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#1
How much do you guys care about the "rules" of traditional four-part harmony? Stuff like avoiding parallel fifths/octaves, good voice leading, doubling, etc? Do you consider these things when writing or do you just do whatever seems right?

Do you think the traditional harmony rules are at all relevant nowadays?

Personally, I think they're quite useful. They've helped me write independent lines instead of just chord blocks + melody like I used to. But then again, I think they can also be restrictive if followed too religiously.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Sep 28, 2014,
#3
Quote by Elintasokas
How much do you guys care about the "rules" of traditional four-part harmony? Stuff like avoiding parallel fifths/octaves, good voice leading, doubling, etc? Do you consider these things when writing or do you just do whatever seems right?

Not at all. If it sounds good, it doesn't matter if composers follow traditional harmony rules or not.

Do you think the traditional harmony rules are at all relevant nowadays?

As of the 1920s, Jazz (and Modernism*, I think, but I don't know much about that movement) blew traditional harmony rules right out the window. Good voice leading is still nice, but traditional harmony means shit-all compared to "Sounds good? Then it is good!".

*If I'm wrong on the Modernism thing, someone please correct me. I'd rather be educated on it than make a wrong assumption. Ahem! Jazz_rock_feel?

Quote by Elintasokas
Personally, I think they're quite useful. They've helped me write independent lines instead of just chord blocks + melody like I used to. But then again, I think they can also be restrictive if followed too religiously.

I write independent lines too, but I don't bother with traditional harmony rules when doing that. Instead, I consider the notes I want and go from there.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at Sep 28, 2014,
#4
They're not rules. They're behaviors. There is a certain natural tendency with the lines of tonal harmony. I like to use chemistry as an analogy. Do protons and electrons behave the way they do because someone made a rule, or is it simply nature?

Once you are fluent in the language of tonal harmony, you will see how silly it is to refer to these as a set of rules.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Sep 28, 2014,
#5
Quote by Xiaoxi
They're not rules. They're behaviors. There is a certain natural tendency with the lines of tonal harmony. I like to use chemistry as an analogy. Do protons and electrons behave the way they do because someone made a rule, or is it simply nature?

Once you are fluent in the language of tonal harmony, you will see how silly it is to refer to these as a set of rules.

Yeah, I definitely agree with you. I didn't mean literally rules, that's why I put it in quotation marks :P Referring to them as rules is pretty stupid now that you say it.

It was just a bad choice of words.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Sep 28, 2014,
#6
I will admit it may seem arbitrary or even limiting when you're still "on the training wheels" so to speak. But as someone who primarily and purposefully write with tonal harmony even though it is no longer culturally or fashionably relevant, I find immense satisfaction in working with something that almost takes on a life of its own, with its own behaviors and tendencies, like taming a mystical and regal beast.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#7
Quote by Xiaoxi
They're not rules. They're behaviors. There is a certain natural tendency with the lines of tonal harmony. I like to use chemistry as an analogy. Do protons and electrons behave the way they do because someone made a rule, or is it simply nature?

Once you are fluent in the language of tonal harmony, you will see how silly it is to refer to these as a set of rules.


at first i was gonna say that relating this to subatomic physics was dumb

but actually that's pretty damn good. a lot of people like to dip their feet in concepts by personifying abstract notions and pretend they "want" to do something. a voice wants to do this and an electron wants to do that and from that structure they (hopefully) deconstruct their previous personifications until their understanding best matches reality.

this kind of dumb-dumb talk can be pretty destructive sometimes but i guess overall it's alright
i don't know why i feel so dry
#8
Principles aren't rules. There are no rules.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#9
It depends who you are. If you're comfortable being limited by the rules of tonal harmony (I don't mean that the way it sounds (i.e. as a slight), I mean it literally) then learning the details of the language can only be helpful.

Quote by crazysam23_Atax

As of the 1920s, Jazz (and Modernism*, I think, but I don't know much about that movement) blew traditional harmony rules right out the window. Good voice leading is still nice, but traditional harmony means shit-all compared to "Sounds good? Then it is good!".

*If I'm wrong on the Modernism thing, someone please correct me. I'd rather be educated on it than make a wrong assumption. Ahem! Jazz_rock_feel?

Colloquially modernism is a super broad term that you could apply to virtually any work of art created after 1900 that seeks to advance the style of that art form. So you really can't be wrong here. In terms of detail you're also pretty much right. The 'modernist movement' proper includes the music written by Schoenberg and friends at the turn of the century. That said, it also includes the music of Stravinsky and the neoclassicists who embraced traditional harmony, so the whole term is really just one big cock up.
#10
But modes...

Kidding

I agree with Xiaoxi. I see them as a series of tendencies with various results of consonance and dissonance if followed or not. Once you understand that, and are comfortable, then it's just a peripheral understanding, but you do as you like.

Best,

Sean
#11
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
Colloquially modernism is a super broad term that you could apply to virtually any work of art created after 1900 that seeks to advance the style of that art form. So you really can't be wrong here. In terms of detail you're also pretty much right. The 'modernist movement' proper includes the music written by Schoenberg and friends at the turn of the century. That said, it also includes the music of Stravinsky and the neoclassicists who embraced traditional harmony, so the whole term is really just one big cock up.

Fair enough. Thank you.


Sidenote: Would you mind PM'ing a few starting points for the "Modernist Movement"? I would like to listen to and study it a bit, but I'm not sure where to start. Thanks in advance.
#12
It's very useful and precise tool but sometimes you just need to smack some things with hammer to make them work.

It's also good way to get yourself out of dead end.

Not sure what to do next in your piece?
Everything you try sounds like shit?
Use Traditional Harmony(TM)!

And yes, I'm using it.
#14
I'll follow common practice rules if I'm composing something in a common practice style. They're still relevant. I think it's more important to be aware of these rules/tendencies than to follow them. I mean, Hindemith didn't write his book on traditional harmony because he thought we should all be actually composing in common practice styles. If for nothing else, it's good to know what they are so you don't have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.
#15
i use them 100% of the time when figuring out whether to use f or f# for my sub
#16
Quote by Xiaoxi
They're not rules. They're behaviors. There is a certain natural tendency with the lines of tonal harmony. I like to use chemistry as an analogy. Do protons and electrons behave the way they do because someone made a rule, or is it simply nature?

Once you are fluent in the language of tonal harmony, you will see how silly it is to refer to these as a set of rules.


Exactly.

THe idea of "breaking the rules" isn't new ... you can see it in Beethoven, for example.

But rather than calling it "breaking the rules" it might make more sense to call it "deviating from what you normally expect for a reason."

eg, V7 wants to go to I. That's a "rule" of harmony if anything is. Does that mean V7 has to go to I? Of course not! It doesn't have to go anywhere.

But if you're not writing with an awareness of how V7 tends to want to go to I, then you're painting colorblind. Take it to I, don't take it to I, do whatever the heck you want ... but KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING. Know what not taking it to I does.

eg, Lennon and McCartney didn't know the "rules." But if you look at their music, you'll sure as heck hear that they understood what the music was doing. They understood that a V7 wanted to go to I. Sometimes they went to I. Sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they made you wait for it, to great effect.

But they weren't just sort of randomly picking chords to harmonize the melody. They were clearly doing more than just picking something because it "sounds good."
#17
Quote by HotspurJr
But they weren't just sort of randomly picking chords to harmonize the melody. They were clearly doing more than just picking something because it "sounds good."

To me, part of "it sounds good" also comes with the knowledge of why it sound goods. What I mean is, using your example, V7 wants to go to I. If you cause it somewhere else, then know what's going to happen. It's not just stab in the dark stuff.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at Sep 29, 2014,
#19
Quote by HotspurJr


eg, V7 wants to go to I.

i'd prefer a v6 but i don't drive in any case

doesn't sound like a hard and fast rule to me
#21
Excuse my ignorance, but is there an exact definition of traditional four-part harmony? With simple major and minor chords, you can only play/sing 3 notes without repeating or adding a note outside the triad. Or maybe I'm overlooking something.

You could have a melody that clashes against the chord, but with quartet like music, might this clash? Even then, you would essentially make a 4-note (quartad?) chord...
#23
Quote by Will Lane
Excuse my ignorance, but is there an exact definition of traditional four-part harmony? With simple major and minor chords, you can only play/sing 3 notes without repeating or adding a note outside the triad. Or maybe I'm overlooking something.

4 parts just means 4 voices playing together. Yes this often means doubling one of the tones of the triad, but also often a voice is addressing the 7th of the chord as a passing tone which means 4 distinct tones of a triadic chord (1 3 5 7)

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#25
Quote by Will Lane
Excuse my ignorance, but is there an exact definition of traditional four-part harmony? With simple major and minor chords, you can only play/sing 3 notes without repeating or adding a note outside the triad. Or maybe I'm overlooking something.

You could have a melody that clashes against the chord, but with quartet like music, might this clash? Even then, you would essentially make a 4-note (quartad?) chord...

Yeah, you double one tone. In root position chords you double the root, in first inversion you double the soprano tone and in second inversion you double the bass (there are some exceptions). You can also use seventh chords or nonharmonic tones (either accented or not) if you like as long as you resolve them.

I think it's good to study at least a little bit of it if you make tonal music. I learned to look at suspensions and anticipations in a different way. Instead of thinking of a sus chord, I started thinking about tones that have delayed resolutions and continue from the previous bar from the next.

One important part of voice leading is that you should avoid consecutive octaves and fifths, because they cause two voices to blend into one. Not that big of a deal in Jazz/pop due to its homophonic nature. The voices in the chords aren't even supposed to be independent.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Sep 30, 2014,
#26
I think its massively important to understand how intervals created against some musical context create (or not) expectations in the listener, and mastery of this means you have more chance of controlling the emotion you want them to experience.

Harmony books are summarising what commonly was (or is) employed for writing purposes, but remember that chord forms beyond 7ths got mainly ignored if you go back to the older books. They got less treatment.

For me, I know which scales (or rather pool of intervals to mostly use) and chords offer what sort of sounds, and put these together as sounds right for what I want to achieve.

Most of the fun comes when adding chromaticism, or consciously playing a different scale or the same scale in a different key, to what is "correct", an dit doesn't require a lot of intellectualising over.

I personally believe that poorly written harmony books (dense in jargon, and showing concepts in piano score in particular) can actually slow down or even reverse someone's musical progress, if taken too literally. I know loads of people completely scared off , which is criminal. This stuff is really easy to understand, but shrouded inh mystique, which I hate.

Charlie Parker once said "you're never more than a semitone away from where you need to be" ... he's right ... try it.

But It's just as important to have a proper grip on on- and off-beats too, as placement of notes against these create very different effects to the ear. More generally, having a grasp on how to (de-) emphasise notes really helps. Even more generally, rhythtm (phrasing) is massively important.
#27
Quote by jerrykramskoy
I think its massively important to understand how intervals created against some musical context create (or not) expectations in the listener, and mastery of this means you have more chance of controlling the emotion you want them to experience.

Harmony books are summarising what commonly was (or is) employed for writing purposes, but remember that chord forms beyond 7ths got mainly ignored if you go back to the older books. They got less treatment.

For me, I know which scales (or rather pool of intervals to mostly use) and chords offer what sort of sounds, and put these together as sounds right for what I want to achieve.

Most of the fun comes when adding chromaticism, or consciously playing a different scale or the same scale in a different key, to what is "correct", an dit doesn't require a lot of intellectualising over.

I personally believe that poorly written harmony books (dense in jargon, and showing concepts in piano score in particular) can actually slow down or even reverse someone's musical progress, if taken too literally. I know loads of people completely scared off , which is criminal. This stuff is really easy to understand, but shrouded inh mystique, which I hate.

Charlie Parker once said "you're never more than a semitone away from where you need to be" ... he's right ... try it.

But It's just as important to have a proper grip on on- and off-beats too, as placement of notes against these create very different effects to the ear. More generally, having a grasp on how to (de-) emphasise notes really helps. Even more generally, rhythtm (phrasing) is massively important.


Great post, and great points. I especially like your term "pool of intervals". I'm going to borrow that term when I teach my students, because that's a great descriptive that really positions itself as being more than just knowing scales.

Although triads can have a voice doubled and it therefore being 4 part harmony, in my mind that's redundant, and I consider 4 part harmony as 4 voices, i.e. 7ths.

+1

Best,

Sean
#28
Quote by jerrykramskoy

I personally believe that poorly written harmony books (dense in jargon, and showing concepts in piano score in particular) can actually slow down or even reverse someone's musical progress, if taken too literally. I know loads of people completely scared off , which is criminal. This stuff is really easy to understand, but shrouded inh mystique, which I hate.

Walter Piston's books.... Oh the horror.
#29
"Walter Piston's books.... Oh the horror"


AAAARGGHHH. That guy put me off for years, until I was lucky enough to find a great teacher. I understood harmony through him in around 5 hours, and have been learning how to use it musically ever since. Best thing, there's always new surprises.

In the intro to a book I've written ("The Wood"), I draw a comparison between music score and Thai language, and that expecting someone to be a fluent reader before appreciating the harmonic concept being taught is like asking someon to learn the Thai language just to cook a couple of meals for friends.

I sincerely hate how inaccessible the formal educationalists make music theory. It is just wrong on every level. Off my soap box!
#30
Thanks Sean. Appreciate it. You teach for a living?

BTW: Any tips on providing mp3's to this site? I've uploaded a few, which work fine on soundcloud, but cause a "player error" on UG.
#31
Quote by jerrykramskoy
Thanks Sean. Appreciate it. You teach for a living?

BTW: Any tips on providing mp3's to this site? I've uploaded a few, which work fine on soundcloud, but cause a "player error" on UG.

They removed the mp3 functionality from this site very recently. Just post SoundCloud links from now on.

And yes, Piston's texts are horrendously tedious. I actually read through Fux's Gradus Ad Parnassum counterpoint book and did all the exercises. Although the material was pretty complex and took months to learn completely, it was way more pleasant to read due to the way it was written.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Sep 30, 2014,
#32
Quote by willT08


doesn't sound like a hard and fast rule to me


That's exactly the point.

V7-I is probably the most important, foundational idea in functional harmony.

And it's not a hard and fast "rule."

It is, rather, a tendency. A desire. V7 wants to go to I.

But you can't always get what you want.

If you are writing music with an understanding of the fact that V7 wants to go to I, then you can effectively have V7 go to I or NOT have it go to I. You can manipulate it.

If you are writing music without an understanding of that, then you're just picking stuff at random.
#34
Hi Jazz_rock_feel

100% agree ... where "you" also (primarily) includes the punters listening.

It's only about a year or so ago when I learned there was experimental research behind note resolutions. A friend lent me a book on music psychology, (sweet anticipation, by David Huron) which I'd never had any prior thoughts about ... and research has shown that people do indeed have expectations set up, even if they hear some other culture's music and know zero about music.

There's a strong hint there about helping to create music that people latch on to, remember, and enjoy.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Sep 30, 2014,
#35
Quote by HotspurJr
....But you can't always get what you want....

...but if ya try sometimes....with chords in ya mind.... IT RESOLVES WHERE YA NEED..... AWWWWWWWW YEAH!!
Quote by AlanHB
It's the same as all other harmony. Surround yourself with skulls and candles if it helps.
#36
Quote by jerrykramskoy

Charlie Parker once said "you're never more than a semitone away from where you need to be" ... he's right ... try it

Goddamn I don't know how I've never come across this post. That is genius!!! Then again it's Bird...


edit... eeeh just searched for this. You sure you didn't mean Miles?

http://www.happizine.com/youre-never-more-semitone-away-miles-davis

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Oct 1, 2014,
#37
I do. I've been teaching for years.

The link in my signature goes to my Online Guitar/Theory School. I've been teaching students online since '09, and at my Brick and Mortar since '04.

I recognize your knowledge as well. My guess is Berklee, or you picked it up from a pro, or someone closely associated with Berklee as an Alumni.

Keep posting. We need quality contributors to this place! Glad to have you!

As for UG and MP3's it looks like that's a thing of the past. They recently stopped hosting MP3s. Soundcloud might be the best way to share audio now.

Best,

Sean

Quote by jerrykramskoy
Thanks Sean. Appreciate it. You teach for a living?

BTW: Any tips on providing mp3's to this site? I've uploaded a few, which work fine on soundcloud, but cause a "player error" on UG.
#38
If by rules of harmony you are talking about common practice, then you are talking about an academically construcyed concept of harmony based on rules cherry picked from approximately 650 years of musical traditions. There are many rules which contradict each other. There are many rules which are not followed. Common practice is essentially building a model in your head of how harmony works so that later you have a framework to understand "real" music. There are also many things common practice does not cover, many which are prevelant in pop music

As for whether it helps or hurts, that's up to you. I think only naive people suggest information can hurt you.
#39
I've been reading the thread title all wrong.

It's not traditional harmony rules.

Its..... traditional harmony RULES


...modes and scales are still useless.


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#40
Quote by Xiaoxi
I've been reading the thread title all wrong.

It's not traditional harmony rules.

Its..... traditional harmony RULES


HAHA, I've been thinking it that way too.
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