What is harmony in music?

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What is a harmony?

In music, a harmony refers to two or more complementary notes played or sung at the same time. For example, a choir might sing in harmony, with one section singing the melody while other sections sing the accompanying harmony.

As another example, when playing the piano, the right hand will most likely play the melody (the recognizable main tune), while the left hand will simultaneously play complementary notes or chords that work with the key and melody, and therefore will create harmony.

What are the different types of harmonies and techniques?

Four-part harmonies are frequently used in music, with the parts separated into the different scales of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. This configuration can be used in arrangements for choral music as well as string quartets, for example.

Four-part harmonies are also often used in music written for keyboard instruments, such as the piano. For example, the left hand can play a series of triad chords (which contain three notes – the root and the third and fifth intervals above), while the right hand plays the melody.

Harmonies can have different structures. For example, a piece may include parallel harmonies (also known as parallel movement), which is when two voices (or parts) move in the same direction (up or down in the ladder) with the same number of intervals (jumps between notes – from B to G, for example).

Other types of harmony include similar movement, where both parts move in the same direction but with different intervals.

Static motion involves both parts repeating notes – for example, the first part may play B, B, while the second part plays G, G.

Oblique motion involves one part moving up or down the scale while the other part plays the same note repeatedly.

Meanwhile, the opposite motion sees one part go up the ladder, while the other part goes down the ladder.

All of these harmony techniques are used to help create additional interest, texture, and dimension to a piece of music.

More musical terms explained

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