Harmony by definition means the combination of simultaneous notes. Therefore, a harmony require assistance from other notes. The bassline is usually a great foundation layer in setting up potential harmonic structures not only because of its mere existence but because it can support the crossover between low (bass) frequencies and mid (harmonic) frequencies. A bassline that deviates from the harmonic structure, and vice versa, must be carefully considered.
A chord (or harmony) refers to a stack of notes, whether it is 2 notes, 3 notes, 4 notes or up. More distinctly, a 2-note chord stack is referred to a diad while a 3-note chord stack is called a triad. Tetrads – 4 notes, pentads – 5 notes, and hexads – 6 notes.
Intervals become an important factor when creating chords as they hold the key to emotion. Intervals are the difference, in semitones, or separation between simultaneous notes AKA a chord.
To demonstrate intervals, their function and relative emotion, we will focus on the C Major and C Minor scales. The difference between a major chord and a minor chord is the mere difference in intervals.
Major intervals feel hopeful and happy, while minor intervals feel direct and bold.
When writing chord progressions, information can build as far as combinations of notes being played and what type of emotions are being expressed. The naming system for chords is quite basic and will can help become a type of grounding concept when creating chords.
Using just 3 notes to create a triad, the lowest note can be considered the ‘root’ note anchoring our harmony, the middle note can be considered the ‘major or minor 3rd’, depending upon the scale we have selected, and finally the top note can be considered the 'perfect 5th'.
Rule of thirds
This concept is a standardized way of creating harmonic structures. Within the C Major scale we can eliminate 5 notes that do not exist within the scale (C#, Eb, F#, Ab, Bb). With these notes eliminated, we are now able to create chords by applying the rule of thirds.
Using the C Major scale, beginning with the root note C. The rule of thirds implies that placing the note E (as the major 3rd) along with the note G (as the perfect 5th) creates the C Major triad. In other words, using a numbered system with the root acting as 1, skip all evenly numbered keys to achieve the C Major scale. From there you may implement the rule of thirds to create harmonic chords.
To create a C Major chord...
From the root note, considering only the notes within the C Major scale, skip the second note and draw the third note, E. This is considered the major 3rd, a major interval of 4 semitones. To complete the triad, skip the fourth note and draw the fifth note, G. This is considered the perfect 5th OR the 3rd above the 3rd (in a basic format).
For more information regarding semitones and scales, refer to Music Production Series #007 Scales, click image!
Notes that are too close (less that 3 semitones), may begin to sound dissonant and create phase modulation due to the relationship of their fundamental frequency wavelengths.
This reciprocating relationship will produce a tremolo type effect due to phase modulation.
Chord stacks that begin to exceed 4 notes may start to become dissonant due to the relationship between the root note and upper notes in the chord stack.
As each scale provides a unique combination of notes, it is important to study scales upon reaching for the production hat to ensure you abide by the harmonic structure of that scale. Introducing incorrect notes can throw off the entire mood, structure and mix of a production.
Some intervals are prohibited, such as the D Major chord in a C Major scale. This proves that although you may be writing in a C Major scale, not every chord you create within that scale are going to be Major intervals. Abiding by the scale, it simply does not permit it.
As a beginner in music theory, keeping intervals at least 3 or more semitones apart will remove the potential for dissonance and phase modulation caused by 2 notes being too close. Intervals should abide by this separation guideline within one single octave before being experimented in other octave registers. Should the interval sound harmonic with no phase modulation or any unwanted dissonance, only then may a note be shifted around in upper or lower octaves without the potential for any of these problems.
In conclusion, some intervals may not be permitted due to the notes accepted within a scale. Some intervals may not be permitted due to unwanted phase relationships. With these two guidelines in place, creating harmonies becomes effortless!
With the understanding of interval details, building a progression of chords becomes more fluid and harmonically pleasing. Taking a look at the grand picture, the physical direction of the chord progression can help steer the emotion of a song. An upwards progression feels positive and exciting while a downwards progression feels more serious.
Not all harmonies move uniformly in either an incline or decline progression, some harmonies step up and down in both directions before returning to beginning of the progression once again. Experimenting with incline versus decline progressions allow you to create other moods within a scale that can be used as counter harmonies or bridge sections.
Not only should the chord progression sound harmonically pleasing, a harmony cannot keep increasing forever. The progression must eventually ‘resolve’ to be able to work with the fundamentals of music progressions; tension and release or rise and fall. To have an impactful chorus, a build has to create the tension for it to be released. Whether you’re creating a 4-bar, 8-bar or 16-bar loop, playing these ‘rise and fall’ concepts off one another create fluidity when repeating a progression over a period of time.
The resolution can either happen between the last chord and the beginning chord of a progression, or at an appealing spot in between.
One way to resolve a progression is to represent the final chord stacked an octave above or below the beginning chord to harmonically bridge the gap.
Other Harmonic Techniques
Expanding the existing chord progression across a wider range of octaves give a fuller, more open feeling. For instance, shifting the Major or Minor 3rd an octave up will maintain the integrity of the chord while incorporating more of the frequency spectrum.
Without drawing any new notes, begin experimenting with the MIDI functions located within the clip editor.
These functions will keep notes relatively locked with one another while being able to test out new intervals with the press of a button!