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The DJC Harmony Theory
By: Chigozie "DJ Chilvan" Ezenagu (dj-chilvan.newgrounds.com)
Nota Bene: When I use solfege notation, interpret it in C scale (unless you understand it well enough to interpret it anyhow).
Doi = C (lowest in octave)
Re = D
Mi = E
So = G
La = A
Ti = B
Doi = C (highest in octave)
Also, take note that music, being an extremely creative art form, technically has no rules. So when I say "this is that" or "this is this octave of that," don't take it 100%. Yes, these are general rules of harmony, but when composing, don't have to be followed completely.
First off, let's start with the general mechanics. Harmony can be divided into four main parts: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass.
Soprano: This is the highest pitch of harmony. It is generally used as the melody; set around C6 (two octaves above middle C). This rule doesn't always have to apply. In my interpretation of harmony, the highest pitched sequence of the four parts of harmony is the soprano. Hence, soprano could fall on middle C octave if alto, tenor, and bass are one, two, and three octaves below middle C respectively.
When composing with Soprano, it relates to Doi. This means that a song ending in perfect harmony, in major, in its natural key and chord; soprano ends on a Doi. The main notes used by soprano is Do (both of them), Re, and Mi. But hence soprano is the main melody (in most cases), it is free to use any notes.
Alto: This is an octave lower than soprano. It is generally used as the main harmony to a melody. Think about when you play a simple melody on a piano with one finger, but then play that same melody again but this time using two fingers (on the same hand), usually, that second finger starts on the lower second key away from the main melody (think of playing "Rugrats" theme song on the piano).
When composing in alto, it relates to So. This means that a song ending in perfect harmony, in major, in its natural key and chord; alto ends on So. The main notes used by soprano are Doi, Ti, La, and So. Once again, these are main notes, so this doesn't mean that they are to be used only.
*A good, cheap, trick for alto is to congest it with So. If you experiment, just play a random melody with your right hand and keep on hitting G; dissonance occurs approximately 85% of the time. Yes, this is a "n00b" trick but it has been used by many great composers, plus, it can be necessary at many times; just don't do it all the time.
Tenor: This is an octave lower than alto. It is generally used as a harmonious background, but not meant to exactly or nearly side with the melody. The best way to explain this is to think of running. The tenor in its own way "runs" in the background. For example, if the 4/4 melody goes: quarter note, quarter note, eighth note, eighth note, quarter note; the tenor might go: eighth note, half note, eighth note, whole note (and yes, that whole note stretches into the next measure), but it's not necessary that tenor "runs" all the time. On average it "runs" 60% of the time. To sum it up, tenor does its own thing usually.
When composing in tenor, it relates to Mi. This means that a song ending in perfect harmony, in major, in its natural key and chord; tenor ends on Mi. The main notes used by soprano are So, Fa, and Mi. Re, La, and Do are secondarily used, with Ti rarely being used. A very common tenor sequence is So Fa Mi. This is very prominent in R&B or jazz songs, usually the type relating to romance and love. (On a piano or piano roll, hit G, F, E in that order. Sound familiar? If you still can't discern it, try transposing So Fa Mi in a higher key such as F, G, or A flat.)
Bass: This is one or two octaves lower than tenor (usually two, because technically baritone would be in between bass and tenor). It is used as the bass line of the song, but can also have its own melody. There are not many properties to this part. The main fact about bass is that structurally it is a combination of alto and tenor, but functions more like soprano. Confusing right? Not necessarily. Bass can "run" too, but in a slower fashion. It can also match soprano, or it can just be a steady pattern. Bass is the part of harmony which depends mostly on the song that you are composing.
When composing in bass, it relates to Doi. This means that a song ending in perfect harmony, in major, in its natural key and chord; bass ends in Doi. The main notes used by bass are Fa, So, and Doi. This is so ubiquitous that it has almost become a general rule. Just listen to your favorite song, pay attention to the bass line. The typical bass line ends a verse or chorus with So - So - Do (high or low), or Fa, So, Do (high or low). This makes bass pretty straightforward, and easy to compose.
If you notice, perfect harmony thus equals Doi, Mi, So, Doi. Just go to a piano and play these four notes at the same time, sounds nice right? Now, what I want you to do is to take an hour to experiment. Use all of the explanations given earlier and apply them. Try composing a little melody in soprano, and then add alto, tenor, and bass. It doesn't have to be made in that exact same order. I personally like composing bass after soprano. Your goal is to avoid dissonance (for the sake of this exercise).
Here are some common sequences to use in harmony.
Soprano: [Mi, Re, Doi (as an ending)]
Alto: [So, So, So (as an ending)], [Do, Ti, So (descending in that order, as an ending)]
[Ti, So, So], [Do, Tii, Do], (all of these can be used as both endings and parts, remember, NEVER be strict in music)
Tenor: [So, Fa, Mi (descending in that order)], [La, Fa, Mi (descending in that order)] [Mi, Re, Mi], [So, Re, Mi], [Fa, Mi, Mi], [Fa, Mi (this sequence is stretched out usually through a measure or few measures]
*My personal favorite, and it's one I use very often in my songs, is [So, La, So, Fa, Mi]
Bass: [So, So, Do (high or low Do)], [Fa, So, Do (high or low Do], [So, Do, Do], [Re, So, Do], [Do, So, La, Mi], [Do, Mi (either high or low Mi), Fa, So], [Mi, Doi, So, Re (extremely popular)]
*My personal favorite, and it's used in most of my songs, is
[Do, So, Se (in C, "Se" would be A flat.), La, Mi, Fa, So, Do (either high or low Do)]
Some examples of great harmony applications can be found in some of my songs.
"Almany" http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen /245870 - This just sums up everything I've been lecturing about. Read the description of the song, it points out to you what is what. This can help you to recognize soprano, alto, tenor, and bass more.
"Last Quest" http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen /201973 - This was my first real attempt at a harmonic composition; gives some raw examples of my explanations.
"My Savior" http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen /214958 - This is a very harmonic rock song; puts "Do Mi Fa So" and "Do So Se La Mi" to good example. Pay close attention to the harmonic ending.
"My Savior (Dance Remix) http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen /268711 - Shows that harmony can be applied in even a dance setting; emphasizes how harmony can be used on more than one level.
"Lost Entity (Dance Remix) http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen /288080 - Shows effect of combination of "Mi Do So Re" and "So Fa Mi;" shows that only two basic stages of harmony can combine to create a subliminal-harmonic atmosphere.
Why use solfege?
Solfege is simply easier to interpret harmony wise. It covers every key in music. If you refer notes to C or B or A flat all the time, transposing and using various harmonies would be very confusing. Do Re Mi can be applied to any key, but C, D, E can only correlate with Do Re Mi in C key. So yes, "The Sound of Music" had more educational impact than you thought.
So, that's it for the First Edition of this theory. Any questions or comments just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (preferably) PM me.
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