Author Topic: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)  (Read 8871 times)

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Michel.R.E

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creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« on: November 23, 2011, 01:20:08 PM »
(I'm not sure if this is the proper place for this)

After seeing some of the newer posts on the forum, I thought I'd set up a chain of exercises that may help understand some fundamentals of harmonic process.

The point of the exercise is to create a short HARMONIC phrase (ie: no melody, no rhythm). The harmony can be regular (one harmonic change every measure, or half measure) or irregular (a mix of harmonic changes in measures and half measures, with some repeated chords).

1) You may use ANY harmonic language you are comfortable with or interested in.
The point, however, is to render a basic harmonic framework for a short phrase - a dozen measures or so. But a phrase that WORKS, that has a starting point, a climax, and a return.

2) Keep the harmony simple.
Don't have your chords leaping all over the place. They should be all within the same register.

3) If the harmony has 4 notes, then write 4 notes.

4) If your harmonic foundation is "common practice" tonal, then do NOT use clusters out of nowhere. There has to be a sense of commonality to the material.

Your aim is to write your chords in such a fashion as to LEAD from one to the next, with a satisfying movement.
REGARDLESS of the tonal language you decide to use, you will NOT have parallel octaves. This is the single "rule" from common practice harmony that is still applicable today, regardless of your harmonic language.

Go.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Michel.R.E

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2011, 01:31:17 PM »
This exercise will eventually lead to adding internal rhythm, adding melodic material, etc...

So this is ONE way of creating harmonic framework for composition.

Once anyone has submitted material, we can look at other means of development.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

calebrw

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2011, 07:45:59 PM »
It's not quite as long as your talking about but i believe this is an example of what you are referring to or am I way off:

http://calebwilliamsphotography.com/music_files/Harmony-Ex-1.pdf

PS: This is original work for this exercise.

Michel.R.E

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2011, 08:42:47 PM »
To keep things simple, I prefer than these exercises be done on a grand staff, rather than separate staves, and preferably with no instruments selected. this is meant to be neutral.

If you start out giving it orchestration, it defeats the purpose of the exercise.

This way, you can examine the harmony in as pure and undiluted a fashion as possible. This opens possibilities for when it IS time to orchestrate and develop.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

calebrw

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2011, 09:19:19 PM »
Viola! No pun intended.

http://www.calebwilliamsphotography.com/music_files/Harmony-Ex-1a.pdf

I probably should have done it this way to begin with as I have a better feeling what I did wrong (to my ear) in this harmony.

---

Please note that I updated the file at the above link as of 1:50 a.m. GMT -5, so if you viewed before then, please take a look, as this file contains three harmonic variations on the first file.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2011, 11:48:49 PM by calebrw »

Ron

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2011, 09:49:17 AM »
I'm curious to see where this will go.  :)

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Michel.R.E

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2011, 10:11:37 AM »
excellent Ron.
the point is to create a satisfying harmonic progression which could serve as a launching point for a lengthier composition.

For example, with your progression, you could now start sketching out a thematic idea that would go over the harmony.
the tempo doesn't have to remain the same, nor the absolute order of the chords.

You could, for example, take the first two measures and stretch that out to 6 measures of music.
The idea is to look at "inner phrasing" within your new harmonic framework.

Where is there a good "pause" in the harmony.
Where might you go back and forth between two chords (to extend a passage, for example, you might repeat a sequence of two or three chords).

Within the type of language you are using, is a single chord enough to sustain the creation of melodic material that extends longer than a beat or two?

So, in other words, once you start stretching the material, you will find spots where you might want to add "passing harmony".

For example, Ron, in your third measure, you might eventually want to add passing harmony between what is now beats 3 and 4.
(I'm not saying this is something you should do, I mean that it is an example of a possibility)



I've found that when we start composing, we tend to think of harmony as something that necessarily requires frequent change.
This is harmonic rhythm.
And harmonic rhythm CAN be rapid, but if you stop and examine some of the better known "classic" works in the repertoire, you'll soon come to realize that most harmonic rhythm is relatively slow.

Beginners tend to write music that has frenetic chord changes.
This ends up forcing them to return to their "tonic" often, and in the end, equals boring music that sounds as though it just cannot "take off".

Some of the good ol' "tools of the trade" of the common practice era composers are actually still quite useful when adapted to contemporary musical language.

Take for example, a harmonic sequence.
Obviously, a contemporary harmonic sequence will probably not revolve around the repetition of a group of secondary dominants.
but a harmonic progression, or even a thematic progression, that has a natural "shift" to it (for example, one that covers a certain intervallic distance) is a great basis for a sequence. A phrase might repeat at intervals of a 2nd, or 3rd, or anything else you choose or that fits. Once might even consider making the repetitions uneven in intervallic relationship (first one a 2nd, second one a 3rd, third one a 4th, etc...)

This also has the advantage of repeating material, which helps cement the building blocks of the music into the audience's ear.
And it does so, without being a literal repetition.

"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Michel.R.E

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2011, 12:21:45 PM »
Viola! No pun intended.

http://www.calebwilliamsphotography.com/music_files/Harmony-Ex-1a.pdf

I probably should have done it this way to begin with as I have a better feeling what I did wrong (to my ear) in this harmony.

---

Please note that I updated the file at the above link as of 1:50 a.m. GMT -5, so if you viewed before then, please take a look, as this file contains three harmonic variations on the first file.


In standard tonal harmony, you don't use 2nd inversion harmony, unless it's a passing chord (double passing notes) between IV and V, in a cadential context.

measure 24-25, the harmony would be better served by using the augmented C chord to go directly to F major, and THEN moving to A minor.

The difficulty here is that your tonal progressions are a little iffy.
you are writing harmony in a very traditional manner, but making a lot of simple errors of voice leading.

Take that as you will.

The point of this exercise isn't to correct your harmony.

From one of your sketches, you decide what you can stretch out. Which single measure can become 2 or even 3 measures? Which set of chords in your progression creates a strong sense that there should be an interesting melody above it.

This is where you start to try out the head of a melodic idea.

One difficulty you will find with the examples you've posted is that they do not start on a tonic. It's not wrong, nor impossible, it's just an added difficulty in creating a characteristic theme that will establish the framework for a longer piece.

Remember, you are NOT going to just add a melody to your harmony as it stands now.

You will need to stretch it out.
You will probably have to add a few new chords between some of the pre-existing chords.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

winknotes

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2011, 06:45:18 AM »
I'd like to get in on this if I may.  Here's my progression which basically is polychordal at the interval of a M2.  I'm still considering the ending phrase thinking I might need one more chord before the last. 

Please forgive the engraving travesty on the last measure. 

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Ron

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2011, 08:12:00 AM »
I'd like to get in on this if I may.  Here's my progression which basically is polychordal at the interval of a M2.  I'm still considering the ending phrase thinking I might need one more chord before the last. 

Please forgive the engraving travesty on the last measure. 
Hi Steve,
In Finale page view you can grab the right handle of the last measure and drag it until you get a properly-sized measure. I'm leaving the tech comments to Michel, but, I do like your finale polychord.
Ron
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Michel.R.E

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2011, 09:33:08 AM »
looking at your polychordal passage, it brings up some interesting elements that are possible with this type of harmony.

Seek out the intervals that are disjunct... any leaps. use those as a means of creating melodic spacing.

For example, if there is a sudden drop of a 5th in the bass part, the harmony above can remain the same while you insert a melodic fragment in that bass part, one that will lead into the next harmony, and cover the intervallic gap.

This affords you the opportunity of stretching out harmony without it just feeling "slow".

And of course, nothing stops you from allowing the "static" harmony above to jiggle and jitter around itself. (for example, one or more notes could move back and forth to a neighbor tone).
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Ron

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2011, 02:19:41 PM »
Here's one interpretation of the first 8 measures of harmony I proposed.

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winknotes

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2011, 01:44:18 PM »
Here's one interpretation of the first 5 bars of my original chord progression.  It's a light waltz but I can also hear it as something a little more dramatic.  At any rate it's one idea. 

This really is a great exercise.  It's amazing to turn 5 bars of skeletal music into 16 bars of actual music that feels like it's going somewhere.  This is also somewhat liberating to me as well.  I grew up learning from a composer who writes what I like to call "bleep blop" music.  The message I got was that there always had to be something different and although I might have interpreted that in an extreme way, I've never felt my music had any direction or focus.  Trying to write a lengthy piece of music from say 3 or 4 notes is possible, but from the mindset I just described, it's very frustrating.  Working this way gives one a little more material to work from but still stay 'organic' based on whatever motivic material I come up with. 

Michel, let me know if I'm skipping any steps in the process you're laying out.  And thank you for taking the time to do this. 

Steve Winkler



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« Last Edit: December 03, 2011, 01:51:18 PM by winknotes »
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Michel.R.E

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2011, 02:34:08 PM »
I think this is all great.

Now, a fun thing to do is to use the exact same material and re-write something in a COMPLETELY different mood, structure, texture, melody, etc...

this is a wonderful way to understand development.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Ron

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Re: creating a basic harmonic template (exercise)
« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2011, 06:02:30 PM »
Okay. This time the first measure and a half turns into a kind of drone.

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