Muze Online: Lesson 12

Harmony 

Last lesson we were introduced to chords, the building blocks for any piece of music. The chords we learnt were chords one (I) and five (V), also known as the tonic and dominant. Now let’s familiarise ourselves with all of the chords in a scale, and their technical names (note the roman numerals used to label the chords). C major will be used as an example to outline which notes of the scale are employed within each chord. 

  1. Tonic: I  e.g. C, E, G 

  2. Supertonic: II, e.g. D, F, A, 

  3. Mediant: III, e.g. E, G, B

  4. Subdominant: IV e.g. F, A, C

  5. Dominant: V e.g. G, B, D

  6. Submediant: VI e.g. A, C, E

  7. Leading Note: VII e.g. B, D, F

  8. Back to the tonic

Harmony describes the way in which these chords relate to one another. Using the roman numerical system helps us to analyse the harmony of any piece, as each chord is labelled in relation to the tonic chord, which also indicates the home key. There are several ways we can describe harmony:

  1. We can describe the rate of harmonic change: this means measuring how often the chords change. Depending on the tempo and style of the piece, we may describe any music which uses the same chord for one or more bars continuously as a slow rate of harmonic change. Alternatively, a piece might choose to employ a new chord for each beat of a bar, indicating a fast rate of harmonic change. A fast rate of harmonic change is typically found at the end of a phrase since resolution is required to return the piece to the tonic (home) chord. This brings us onto…

  2. Cadences. Cadences are the chord sequences we use to join, and finish, musical phrases. The movement between chord at a cadence point (the end of each musical sentence) is called a cadential progression. We shall now look at some common cadences:

Perfect Cadence: V - I (from the dominant chord to the tonic chord, this sounds ‘finished’, as we return to the home chord).

Imperfect Cadence: I – V (from the tonic chord to the dominant chord, an exact reverse of the perfect cadence; it sounds unfinished as we want the dominant chord to resolve back to chord one). 

Interrupted Cadence: V-VI (from the dominant chord to the submediant chord, rather than returning to the tonic from the dominant, as expected by the listener, the sixth chord follows instead, taking the music off in a different direction. This change, or ‘interruption’, is very noticeable because the sixth chord in a major scale is minor, so we go from the major dominant chord to the minor submediant chord. We can listen out for cadences like this when the music turns unexpectedly sad). 

Plagal Cadence: IV-I (from the subdominant chord to the tonic chord. This cadential progression is commonly used for the ‘Amen’ at the end of church hymns. The two chords always have one note in common, which make it easy to listen out for this type of cadence. For example, in the key of C major, the tonic is made up of C, E, and G, whilst the subdominant is made up of F, A, and C. Therefore, the tonic note of the scale (C) is shared by both chords. This is the only cadence where the tonic note is sounded in both the penultimate and final chord.) 

C major chordsArtist Name
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For next time: 

 

In the next lesson we will start to analyse the harmony used in pieces of music, it will therefore be useful to familiarise yourself with the names and symbols used for each of the chords explored today, as well as the formulas used for the four cadential progressions we have outlined. 

Tasks:

1. For each of the following keys, write out the chords as triads: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. 

 

C major has been done for you: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. For each of the same keys, write out each of the 4 cadences. Remember your key signatures need to be written out for each of the different keys – these will be written out just to the right of your treble clef each time you start a new stave. 

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