Harmony

Harmony admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 17:56

In its simplest form, harmony occurs whenever two or more pitches are played at the same time. It also refers to the 'backing' chords which often accompany the melody in songs. Much of ear training and music theory practice is devoted to a study of harmony. By understanding the principles related to harmonic intervals, chords and chord progressions, you will find it much easier to recognize the chords in the music you hear. You will also have an easier time choosing chords to match your original melodies.

Harmony Singing

Harmony Singing admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 17:57

When you sing in tune together with other singers, you are creating the sound of an instrument playing a harmonic interval or chord. In a group setting, each harmony singer usually sings a tone that is part of the chord being played by the other instruments in the group. As with most other aspects of music, you will benefit greatly by understanding what you are doing - in particular how to construct chords.

You will always have a much easier time with vocal harmonies if you understand the chords in a song and are able to sing the tones of those chords. The simplest form of harmony singing is when you create a second vocal part that goes well with the lead singer's main melody. You often hear this in the refrains of popular songs, where the second voice 'adds weight' or gives emphasis to the chorus of the song. The two tones sung simultaneously by the lead singer and harmony singer create a harmonic interval.

When learning to sing harmony, try listening to some of your favorite songs that have two-part vocal harmonies and see if you can hear the intervals created by the two singers. Thirds and fifths are particularly common. See also if you can work out which chord degree is being sung by each singer.

Our game Vocal Match will give you great practice in singing parts of common harmonic intervals (levels 6-10) and chords (levels 11-20).

Chords

Chords admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:06

A chord is a set of three or more notes. Chords are usually made up of intervals, most commonly major thirds and minor thirds. Chords are also derived from scales and are used to provide harmonic accompaniment to the melody of a song. Chords are essential to providing harmony for a song. For example, when a pianist or guitarist accompanies a singer, he uses chords to create the harmonic accompaniment. By learning how chords are constructed and how different chords work together, you will start to recognize and remember the common chord progressions. You will also have a strong foundation for composition and improvisation.

Triads

Triads admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:06

The most basic chords are called triads, and they contain three different notes played at the same time. These notes are called chord tones and are arranged as follows:

root: the main note of the triad
third: a major or minor third interval above the root
fifth: a perfect fifth, diminished fifth, or augmented fifth above the root

There are four basic types (or "qualities") of triads: major, minor, diminished and augmented. Triads with major or minor quality are by far the most common triads found in popular music. Diminished and augmented triads appear often in jazz and classical settings, and also have specialized uses in popular music. The four basic triad qualities are built by stacking major third and minor third intervals in the following manner:

  • Major: Major 3rd + Minor 3rd (ex. C, E, G)
  • Minor: Minor 3rd + Major 3rd (ex. C, Eb, G)
  • Diminished: Minor 3rd + Minor 3rd (ex. C, Eb, Gb)
  • Augmented: Major 3rd + Major 3rd (ex. C, E, G#)

Use the demo app below to try out these patterns and see how chords are constructed for each of the four different triad qualities. First select a root tone, then press the button for the triad you want to hear.

Chord root:
Chord name: -

In order to work out the chords to a song by ear, you first need to be able to identify the quality of the chord - that is, whether it is major, minor, augmented or diminished. To begin, learn to sing and identify the arpeggio of the triad. This is made up of the individual chord tones played one after another in sequence.

The beginner levels of Tone Trees and Chord Locks will give you extensive practice in identifying triad quality and distinguishing the individual chord tones of the common triads, especially major and minor triads. With Tone Trees, you will also learn to visualize the shapes of different triads on piano or guitar.

Seventh Chords

Seventh Chords admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:09

When a triad is combined with a major or minor seventh interval, the resulting chord is called a seventh chord. The four most common types of seventh chords found in pop, jazz, blues, and R&B music are constructed as follows

Seventh Chord = Triad Quality + Seventh Interval Chord Degrees Example
Major 7th chord:   Major Triad   Major 7th Root, 3rd, 5th, 7th Cmaj7 (C, E, G, B)
Dominant 7th chord:   Major Triad   Minor 7th Root, 3rd, 5th, b7th C7 (C, E, G, Bb)
Minor 7th chord:   Minor Triad   Minor 7th Root, b3rd, 5th, b7th Cm7 (C, Eb, G, Bb)
Minor 7th flat 5 chord:   Diminished Triad   Minor 7th Root, b3rd, b5th, b7th Cm7(b5) (C, Eb, Gb, Bb)

Just as each note of a scale is given a number to represent its scale degree, each chord tone is assigned a chord degree to represent its position in the chord. Each chord degree always corresponds to scale degree of the major scale that starts with the root tone of the chord. For example, take a Dm7 chord, which has chord tones D, F, A, and C. Now look at the D major scale:

D major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
D E F# G A B C#
From the chart above, we know that a Minor 7th chord is made up of Root, b3rd, 5th and b7th.
  1. We start with the root, which corresponds to "1" or the first scale degree: D.
  2. Next comes the b3rd, which is simply the "3" or third scale degree (F#) lowered by one half step, so the F# in the scale gets lowered to F natural.
  3. Then comes the 5th, which matches the "5" of the D Major scale.
  4. Finally we get the b7th by taking the "7" of the major scale (C#) and lowering it one half step to C.

You can see from the above example that any seventh chord can be constructed simply by following the formula for the particular type of seventh chord you want. Try constructing some of your own seventh chords. You can check yourself with the demo app below. First select a root tone, then press the button for the seventh chord you want to hear.

Chord root:
Chord name: -

The intermediate and advanced levels of Tone Trees and Chord Locks will train you to identify these various seventh chords whenever you hear them. With Tone Trees, you will also learn to visualize the shapes of different seventh chords on piano or guitar.

Inversions

Inversions admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:10

Most of the chords you hear in popular music are in root position, meaning that the root tone of the chord is also the lowest tone in the chord. When a note other than the root appears in the lowest position ("bass position") the chord is called an inverted chord.

If you take a typical C Major chord (chord tones C, E, G) and raise the root tone C up an octave, your lowest tone becomes E, and the chord is said to be in first inversion, because the 3rd of the chord (E) is in the bass position. Inverted chords are often written with a slash "/" followed by the name of the tone that is in the bass.

Using our previous example, we would call this first inversion chord C/E. This simply indicates that it is a C Major chord with E as the lowest tone. In the same way, if the 5th of the chord appears in the bass position, the chord is said to be in second inversion. So a C Major chord in second inversion would have G as its lowest tone, and we would notate the chord as C/G.

In the intermediate and advanced levels of Tone Trees and Chord Locks, you will work with all kinds of inversions. With Tone Trees, you will also learn to visualize the shapes of different inverted chords on piano or guitar.

Arpeggios

Arpeggios admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:11

An arpeggio consists of the chord tones for a chord played individually one after the other. This way of playing a chord is called arpeggiating the chord. On the other hand, if all the notes in a chord are played at the same time, then the chord is said to be a block chord. You can think of arpeggios as chords that have been "melted down" to their individual chord tones, and block chords as "frozen" arpeggios.

Sometimes the melody of a song is accompanied by a guitar or piano playing arpeggiated chords. In addition, arpeggios are often found within the melodies themselves, especially in folk songs, anthems and religious music. Very often, the tones of the melody are also found in the chord playing along with the melody, particularly on the strong beats.

By training your ear to identify arpeggio patterns when you hear them in melodies, it will give you a good clue as to what chord accompanies that part of the melody.

Phrase Fitter will train you to recognize arpeggios when you hear them in a song, and to quickly identify the chord which matches each arpeggio.

Spelling Chords

Spelling Chords admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:12

The process of spelling chords (also known as 'building chords') refers to being able to name the tones that are found in a particular chord. Given the name of any commonly used chord, most accomplished musicians can quickly tell you the chord tones which comprise that chord.

For example, if you see or hear the chord Em, you should be able to immediately recite "E, G, B" - the chord tones for Em. Recall the following formulas (scale degrees from the major scale) for building these common types of chords:

A Major Scale: A B C# D E F# G#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
 
Major Triad: 1 3 5
ex. A Major (A, C#, E)
 
Minor Triad: 1 b3 5
ex. A Minor (A, C, E)
 
Diminished Triad: 1 b3 b5
ex. Adim (A, C, Eb)
 
Augmented Triad: 1 3 #5
ex. Aaug (A, C# E#)
 
Major 7th: 1 3 5 7
ex. Amaj7 (A, C#, E, G#)
 
Dominant 7th: 1 3 5 b7
ex. A7 (A, C#, E, G)
 
Minor 7th: 1 b3 5 b7
ex. Am7 (A, C, E, G)
 
Minor 7th, Flat 5: 1 b3 b5 b7
ex. Am7(b5) (A, C, Eb, G)
 

Eventually, you want to be able to quickly spell out the tones for any chord in any key. Chord Spells will make you a wizard at spelling all kinds of triads and seventh chords.

Roman Numerals

Roman Numerals admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:12

In music theory and in communication between musicians, chords are often represented with roman numerals which indicate the function of each chord within a particular key. Because Arabic numerals are generally used to indicate scale degrees, Roman numerals were adopted for chords in order to make an explicit distinction and improve clarity. If you see '1' in the key of C Major, you know it is referring to the tonic tone (C), while the Roman numeral 'I' refers to the tonic chord (C Major).

Whenever you see a Roman numeral representation of a chord, you know straightaway that the root of the chord has the same scale degree number (Arabic number) as the Roman numeral for the chord. Hence the IV chord in the key of C Major has as its root the 4 degree of the C Major scale (F), and the VIm chord in the key of C Major will have the tone A as its root.

There are different ways to represent various types of chords. Some musicians like to use lowercase Roman numerals for minor chords. This is especially common in classical music and traditional music theory textbooks. Other people prefer to use all uppercase Roman numerals, and indicate the type of chord explicitly by adding 'm', 'dim', 'aug', etc. This is the approach that we have adopted for our games and lessons. Here are the basic (most common) chords in Roman numeral format for the key of C Major:

I IIm IIIm IV V VIm VIIdim
C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

 

 

Number Blaster will help you to quickly place chords in their Roman numeral context for different keys. Chord Locks will also give you extensive practice at identifying various type of chords by ear as well as by roman numeral.

Chord Progressions

Chord Progressions admin Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:04

A chord progression is a sequence of chords. Chord progressions are often used to harmonize melodies. The chords that appear in a typical progression are closely associated with the key of a song. For example, take the key of C Major and its associated scale:

C Major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C D E F G A B
Now for each of the scale tones, create a triad built on top of that tone, and assign a roman numeral to represent the triad
I IIm IIIm IV V VIm VIIdim

In the key of C Major, these chords are the ones most likely to appear in a chord progression. The one exception is the VII diminished chord, which tends to show up more often in jazz and classical than in pop music. Notice that for chords we use roman numerals to represent the chord numbers within a key, rather than the arabic numerals which are used for numbering the scale steps. In any key, the tonic tone and the tonic chord carry the most weight.

All the other chords and tones tend to gravitate back toward the tonic tone and the "I" chord. If you think of harmony as a solar system, the I chord is the sun - the center of the universe. In a major key, there are three "primary" chords, which are the most important chords in that key and tend to show up more often than other chords. These primary chords are the I, IV and V. The vast majority of folk, gospel, blues and good bit of rock music are based around these three chords.

All tonal music makes heavy use of primary chords, so learning to recognize the I, IV and V in any key is a crucial part of your ear training. Chords tend to progress from one to another in very typical ways. By knowing the common patterns, you gain valuable clues that can save time when you're trying to figure out the chords to a song by ear. One very general rule is that chords within a key very often move in fifths:

 
IIIm -> VIm -> IIm -> V -> I
 

Whenever you have identified one of the above chords in a progression and are looking for the next chord in the sequence, you can look at the chart above to find a very strong candidate! Certain sequences of chords tend to come up over and over again in popular music, so it is very helpful to be able to recognize these patterns.

By learning the patterns as numbers (in roman numeral format), you will be able to identify them in all keys. As an added benefit, knowing the important chords and patterns in all keys will also help you to better remember songs you've already learned. With enough training, you start to mentally group certain chords together, making it easier to remember them in the songs you already know.

Speaker Chords will help you recognize which chords are commonly found together in the same song. You will learn to identify chord patterns from a wide variety of styles and genres, and you will better understand the relationships between chords in the same key. By playing Speaker Chords regularly, you will soon be able to quickly name the chords from almost any song you hear.