Raising awareness of basic music theory and harmony concepts

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Seven Harmonies Tutorial

A few preliminaries are needed before going on to the harmonies...

Most Western music uses the seven-note major scale. The picture to the right shows the scale in the key of C. The 7 notes repeat in each higher octave. The major scale and music that uses it have a bright, outgoing feel. There is another, less common, scale, known as the minor scale, and it has a more introspective feel. There are other, even more rare, scales. Major and minor are the two most common scale modes. We are going to focus mainly on music made using the major scale.

A chord is a set of three or more notes. Chords have modes, too. A major mode chord, like the major scale, sounds happy and upbeat. A minor chord has a more subdued quality to it. A diminished chord has a very poignant, yearning, or haunting feel.

These short soundtracks demonstrate what the three chord modes sound like:


You can construct major chords out of certain notes of the major scale. Here's the surprise: you can also construct minor chords out of certain notes of the major scale! You can even make a diminished chord out of three major scale notes.

All of which leads up to this: the seven harmonies are chords. They are chords made from notes of the major scale. Three of them are major, three are minor, and one is diminished.

Here is the crucial point: each of the harmonies has a different emotional effect in the context of the key. Each one has a unique harmonic function and has its own individual personality. This variety is what makes music interesting and pleasing. The more you listen to these harmonies, the better acquainted you will become with the particular qualities and 'feel' of each one. And the easier it will be to recognize them in all the music you hear.

In the examples, the harmonies are arranged in order of most common to least common. For each, I have listed its mode and the qualities I hear in it. The 1 harmony is most important because it occurs most frequently. The others, in order of frequency of occurrence, are 5, 4, 6, 2, 3, and 7.

You can now start listening to the harmonies. Or, you can stay here and learn more about what makes up these seven chords.

The notes of the 7 harmonies

The diagram below shows the seven notes of the major scale. In this diagram the key is C major, but you could construct the scale in any of the other keys. The seven notes may be numbered 1 through 7, 1 being the first note of the scale, the note that defines its key. Note 1 is the tonic note.

C staff

If you build a three-note chord ('triad') on each of the notes, you will have the seven harmonies. In each chord, we start with a note of the scale, which becomes the root of the chord, and then take every other scale note until we have three notes.

chords The table below shows the 7 harmonies, the scale notes that are in each, and whether it is major, minor or diminished:

1 1 - 3 - 5 major
2 2 - 4 - 6 minor
3 3 - 5 - 7 minor
4 4 - 6 - 1 major
5 5 - 7 - 2 major
6 6 - 1 - 3 minor
7 7 - 2 - 4 diminished

These chords are the seven harmonies of Western music, and all the music you hear ó popular, classical, country/western, whatever, is made using them, and a few other 'secondary' harmonies related to them. In harmonized music, a note in the melody is given life by sounding one of these harmonies, one that contains that particular note. If the note in the melody is note 6 of the scale for instance, it could be harmonized using 6, 2 , or 4, because those chords all have note 6 in them. But the effect will be very different, depending on which one is used.

For now you don't have to remember what notes are in each of these chords, although that will be very useful to know later as you take your understanding to a deeper level. When you learn to play guitar, you learn the fingering for several chords, and you develop a feel for when to use each one. You donít bother remembering or even learning at all what the actual notes are in each of those chords, because itís not necessary for your purposes. We are going to use a very similar process here, except there is no guitar and no fingerings to learn. We are concerned only with learning when to use each of the chords, or equivalently, how to recognize the seven chord harmonies in the music we hear.

Check out the myths of music theory

It is time now to meet the harmonies. After the basic seven there is a section relating to the secondary harmonies, which are less common but still very important.

Go now to the 7 harmonies examples.

Basic music symbols and notation

Advanced topics

Interval arithmetic and harmony
The minor and modal scales
Modulation
The Circle of Keys

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