreme parts.

5.      Consecutive Fourths between Bass and an upper part are forbidden

6.      Consecutive Seconds, Sevenths and Ninths are forbidden between any two parts.

7.      It is forbidden for two parts to go from a second to a unison.

8.      It is generally bad to approach or leave a unison by similar motion.


Rule 1:

·        Repetition of a melody in another voice does not constitute consecutive octaves.

·        If the two parts leap an octave it does not constitute consecutive octaves.

·        If the movement is between primary chords, and the octaves move in contrary motion then it is acceptable.

Rule 2.

·        This rule is much more frequently broken by great composers than the rule prohibiting consecutive octaves.  Consecutive fifths between the tonic and dominant chords are to be found.

·        If one of the two fifths is diminished  the rule does not apply, provided that the perfect fifth comes first.

·        A diminished fifth followed by a perfect fifth is forbidden between Bass and any upper part, but allowed  between two upper parts. Provided the lover or occasionally the upper part moves a semitone.

Rule 3.

A hidden octave is to be found that if two parts move from a smaller or larger   interval  than an octave, to an octave in smaller motion.

·        Hidden octaves are permitted between primary chords in root position. (with roots in the bass) when the bass must rise a fourth or fall a fifth, and the upper part move by a step (of a second).

·        When the second of the two chords is a 2nd inversion of the primary chord..    (See p.37) The bass note should be either the Tonic or Dominant of the key.

·        When the second chord is another position of the first.

·        Hidden octaves are permitted between upper parts.  It is strictly forbidden to move from a seventh or ninth to an octave.

Rule 4.

·        Permitted between primary chords – tonic to subdominant or subdominant to tonic, with the upper part as with hidden octaves moving by step.  The first of the two chords is not (as in the case of octaves) restricted to root position.

·        From the root position of a supertonic chord to the chord of the Dominant with the bass falling a fifth and the upper part falls a third.

·        When the second chord is another position of the former chord.

Rule 5.

·        When the second of the two chords is part of a fundamental discord  (like dominant seventh) or a passing note.

Classification of Intervals in Harmony:


The Major Key is used as the standard, and all intervals are counted as Tonic at the base. An interval is measured upwards, (in the ascending order of the alphabet).

The Tonic = C.

The Supertonic = D is a major 2nd  from the Tonic.

The Mediant =  E  is a major 3rd  from the Tonic.

The Subdominant = F is a Perfect  4th from the Tonic.

The Dominant = G is a Perfect 5th from the Tonic.

The Submediant = A is a major 6th from the Tonic.

The Leading Note =  B  is major  7th from the Tonic.

All octaves are "Perfect" and can not be modified.

When a major interval is lowered by a chromatic semitone (p. 27), it becomes a minor interval.   All minor intervals when lowered by a chromatic semitone, they become diminished.

All Perfect intervals (4ths and 5ths), when lowered by a chromatic semitone, become diminished.

All perfect intervals when raised by a chromatic semitone, become augmented.

Thus a major chord becomes a minor chord, when the third from the root is lowered by a chromatic semitone.   It becomes augmented, when the fifth from the root is raised a chromatic semitone.


Writers on harmony advise us that beginners should adhere to rules, till they form a habit of correct part writing.   When they have gained enough experience and their aesthetic sense has been fully formed, they could make exceptions to the rules, if they feel they are satisfied by the effect they want to achieve.      It is the trend now-a-days in all forms of art, to establish one's identity, by breaking up with tradition, not realizing  what beauty is being sacrificed, at the altar of  modernity.

There is also an attitude which indicates over confidence in oneself, and one's abilities.   Is not true, that there could always be a better composer than ourselves. Is it not true, that the Masters possessed a better genius that what we posses.  The rules have been culled from the works of these Masters, and a little bit of humility will go a long way, in making us, better composers.








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