Playing harmony leads?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by papersoul, Feb 20, 2006.


  1. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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    Is anyone able to explain the concept of a harmony lead? I am not strong in theory and do a lot by ear and feel but two musicians in our new band are well schooled in music and asked if I could come up with a harmony for one of the lead lines in a song. It is only 8 notes and it descends down the neck....so it is more a melody under a chord progression as a bridge section of the song. What exactly is it technically to play the harmony? I want to write a harmony with the keyboardist and other guitarist.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Are you familiar with keys and playing notes diatonic to keys? If you are, then playing a harmony is playing notes (diatonically...or not diatonic depending on your application) some degree higher or lower at the same time the original melody is being played, thus creating a 2-part harmony. So for instance, you should probably check out playing the same melody a 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th higher (or lower if it's very high) to hear how each sounds.

    HTH!
     
  3. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    P.S. You could use any other interval, not just the ones I mentioned (and not even within the same octave). Those are just the ones I would tend to think of as being the most common in commercial music formats.
     
  4. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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    I know pentatonic scales and diatonic scales but what is meant by playing notes diatonic to keys? When you say a 3rd higher for example...would that be like if the lead starets on C...I would start the harmony on E...assuming the key is correct? Basically the same pattern though? Are there any examples?
     
  5. spencerbk

    spencerbk Member

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    Assuming you are doing harmony in thirds, and that you choose to do a third above the melody, then E is correct. Being "diatoninc to the key" means that you both stay in key.

    For example, in the key of C if the melody goes C-D-E your harmony (in our example) goes E-F-G. It will sound good. But, if you think about it, the melody went a major third (4 frets) and your harmony went a minor third (3 frets). If you WEREN'T being diatonic, you'd go E-F#-G# (in other words, you always move the same distance, rather than the same distance relative to your key).

    Sorry if that sounded math-y and not musical, but it's really pretty natural and automatic once you get used to doing it. Your intuition will lead you to do what sounds right in most cases. And like dklapowitz said, it won't always be thirds you want and it may not even be a diatonic harmony, but this is the general idea.
     
  6. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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    Thanks, so the first thing I need to determine is the key and notes being played, then I'll figure out a harmony. The diatonic thing is throwing me off.
     
  7. PAF

    PAF Member

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    Maybe post the progression & the 8 existing notes that they want you to harmonize to?
     
  8. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    That's pretty much all you need (as long as you know which key the song is in). If, while learning your diatonic/major scales, you've ever done that scale exercise where you play the scale in 3rds, like playing the note C, then E, then D, then F, then E, then G, etc. etc. up and down, then that's the same as harmonizing in 3rds, but you're playing the notes separately. It works the same with all the other intervals too. Just use that logic to learn what's a 3rd up from the original melody.

    Or like the PAF suggested, post the chords and the melody and we'll help you out. ;)
     
  9. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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    Thanks guys! I never put a lot of time into theory but am trying to learn so this is a bit confusing for me at this time. I'll figure out the notes and let you guys know.
     
  10. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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    Thanks again for all the help guys....this is it - all played in the 7th position on the G, D, and A strings. Our tuning is actually Eb...but to keep it simple I am talking in standard tuning terms. This is the sequence of notes and unfortunately I do not have a recording.
    It starts on the D string, 7th fret.

    A B C D E D C B - G B C D E D C B - F B C D E D C B - E F G.

    This entire sequence is played twice over a chord progression. This would be a great learning experience if you all could help me write a harmony.

    Thanks!
     
  11. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    A B C D E D C B - G B C D E D C B - F B C D E D C B - E F G
    C D E F G F E D - B D E F G F E D - A D E F G F E D - G A B

    The bottom line is the upper line harmonized a 3rd above (diatonic to C major). Try playing it either above or below. If that gives you the idea, try figuring out 4ths 5ths or 6ths on your own to hear how they sound.

    Good luck!
     
  12. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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  13. bailnout

    bailnout Member

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    If you want more I can give you a long but simple explaination of diatonic harmony that may make things less confusing to you.

    You have to be willing to look at a staff of blank sheet music though.
     
  14. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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    Sure, thanks!
     
  15. bailnout

    bailnout Member

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    Take a look at the treble clef staff. You will notice that it has 5 lines and 4 spaces between those lines. Each line and space is a note. The lines from bottom to top are E, G, B, D and F or as we memorized in grade school "Every Good Boy Does Fine". Each of the spaces from bottom to top are F, A, C and E which spell the word FACE. If you start on the bottom line and name each note in order no matter whether it's a line or a space it goes strait up the alphabet from E like this: E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F.


    As you probably already know, those are the notes of the key of C. You can take any of those notes and make it a dot on the staff. It will be on a line or a space depending on what the note is. Whatever the note is, consider it "1" then count the notes above it to whatever degree harmony you want. For example, if you have an E on the lowest line and you want to play a 3rd above it, count E as one, the space above it as "2" then the line above that as "3". That's a G note and so G is the 3rd above E in the key of C. Notice that on a guitar those notes are 3 frets apart, aka a step and a half apart. Now if you have that same G note, the one on the second line up from the bottom, and you want to play a third over that, make that dot on that line then count up again. The next space above the G line is "2" and then the next line above that is "3". It's a B note. So B is the third of G in the key of C. Notice that B is 4 frets away from G, aka two whole steps. That's different than in the first example but it's correct.


    That's what "diatonic" harmony is all about. It's not the degree in pitch away that is important, it's the interval within the key. The interval in those examples is called a 3rd but in the first example its a minor third and in the second example it's a major 3rd. But both are correct for the Key of C. The thing to notice here is the relationship between the two spots on the staff. If you take two notes and put them that far apart anywere on the staff, it will be a 3rd interval.


    Not coincidentally, if you stack those thirds you will get a complete triad for the Em chord and counting from the lowest note (E) to the highest note (B), you will get the number 5. So B is the 5th of E in the key of C. The relationship between those 3 notes stays the same no mater where you put them on the staff too. It will always be root, 3rd, 5th from low to high. Like C, E, G lay on the staff the same why but the number of 1/2 steps between each degree is different for that chord because that's the way it lays out on the scale. That's what makes it a major chord instead of a minor like with E as your root. This is all reletive to the key of C however.


    Now for the cool part. You know not all music is in the key of C. And I'm sure you've heard of terms like "key signature", "circle of 5ths", "circle of 4ths", "sharp", "flat", etc. Well if you ever take a look at a piece of sheet music and you notice right at the beginning, next to the clef there are a bunch of sharp signs (#) or flat signs (b), pay attention to what exact line or space each on of them are on. They tell you exactly which notes to sharp or flat in the key of C to get the new key. So placing your dots on that staff will still work in giving you the right diatonic harmonies for whatever key it is showing. Just don't forget to look back at the beginning of the staff to see if the note should be sharped or flatted on your instrument. You will always get an accurate diatonic harmony that way.

    That all being said, harmonizing in diatonic 3rds all the way across the melody line may not be the sweetest harmony line you can find. Pay attention to the notes of each line as they lay against the backing chords. You may find that holding a note while the other moves one to another or playing a 4th on one note as apposed to a 3rd like all the rest really makes a difference in how pleasing the harmony sounds.
     
  16. papersoul

    papersoul Supporting Member

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    Thanks! I am printing this and will sit down and read through it!

    At this point it is confusing for me because I don't know what key I am playing in..........but it did seem the melody sounded best while playing the harmony in 7ths. Is that too high?
     
  17. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    7ths aren't "too high" in general. But if you got it right, then 7ths are a pretty weird interval to use for harmony (not "wrong", just a lot less common). You might want to have another interval as a backup if it winds up clashing with something your keyboard player has in mind.

    I forgot to ask if you had access to a piano or keyboard. It's pretty easy to harmonize right hand and left hand to hear what the different intervals sound like.
     
  18. bailnout

    bailnout Member

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    Well in the example you gave earlier in the thread, you were in the key of C. There were no sharps or flats and you were using all 7 notes in the scale.

    When I was growing up I didn't know what all this "key" stuff was so I asked an older player. He wasn't much of a theory buff but he seemed to do alright playing with other people. He said, "in rock music, usually the first chord of the song is what key it's in." So if a song started on an A chord, I would try playing my A pentatonic minor scale over it. If it sounded good, I kept going with that. If it sounded bad, the guy told me to move it down a step and a half and see how that sounds. So the song would start with an A chord but I would use the F# pentatonic minor scale. Very rarely did I find that both were unusable. To this day, I still kind of lean on that advice!

    Just remember that the most important factor in all of this is your ear. If it sounds good then it is. If you like the sound of those 7ths, go for it. I usually don't harmonize in diatonic 7ths but maybe my style of music is way different than what you play. But the theory is still the same. But that just it, it's called "music theory" not "music law". So all these so-called rules are pretty bendable.
     
  19. bailnout

    bailnout Member

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    Good stuff here. 7ths aren't to high just strange. It would be really strange if you were playing the 7th but below the lead line. Then you would get some clashing for sure. But the higher up you get, or the farther away the interval, the easier it is to get away with it and even come up with something interesting. A 9th for example is the same note as a 2nd, which would sound horrible, but it's an octave higher so it actually sounds pretty sweet. I use ninth in chords all the time, especially if I see on a chart "C2". I'll actually play a C9. All the same notes, just different octaves of them.

    The piano idea is a good one too. It's another way to visualize how far apart the notes are similar to the sheet music way I mentioned. It's even better though because not only do you have a visual but you can press those keys together and HEAR how those intervals sound. You can really hear the difference between a major 3rd and a minor 3rd.
     
  20. cameron

    cameron Member

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    But it could very well be A minor, which is the same set of notes. It depends what the chord progression is underlying that sequence of notes.

    I find that harmonizing over a minor key, it often sounds better to play the major third above the 4th of the scale, so in the example above, harmonize with F# where the first voice has a D. Thus the harmony would be based on A dorian, rather than A natural minor.

    That might not work in the song in question, but I find it often sounds better to use dorian rather than natural minor in that kind of context.
     

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