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Posted By: Never rest

Harmony - 12/28/12 03:34 PM


I'm a person with very little background in music. I want to become an amateur composer, and I think harmony is the most important thing I need to work on right now. I've been fiddling with chords for some time and I didn't get very far; I only know of a few nice sounding progressions such as i,VI,VII,Vsus,V and i,VI,III,VII (apparently this is the most popular chord progression in the world).

I want to learn about 7th and 9th chords and how to use them. From what I've seen they contain a lot of tension and if you introduce and resolve them properly it'll sound very nice. I also want to master the standard modulation techniques, and stuff like secondary dominants, counterpoint etc. Does anyone know any resources that can help me out? I've been search on the web but my progress has been very slow, barely improving, due to lack of good resources.
Posted By: LoPresti

Harmony - 12/29/12 06:26 AM

Welcome to the Forums, Never Rest,

Becoming a composer is a wonderful aspiration. Are you aware of the sort of time-commitment, study, and work that is involved in such an endeavor?

Tell us a little about yourself, and what you have written so far. Also, when you work with the chords and progressions you listed, how are you constructing them and using them?

This will give us a better idea of what to recommend.

Posted By: Never rest

Re: Harmony - 12/29/12 04:41 PM

Hi LoPresti

I am fully aware of the hard work required to become a composer. I do not wish to become a professional (no time for that since my professional interest is mathematics), just an amateur, but I know it'll still takes years of experience.

I haven't written any self contained music yet, I've just played with chords and the longest progression is 1:24 (slow speed though). When I try to construct a progression I use the usual voice leading principles and if I don't know which chord to use next I try out all triads within the key and see which sounds nice. Unfortunately triads in the key is very limited and often none of them work, but if we include triads outside the key and 7th and 9th chords + their inversions there are at least 1000 possibilities and no one has time to go through them all. So most of the time I just brute force my way out (except for obvious things like V V7 I), this is why I need to learn more theory to help me understand how harmony works. Sometimes I can hear what should come next in my head. Recently I've discovered that simple melody can make the connection between chords in a progression more strong (e.g. anticipation note).

Also when I hear some passage in a piece of music I like, I always try to figure out the notes. Often I cannot do this. The only tricks I know of are to the listen to the bass and soprano line, this determines two notes of the chord and limits possibilities greatly, but for orchestral music I have a hard time determining the bass because the note is not so sharp like with a lone piano; it sounds like many notes.
Posted By: LoPresti

Harmony - 12/29/12 11:28 PM

Thanks, Never, for letting us in on how you are approaching things so far. I also appreciate the fact that you are going into composition with “eyes open”. Really composing, even on the amateur level, is a demanding, and exceedingly REWARDING undertaking.

You may already know this, but I should start by mentioning that the preferred way of learning composition is by starting with a respectable melody, and then letting that melody indicate what its harmony will be. With that in mind, have you already composed any melodies that you deem reasonably complete?

I am not trying to hedge on your harmony questions. Indeed, there are many good resources to help with the harmonic aspects of composition. But to recommend one or two really depends upon your state of melodic vocabulary and development.

Oh, and the "hearing", or more particularly LISTENING, improves with practice, just like playing does. First things, first.

Posted By: Sand Tiger

Re: Harmony - 12/30/12 07:08 AM

I don't have any resources. I can comment on a recent project of mine. I am doing a piano arrangement for a whistle tune (a whistle is a recorder-like instrument) that I know well. It involves finding chords for the melody line. Others can do the same, take a well know melody and write an arrangement.

Trial and error, my ear, some imitation, are some of the things I have in my hat. For beginners (and even many of the more experienced) simple tends to be better. The basic triad chords, first and second inversions will take a beginner pretty far in terms of simple harmonies. Add some 7ths and that is ton to work with.

One of the first piano pieces I learned was Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I found the fingering difficult so I simplified the arrangement. Sometimes two notes, even one note harmonies can sound good. Yes, there are uses for 7ths and 9ths, and extra arpeggios and ornaments, but a beginner is often best off getting a decent grasp of some basics first before trying to get fancy.

The more a person writes and listens the more they will progress.

I have posted many times, that if a beginner spends an hour a day working on writing music, they will make progress, often tremendous progress in a month or three months. Invest the time, and results will come. Don't invest the time, and spend that same time reading and researching, and for many, not much is going to come of it. Reading about how to write music doesn't make a person a writer.

If a person can't or won't do an hour a day for a month (actually writing, not reading about writing), there is a chance that they may not have the persistence or time needed to become a competent composer or songwriter.

Yes, some basic vocabulary is needed, but if a person is citing chord numbers and progressions, they likely have enough vocabulary to take a decent stab at writing music. It is far more than I knew when I started writing songs.
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