A Beginner's Guide to Four-Part Harmony - Music Theory

Music Matters
29 Oct 202028:04
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TLDRThe script provides a beginner's guide to writing four-part harmony. It starts by outlining the chord options available in the key of C major and explaining Roman numeral chord labeling. It then walks through an example melody, analyzing each note to determine which chords it fits with. Decisions are made about starting and ending chords and cadences to create structure. Then chord choices are explored to create a full four-part harmonic accompaniment. The goal is to provide the basics to start writing your own four-part harmony in a step-by-step, easy to understand manner.

  • πŸ˜€ The video provides a beginner's guide to writing four-part harmony
  • πŸ‘πŸ» Label chords using Roman numerals to distinguish from fingering numbers
  • πŸ”’ Major key chords I, IV and V are major; chords II, III and VI are minor
  • 🎹 Choose chords that fit the melody notes - each note fits 3 chord options
  • ✏️ Decide chord choices based on establishing key, avoiding consecutive 5ths
  • βž• Add passing notes and double chord tones to enrich the harmony
  • ↔️ Try to get contrary motion between upper and lower parts
  • 🎢 Use cadences like plagal (IV-I) and perfect (V-I) to end phrases
  • πŸ”€ Vary chord inversions (Ib, Ic) to avoid too many root position chords
  • 🎼 Analyze and experiment with chord choices to find what sounds best
Q & A
  • What are the two forms of labeling chords?

    -The two forms are basic Roman numerals (I, II, III etc.) and extended Roman numerals, where major chords are uppercase and minor chords are lowercase (i, ii, iii etc.).

  • What are the three chords that are major in every major key?

    -Chords I, IV and V are always major in a major key.

  • What is a cadence in music theory?

    -A cadence refers to the last two chords of a musical phrase. Common cadences are the perfect cadence (V-I), plagal cadence (IV-I), imperfect cadence (I, II or IV to V), and interrupted cadence (V-VI).

  • What does it mean when a chord is in first or second inversion?

    -When the lowest note of a chord is not the root, it's called an inversion. First inversion means the third of the chord is the lowest note, and second inversion means the fifth of the chord is lowest.

  • Why do we try to avoid doubling the third in major chords?

    -Doubling the third can make major chords sound dissonant. Minor thirds are more consonant when doubled.

  • What are consecutive fifths and octaves?

    -These are parallel motions of perfect intervals that can sound awkward. They occur when two voices move to another perfect fifth or octave.

  • What is a passing note?

    -A passing note is a non-chord tone that fills in stepwise between two chord tones, making the melody more interesting.

  • Why is diminished chord VII avoided by some textbooks?

    -The diminished chord can sound dissonant. Some books say to avoid it at first when learning harmony.

  • What is the purpose of doing Roman numeral analysis?

    -It allows you to see the harmonic structure and cadences separate from the key signature and accidentals.

  • How can voice leading help in four-part writing?

    -Trying to keep the individual vocal parts smooth and mostly stepwise creates better voice leading and harmony.

🎡 Introducing the basics of writing four-part harmony

Gareth introduces the goal to explore basics of writing four-part harmony for those interested in learning. He shares they will look at chord options in the key of C major, how Roman numerals label chords, and two ways to notate major/minor chords.

🎹 Determining which chords fit the melody notes

Gareth demonstrates how the melody notes each fit within three different chords, as the 3rd/5th notes built on successive scale degrees. He shows how to list chord options for each melody note, deciding later which option sounds best.

🎼 Making initial chord choices based on cadences

Gareth explains musical cadences, showing how the decision to end with a plagal IV-I cadence limits chord choices for the final measure. He chooses a V-I perfect cadence for the first phrase end.

🎚 Filling out the harmony with more chord choices

Gareth shows how to select more chords, using guidance like not repeating the same chord too often. He explains inversions like Ib and voice leading to smooth out the harmony.

✏️ Completing the final measure withpassing tones

Gareth adds a final IV-I cadence, with a II chord and passing tones leading in. He summarizes the full harmony chosen, showing how it meets guidelines covered about writing effective four-part harmony.

πŸ’‘Four-part harmony
A style of musical composition involving four independent melodic voices or parts. The video focuses on techniques for writing basic four-part harmony given a melody. Examples in the script show constructing four-part harmonies note-by-note.
πŸ’‘Chord progressions
Series of chords used to harmonize a melody. The script discusses common chord progressions in the key of C major and how to choose chords to harmonize each note of the melody.
Characteristic chord progressions indicating the end of a musical phrase. The video outlines common cadences like perfect (V-I), plagal (IV-I), and interrupted (V-VI) cadences.
πŸ’‘Chord inversions
Arrangement of chord tones in different octaves. The script shows inversions like Ib and Ic to vary the harmonic rhythm.
πŸ’‘Consecutive fifths
Occurs when two voice parts move in parallel motion separated by an interval of a fifth. The script advises avoiding consecutive fifths when harmonizing.
πŸ’‘Passing notes
Non-chord tones that pass between two stable chord tones by step. They add interest to the harmony, as shown in the script examples with passing notes between chords.
πŸ’‘Voice leading
Art of connecting chords with smooth bass contours and voice movements. Discussed in context of properly spacing chord tones and avoiding problems like consecutive fifths.
πŸ’‘Roman numeral analysis
Chord labeling system denoting chords by scale degree numbers. Used to show chord choices and progressions, with upper/lowercase indicating major/minor quality.
πŸ’‘Melodic harmonization
Adding harmonizing notes and chords under a preexisting melody. The entire video focuses on harmonic principles and techniques to harmonize a sample melody in 4 parts.
πŸ’‘Functional harmony
Tonal harmonic system with chords having certain roles/functions - refers to concepts like established cadences and chord progressions shown to harmonize the melody.

We're going to explore, a kind of beginner's guide to writing four-part harmony.

Maybe people who are preparing for exams, and they've got to do some of this stuff for exams.

We label them in Roman numerals. And it's just to show that we're talking about chords.

When we come to the end of a phrase, the last two chords of the phrase form a cadence.

We use a cadence when we come to the last two chords of a phrase, so the last two chords here, the last two chords there want to be one of those cadences.

I'm trying to get as much stability as I can. Sometimes it's quite good to get the top part and the bottom part to kind of do a bit of contrary motion.

When I have C at the bottom of the chord, we call it Ia, which is just abbreviated I. So if just see I, assume it's Ia. And that means the bottom note is the lowest sounding note, and we say it's in root position.

If I put E at the bottom, but I'm using the notes C, E, G, so it's not chord III, because chord III's got different notes, E, G, B. I'm using the notes C, E, G, but I've got E at the bottom.

There comes a point where you can just kind of, you know, experiment a little bit, and think well do I prefer chord II, or chord IV or chord VI.

I think the danger of going to III, is the bass comes down one by step, which is the same as that, and then we might get some of these consecutive fifths.

VI is a minor chord. So we've got all these major chords, and now we've got a minor chord in.

Ah, suddenly starting to sound, like a piece of music, isn't it?

You don't want too many root position chords. You may decide we've got too many in those piece, but that would just give us another bit of a variety.

I've got one bar of notes to go. So we've said well maybe VII is worth, not fussing with too much at the moment, but just for the sake of argument, let's go for a choice.

Quite a lot to take on board there if you really are a beginner at doing this stuff, but I hope those basic principles make sense.

If you want to rewind this video, and have another go at that, you could always stop, and pause along the way and live with it, but if you get the idea of how that works, then you have accessed the ability to write some basic four-part harmony.

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