Harmony: How Notes Sound When Played Together

Posted on September 8, 2022

Harmony is one of the quintessential concepts in music and a term that we use in one way or another in our everyday lives, whether referring to music or not. We often use the word harmony when things are in balance and fit together. But do you know what harmony means in the context of music? Let’s explore the concept of harmony specifically in music theory. We’ll also look more in detail at singing in harmony and harmonizing.

What is harmony?

Together with rhythm and melody, harmony is one of the most important aspects of music. The word harmony comes from the Greek word “harmonia” (ἁρμονία), referring to joining or fitting something together. This joining of things together applies to harmony in music, and harmony refers to how sounds join together to create a whole. In everyday use, the word is used when things work together and everything is in order, or in harmony. However, in the context of music, harmony can be dissonant as well.

Horizontal and vertical harmony

We can distinguish between the horizontal and vertical aspects of harmony based on whether we’re listening to notes played simultaneously or one after the other. Whereas notes played together as a chord are an example of vertical harmony (occurring at the same time), a melody consists of notes played in succession, constituting horizontal harmony.

Consonant and dissonant harmony

When speaking of consonance, we’re referring to notes and chords that sound good when played together. Meanwhile, dissonance refers to notes that sound off when they are played together. Similarly, we can speak of consonance and dissonance in the context of harmony. However, sometimes dissonance can be intentional in order to create contrast and surprises in the music.

How to sing harmony?

Vocal harmony refers to singing where consonant notes are sung together by many voices. To create vocal harmony (or harmonize), a vocal melody is accompanied by a supplementary melody. Harmonizing can be done on top of a melody played by an instrument or the voice of other singers. As a singer, you can harmonize by singing either above or below the melody. Try doing this by singing a third or a whole octave up or down from the melody you’re harmonizing to create vocal harmony.

Bands and artists create vocal harmonies in their music often with the help of backup singers. The harmony created by multiple singers harmonizing with one another is what makes the music of the so-called barbershop quartets so recognizable and pleasant on the ears.

Learn about harmony and other music terminology

Harmony is one of the essential aspects of music together with rhythm and melody. To read more about harmony, melody, rhythm, and other musical concepts, visit Yousician’s Musician’s Glossary. There you’ll find our full library of music-themed terminology.

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