How to Learn Musical Harmony

Harmony is the basis for all of the vertical elements in a musical composition. Learning harmony is the first step toward becoming an accomplished composer. Without harmony, a composer will be missing a significant portion of their musical training. Even a composer that does not write traditional music will benefit from learning about the properties that helped to create the most successful music of the past.

Step 1 Learn the notes of the musical alphabet. There are several tricks for learning these pitches, but it is best to simply memorize them. You must learn the pitches in the treble clef and the bass clef. The treble clef and bass clef both have five lines and four spaces. In the treble clefs, the notes move from line to space: E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F, with F-A-C-E occurring on spaces and the other notes on lines. In bass clef, it is G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A with A-C-E-G on the spaces. It is also possible to add sharps and flats, which raise and lower pitches a half step.

Step 2 Study the musical intervals. An interval is the distance between two notes on the staff. The intervals to learn are the major and minor 2nd, the major and minor 3rd, the perfect 4th and 5th, the major and minor 6th, the major and minor 7th, the octave and the tritone. Learn how many half steps make up each of these intervals so that you can learn to construct chords. The two main intervals you must learn immediately are a major and minor third. The major third consists of four half steps, and the minor 3rd consists of three half steps.

Step 3 Learn to build major, minor, augmented and diminished triads. Chord construction always moves from the root of the chord upward. A major triad consists of a major third and a minor third. Minor triads consist of a minor third and a major third. Diminished triads have two minor thirds and augmented triads have two major thirds.

Step 4 Learn about the major and minor scales. Each note of a scale has a degree attached to it. In a C major scale the notes, C-D-E-F-G-A-B are equivalent to the I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII scale degrees. These scale degrees are important for constructing progressions.

Step 5 Learn about chord progressions and how they are constructed. Chord progressions involve the process of moving from one chord to the next to create a progression. The goal in classical music is the tonic. The tonic is the first scale degree. To move from one chord to the next, avoid moving to a nearby scale degree. For instance, if you have a I chord, do not move to a II or a VII chord, as both of those chords are next to the I chord. Also, do not move into a VII degree until you learn about all of the special requirements for these chords.

Step 6 Learn about more advanced concepts such as 7th chords, 9th chords, secondary dominants and other chords used in Western music. It is best to get an instructor at this point, as a full course in harmony could take up to two years to complete. Having an instructor check your work is crucial.

Find an instructor by searching online, looking through newspapers and contacting local colleges and universities.


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