Melody and Harmony

Lots of people ask me about my approach to harmony.  Here's how I think about it:

Melody is the main line of music you’re making. It's the basis of the song, it's the thing people will sing first when they are singing a song.  It's "THE SONG." 

Harmony pushes and pulls against that main line with notes that resonate with it in some way.  It creates tension and release.  It creates beautiful peace, thundering clashes, and sweet resolutions.  

Technically speaking, classic harmony uses thirds, fiths, and sevenths. (1,3,5,7) - that is, notes that are not adjacent, but separated by a note.  These are what most people talk about when talking about "harmony."  But then again it is fun to use all of the other intervals too, playing around with adjacent notes to create dissonance, even create tonal clusters.  All have a place in worksongs and it can be fun to compare which harmonies (both the sweet sounding ones and the more dissonant ones) sound best.  

In any case, the key is to have command over your voice and employ different harmonies when you want them to create the desired effect. 

Simple exercises to find melody & Harmony:

  • Sing along with the radio, think about what is the melody of the song and what is harmony
  • Find a friend, have one person hold a tone and the other person match it, then step up and down the scale. The tone holder is the melody and the stepper is the harmony.  Listen for the dissonance and the sweet harmonies that emerge as the stepper goes up and down.  Hold the vibrations and then, after a while, switch.
  • Find an instrument like a piano or guitar, play a note on it and match it with your voice.
  • Repeat and after matching the note with your voice, slide up to a third above (that's just a note beyond the adjacent note). Hold. Slide back down to match the original note. Repeat with fifth. Repeat with the seventh!  

The idea hear is that you want to first become aware of the way different intervals sound.  What does it sound like when you are singing a third or a fifth away for the root note?  If you can learn that sound and internalize it, you will find yourself beginning to easily and naturally sing those intervals