The best modern music is composed of many different sonic elements. Some of these elements are very obvious and can be named by a vast majority of listeners. The lyrics, the beat, and the melody are pieces of music that are easily recognizable and commonly understood by most people, even non-musicians.
However, there is so much more to music than these primary elements. In fact, many of these main pieces of songs would fall apart almost entirely if some more subtle and behind-the-scenes elements didn’t back them up. One of these incredibly critical elements that often fly under the radar of many listeners is harmony.
Virtually every song in the modern world takes advantage of the musical tool of harmony. This concept goes beyond chord progressions, intricate vocal lines, and other harmonic elements. The harmony is the foundation of countless songs, even though its actual purpose may be less apparent to the untrained ear.
Here is why harmony is absolutely essential to creating songs that move listeners and wow audiences.
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What is Harmony?
Fundamentally speaking, the harmony of a song is the musical bed in which all of the other elements lie. It creates a structure for the song and an environment that sets the stage for all of the other instruments, vocals, and even the song’s overall message. The harmony inside of a song can entirely change the meaning and point of a song; therefore, it is one of the most important things to focus on when creating music.
To understand the backbone of what harmony is, it’s critical to understand what melody is. Melody is a singular, monophonic string of notes that creates a memorable and unique instrumental or vocal line in a song. Harmony is a group of melodies working together to make a more dense and filled-out song than the melody can do alone.
A good way to think about this is thinking about an orchestra. While all instruments are technically just playing singular notes, they work together to create a more dense and full arrangement. Harmony is the process of intentionally putting together different monophonic lines. This results in polyphony, which is the musical term for playing multiple notes simultaneously.
What is Consonance?
Consonance is an incredibly important part of what makes up harmony. The reality is, when two notes are played together, there is a good chance that they won’t sound good together. They may be too close or at a certain interval, creating a sound that most musicians refer to as dissonance. If two notes are played together, and they sound wrong or off, then they are dissonant.
While dissonance in and of itself is not always a negative thing, most harmonies create consonance. This is what happens when two notes that are very complementary and compatible are playing together. These harmonies tend to be much more appealing and comfortable and are much more commonly used in music production.
How is Harmony Used in Music?
Harmony shows up in a huge number of places in music. One of the most common ways that it shows up is when the producer wants to give an enhanced level of depth and complexity to an otherwise simple melodic line. This is most often seen in vocals, when the vocalist either tracks separate harmonies for themselves or has another vocalist track harmonies, giving it a deeper intensity. It’s sometimes done on single words or phrases to help them to stand out further to the listener.
The priority of the vocals will still be the original melody, but the harmonies add a special flavor that makes the vocals much more interesting and exciting to listen to.
Another place where harmonies are commonly seen is when two instruments are playing together in a solo. While the melodic line of one instrument is often interesting enough, sometimes the producer will add another instrument that shares a similar rhythmic pattern but plays different notes that are consonant with the original melody. It helps thicken out a melody and make it stand out, just like with vocal harmonies.
What are Chords?
Perhaps the most common and important use of harmony in music is in the chords and chord progressions inside of music. Chords themselves are often fundamentally just harmonic extensions of a bass line or set of root notes. But when used in the context of music production, chords are very important. Musically speaking, chords are any group of three or more notes that work together in a consonant and harmonic way.
The chord progression of a song can define a huge amount of the emotional and structural content of a song. The chords work together to help contrast and compliment the melody and lyrics of a song. Often, whole songs are written around chord progressions because they set the stage and create a space for the rest of the song to come into place. Fundamentally, the chord progression of a song creates a harmonic environment for the whole song, which allows all the other pieces to fall into place.
The chords of a song have to be carefully constructed to fit with the other sonic elements. The chords often need to accentuate and fill out the melody while also staying in time with the beat and tempo of the song. They create emotional tension and releases that often help to accentuate the lyrics of the song. These chords are virtually entirely based on the harmony of a song, which shows how important harmony is to music.
How are Closed and Open Harmony Different?
Another important aspect of harmony is knowing how to create both closed and open harmony within a song. While these are both very important and beneficial aspects of harmony, they have very different feelings.
Closed harmony is when all or most of the notes in the chord or harmony are grouped closely together and fall in the same octave or general range of notes. Open harmony is when the notes are spread out over the musical range, often stretching out to several octaves.
Closed harmonies tend to be much more intense and tight, while open harmonies feel more expansive and complex due to their extended range across the musical range. Finding out which kind of closed or open harmony works best for a song is essential to creating a high sound that fits a song best.
How Unison Can Help
Even though many producers may understand the concepts behind harmony, creating impactful harmonies and chords can be much more difficult. That’s why Unison gives producers tools to create the music of their dreams. The Unison MIDI Chord Pack gives producers access the very best chords right at their fingertips. The Unison Serum Collection allows producers to have access to the highest quality and most professional-sounding synth presets to use with their chord progressions at any time. All of these tools and more are available with Unison. Check out Unison’s featured products today.