Learning to play harmony

Posted: 4/29/2020 9:25:03 PM
DanielMacKay

From: Halifax, Canada (east coast)

Joined: 7/28/2019

This is more about playing harmony. I'm a team player and while I know the tmn is the spectacular solo instrument, I need to be able to help other people shine too.

When I was growing up I was always extremely envious of my cousins' ability to harmonize at family concerts. I now regret not learning to do that at a young age but - hell, it's never too late to start, right?

Now I know that I could tackle this via music theory - figure out what key the section of music is in, what chord the main instrument is currently exploring and pick notes off the Circle of Fifths that fit.

But I have an idea that there's a way to learn by ear too. Has anyone else learned to play harmony by ear? How did you do it?

Posted: 4/30/2020 1:26:54 PM
dewster

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

"When I was growing up I was always extremely envious of my cousins' ability to harmonize at family concerts. I now regret not learning to do that at a young age but - hell, it's never too late to start, right?"  - DanielMacKay

I know exactly how you feel.  I wish I'd somehow learned to sing harmony when I was young, as I suspect it's one of those things that's easier to learn when your brain is newer and more plastic.

"Now I know that I could tackle this via music theory - figure out what key the section of music is in, what chord the main instrument is currently exploring and pick notes off the Circle of Fifths that fit."

True, harmony is basically playing some note (other than the melody) in the current chord.  The D-Lev LED tuner might be able to help do this, as the key is usually an obvious pattern.  When I'm goofing around adding "accompaniment" to songs I'm playing along with, this is how I improvise (play notes in the key pattern).

"But I have an idea that there's a way to learn by ear too. Has anyone else learned to play harmony by ear? How did you do it?"

My old roommate can sing harmony easily.  In her case it was years of chorus in HS, and decades of listening to music with clear harmonies in it, like old country / folk.  She can play guitar, and at one point had a duo gig with a friend where she sang harmony.  I think singing harmony has a lot to do with training your ear.  Though how people sing harmony without getting derailed by the melody seems almost like magic to me.

Posted: 4/30/2020 3:30:32 PM
DreadVox

From: The East of Netherlands

Joined: 6/18/2019

For myself, singing or playing harmony 'second voice' is something I learned to do by ear and at an early age already, I don't analyze it consciously but I think it is about picking another tone that is or could be part of the chord that goes with it, probably most of the time fifths or fourths above or below the primary melody line.
Listening to examples and singing and listening what happens, singing along with the main and harmony lines of existing/recorded music, and I guess joining and practicing with a choir could be good, but probably not much like that happening while this covid19 emergency measures are in effect.

Posted: 4/30/2020 4:25:29 PM
Valery

From: Russia, Saint-Petersburg

Joined: 6/6/2016

Singing / playing harmony is an interesting topic. I want to advise you to sing the notes of a chord (scale) and remember them. Then you need to play any instrument, and on the theremin, too, while singing aloud, and then mentally notes of the chord. The brain will gradually get used to this and it will be easy. It is good if you have a keyboard instrument or guitar at home. This makes it very easy to sing chord sounds without mistakes.

Posted: 5/1/2020 7:25:01 AM
MuteNewt

Joined: 4/29/2020

Ive played theremin for all of four days, so I’ll answer based on my vocal/guitar background. I learned basically the same way as Dewster’s old roommate, high school chorus provided a lot of ear training while singing harmony parts in duos and trios without anyone to match gave part independence and the opportunity to improvise. I’d listen closely to harmonies and try to pick them out. I found the development of my harmonic ear largely followed the development of harmony in western music, I.E. first I tended towards parallel fifths and pedal tones, then I learned how to harmonize in thirds/sixths (which is actually the same thing since a major third up from the melody is the same note (in a higher octave) as a minor sixth down and a minor third up is the same note (in a higher octave) as a major sixth down). This one remains my go to harmony when first figuring out a harmony and is very common in popular music (I’ll describe it more below). After that, I learned how to harmonize other chord tones (providing the 7th or an extension to the chord), often the role of the baritone in a barbershop quartet, which takes practice and is generally best when there’s a lot of other harmonic content so that you can create in-tune dissonance. To start, I’d recommend practicing keeping parallel fifths in tune and learning how to do the third/sixth harmony (which can be done by learning to recognize it in songs and singing along with the harmony vocal).

From a theory perspective, the trick to the third/sixth harmony approach is to be conscious of where the melody is in the chord and to play the major/minor interval based on that. So if you are playing a major key song and the melody note is the root, you want to play a major third above (or minor sixth below) the note. If the melody moves to the third, you then want to play a minor third above (major sixth below) the note, which puts you on the fifth of the chord (you could also switch places with the melody and play the root in this case). If you stayed in parallel major/minor thirds all the time you’d go out of key (in the last example, if you stayed in parallel thirds and the chord didn’t change you’d end up playing a dissonant interval in the chord, which could be cool, but has to be very intentional). A good, clear example of this harmony is the harmony in the last verse of the Beatles “All My Loving,” which I think follows this form the whole way through.

After you get good at parallel harmonies, try practicing harmonies that mirror the melody (the melody goes up, you go down, which can be super cool if you meet in the middle and then cross voices so a high harmony becomes low or vice versa). Then start getting really crazy and start doing different rhythms from the melody (changing note at half the frequency as the melody is a good gateway into this). Then learn counterpoint and become a baroque composer (note, I’ve skipped this last step).

The world of harmony is very fun, enjoy! Now I’ll go back to picking out the worlds easiest theremin melodies. I’ve almost got twinkle twinkle little star down, if you pretend not to notice the drifting key!

Posted: 9/18/2020 12:14:27 PM
RichKiddey

Joined: 9/18/2020

I think thats thing is about experience. Only with practice you can get more skills like feeling the music, even if you are not creating it.

Posted: 9/18/2020 2:54:14 PM
DanielMacKay

From: Halifax, Canada (east coast)

Joined: 7/28/2019

Very very interesting discussion here folks, thank you so much.

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