What is Harmony?
So what exactly is harmony? Well, basically, harmony is anything
that accompanies the melody. Often, the harmony can occur as
chords, which are simply a few notes played simultaneously. Harmony
can also occur as broken chords, which are the same notes in the
chord, only they are played one after another. Often, listeners do
not even know they are hearing harmony because the composer hides
it so well from them. In almost all cases, though, the harmony that
is being played can be converted into a chord.
So what's the big deal with triads? Well, they are a very common form of harmony. By themselves, though, they don't mean too much. This is because music uses a wide variety of chords that have complex relationships to each other. Let's make up an example so that we understand this section better. Let's say we have a piece in the key of C Major. This means that many of the melodic notes are taken from the C Major scale. The basic harmonic chord also starts on the key of C (the notes would then be C, E, and G). Now this doesn't prohibit the composer from using other triads starting on other notes in the scale. For example, the composer can use a triad starting on G (the notes would then be G, B, and D).
By the way, there's a form of musical shorthand for quickly
identifying the proper triad. Musicians use roman numerals
corresponding to the starting note for identifying triads. For
example, if we're in the key of C Major, I would be a triad
starting on C. V would then be a triad starting on G.
Harmonic Progressions and Cadences
So, let's talk about some actual harmonic progressions. Cadences
are one type of harmonic progression that are often used at the end
of sections to settle the thought. Two common cadences are plagal
(IV to I) and authentic (V to I). These progressions are quite
simple and only consist of two triads. Composers have realized,
though, that they give the impression of completion to a section of
music. As a result, these cadences are also commonly used at the
end of an entire piece.
Inversions are our last topic, and they really are quite simple.
Let's take a C Major triad for example. The notes in this triad are
C, E, and G. The first inversion is simply E, G, and then C. The
second inversion is simply G, C, and then E. We simply took the
bottom note and put it on the top. Inversions are not important in
harmonic progressions because they do not change the triads.
Inversions can become important, though, when composers want
certain notes to stand out. For example, the top note in a triad
played on the piano will
always stand out just because the highest note is more audible. For
this reason, composers often place a melody note on the top of the
triad so that it can be heard more easily.
End of Music Theory
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