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Thread: How to play harmony

  1. #1
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default How to play harmony

    I was wondering the best way to learn how to play harmony lines to fiddle tunes with another mandolin player. I do not read standard notation and play by ear. Is there a resource that will help me with the theory of how to learn how to play harmony?
    Charley

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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    There are good starting points that can get you going. They’re pretty standard stuff, no magic bullets beyond practice here.
    One is to play the chord you’re starting on, separating the notes and assigning one to your voice or instrument.
    That gets you started on pitch so you’re not fishing about for your starting note.
    The other is to do it lots & don’t be shy about going wrong, better to play the wrong note as long as it’s in time.

    I think as a non dot reader you are probably best getting in to harmony through singing. Even if you think you “can’t sing” apart from some people with real issues there are few who can’t, many don’t, haven’t, aren’t confident, don’t like the sound of their own voice.
    If you work up learning to harmonise vocally and your mandolin playing of melody lines and solos is advancing, it would then be a case of applying your vocal output mind to your mandolin voice. Through the vocal learning you will get an innate feel for what works and where the spaces exist that can be used.

    A great learning tool is singing or playing along with tracks where there are harmony accompaniments, just pitching on top of the accompanying line or vocal, this will get you listening into the detail of what is being done and where things are being pitched. Choose simple examples and stuff that’s predictable to start.
    Although I’m an advanced sight reader and player of tunes, grazing sheets and books the way some people use playlists on spotify, for harmonies and structures my preferred way is to do it ‘live’ against a real voice or instrument (it can be a recording).
    I’ll often sing or play another tune that isn’t he actual melody, the more you play those the better you get at them on the fly.
    This can come easier to people who listen or play viola, cello or piano a lot, as they get to run harmonies all the time so they build a feeling for what will work.
    I find choices I make will not only be affected by the pitch or intervals involved, but also a lot by the timbre or overtones of the voice or instrument carrying the melody.
    There’s something about actually mixing the voices or instrument sounds in the air that gives a composite which seems greater than the parts. I find that hard to replicate over a sound system mixing it electrically, especially with voices, I prefer to mix it in the air then capture that if situations allow. If practicing this acoustically with others get physically close, play or sing ‘knee to knee’ and you will actually feel and tune the intervals more immediately. It’s a very gut way to work, once you build the intuition it stays with you. If you’re lucky you’ll find others who will have a similar instinct & that can be the start of something special that you’ll want to hang on to.
    Eoin



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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Thanks for the tips. The one about starting with the root chord and separating the notes sounds like a good place to begin.
    A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of playing with another mandolin player who could play harmony on the fly. Even if she was unfamiliar with a tune, by the third time through she would have it nailed.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Registered User wildpikr's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    I was wondering the best way to learn how to play harmony lines to fiddle tunes with another mandolin player. I do not read standard notation and play by ear. Is there a resource that will help me with the theory of how to learn how to play harmony?
    Beanzy gives good advice. Also, here's a link to one of Niles Hokkanen's books:

    https://www.elderly.com/twin-mandoli...d.htm?___SID=U

    Hope this helps...
    Mike

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    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    I think it was mandocucian(sp?) who suggested a good way to get started... Write out a fiddle tune.
    Take the 1,3,5s in melody and move them up a 3rd on paper. Then fill in the rest by ear.
    I dont think there is an exact answer. for examaple.. where do you move the 5th up to? The 1, 7th or flatted 7th. Need to hear how it sounds. Easier said than done, thats for sure.

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Eoin, how would your advice be different for someone who reads standard notation?
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    It helps to be aware of the underlying chord because that will dictate the harmony. While, generally, a harmony might be a third apart, there will be places where it will be a fourth apart to fit in with the chord.

    A simple example:

    Say you are playing the scale steps 1 2 3 4 5 over the I chord (or c d e f g over a C chord). If you simply stay a third above it and play 3 4 5 6 7 (e f g a b) you end up with a b over the C chord (major seventh) which usually does not sound right in fiddle music. So if you were staying on the C chord for that phrase, it would fit better to harmonize by playing 3 4 5 6 8 (e f g a c). So you are harmonizing in thirds until the last note where you play a fourth in order stay within the C chord harmony.

    Now if you changed from a C chord to a G chord on the 5th beat, you could stay in thirds because the g b you end up on fits with the G chord.
    Bobby Bill

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    Eoin, how would your advice be different for someone who reads standard notation?
    You can dig into writing out the lines in a more abstract way if you’re comfortable reading notation and it is easier to visualise the intervals from the page ( like when you look at a score and can see when the parts move together or cross over etc)
    So you can download the tune, with the chords, then step by step write out possible options without necessarily hearing them in your head first.
    Then you can run the tune and play the harmony you already worked out from first principles.
    Many people can do that off the page while auralising it in their head. I do much better by actually hearing the sounds though.
    So playing & recording the tune then playing that back and working against the real sound, or working with other instrumentalists/ singers works best for me & is much quicker too.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    Thanks for the tips. The one about starting with the root chord and separating the notes sounds like a good place to begin.A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of playing with another mandolin player who could play harmony on the fly. Even if she was unfamiliar with a tune, by the third time through she would have it nailed.
    That comes with practice, just as a singer that sings by ear can sing tenor on the fly. The problem is we don't try to play harmony as much. I can do a reasonable facsimile of harmony on the fly but I would be stepping on the leads note a whole lot. Given a half hour I can work out a decent part, but I played with a guitar/mandolin player some years back that liked to work out 'twin" mandolin breaks. If you are playing with someone that wants to work this out just think of other notes in the chord to play against every melody note. It's really not too hard once you do it a while if it's just two, now if you add a second harmony line it gets more difficult to stay off some one else's note.

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    I have had luck with the Amazing Slow Downer. Record the lead of the tune, plug it into slowdowner, and slow the tempo down to where you can figure out the harmony by ear. (The slowdowner keeps the same pitch even when tune is slowed down). I think it costs about $50.

    Good luck,

    Tim

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by bobby bill View Post
    It helps to be aware of the underlying chord because that will dictate the harmony. While, generally, a harmony might be a third apart, there will be places where it will be a fourth apart to fit in with the chord.
    Yes. Just raising a tune by a third will not always sound like harmony. I did a transcription of the A part harmony (1:34) on this tune and it is not a strict third for reasons bobby describes.

    Random thought: If you took a program like Tabledit and layed out the basic notes of a fiddle tune (great practice btw), could you then create a copy, raise interval by third, listen to play back and adjust offending notes as needed?

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Wilson View Post
    ... Just raising a tune by a third will not always sound like harmony. ...

    Random thought: If you took a program like Tabledit and layed out the basic notes of a fiddle tune (great practice btw), could you then create a copy, raise interval by third, listen to play back and adjust offending notes as needed?
    (Disclaimer: I'm no expert on what constitutes proper harmony, I'm just experimenting a bit here.) So, anyway, to address the question...

    Yes, copying the melody and raising all the notes up a third, is easy to do in apps such as MuseScore 2.1, although I haven't yet tried it in TablEdit.

    Here's a sample of four bars of a fiddle tune for experimental purposes. In the first pic, the top two staffs are the standard notation + tab for the melody, and in that same pic, the bottom two staffs are the notation + tab for the initial attempt at harmony achieved via simply raising all the notes up by a major 3rd.

    The initial results, which clearly need some work:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    That sounds like this, eek, this is just MIDI computerized playback of the MuseScore notes:



    Then, manually adjusting some of the notes - I just tried to make the notes fit the designated chords, but other than that I have no clue about proper harmonizing and I would probably change this around a lot more, this is just a sort of prototype/guessing sort of thing:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The adjusted version sounds like this, again just MIDI playback:



    That's somewhat improved I guess...

    Misc:
    To do the initial transposing up a 3rd, I used these settings in MuseScore 2.1:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The tune, by the way, is an Irish fiddle tune called "The North Wind". I'm fairly certain my fledgling attempt at making a harmony line probably breaks all kinds of rules and/or sounds wrong, but I'm learning as I go along...

    In actual playing, I seldom use this exact kind of harmony because it's too much parallel motion (I think that's the right term? not sure), it follows the melody line too closely, which kind of annoys me a little bit, but that's probably just me. I like to simplify the harmony quite a bit to where it isn't a mirror-image thing of the melody. Personal preference I suppose.

    Oh, and the MIDI 'fiddle' sound is from the "Timbres of Heaven" soundfont that I added into MuseScore, that particular 'instrument' is called "Don's Fiddle". Sounds somewhat better than the stock MuseScore violin and fiddle sounds.

    -------
    Of course, "NFI" in any of these software things. MuseScore is free open-source, Timbres Of Heaven soundfont is free, TablEdit is not free although I did purchase the full version of TablEdit a few years back (but lately doing most of my stuff in MuseScore instead).
    Last edited by JL277z; Jan-26-2018 at 9:18am. Reason: I keep forgetting stuff. Lol

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    In actual playing, I seldom use this exact kind of harmony because it's too much parallel motion (I think that's the right term? not sure), it follows the melody line too closely, which kind of annoys me a little bit, but that's probably just me. I like to simplify the harmony quite a bit to where it isn't a mirror-image thing of the melody. Personal preference I suppose.[/I]
    My ear agrees. I find harmony seldom follows note for note and in fact often singles out chord tones while the melody is going about it's business. That's the 'fix' part after transposing melody by 3rds. But I would have to do it by ear - don't know of a single formula that covers harmony

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Harmony is a vast subject. There are many books written, many approaches.. You may not be interested in delving into study of formal western harmony, but this would be my best "How to..." recommendation. It will help you evolve in harmonic understanding.

    Lots of listening.

    Scale study; familiarization with harmonized scales will help you internalize intervallic relation, chord theory, and all the devices we use in idiomatic deployment.

    Sensibility and imagination.

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    Registered User J.C. Bryant's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Wow this so interesting! But somehow, it hurts my head. I wish I could understand harmony either in playing or singing. I have heard that in singing, once you have it in your head your voice can just automatically go there. Great discussion, though.

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Play CDs or mp3s of your favorite fiddle tunes and noodle over them. Try and remember what seems to work.

    Seriously, I have done this a lot. Its great fun, doesn't require reading or music theory, and gets you going.

    Later on if and when you want to expand from your discoveries, or figure out why what you figured out works, the theory will be there for you.
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    If you think of going up a 3rd, it doesn't make sense for the 4 chord. For the 4 chord use 4 or 6. For the 5 chord you can use a 2 or a 7, the 1 chord you can use a 3 or 5. These will always work, but may not sound like the harmony you want to hear, but won't be out of tune or dissonant. Most of these are double stops that are part of the chord anyway.
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  26. #18

    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Here’s a way to get a PDF of the harmony in 3rds above for the tune of your choice, in TAB.

    1 go to thsession.org and copy the text of the .abc file, it starts with X: for the tune of your choice. (let’s imagine it’s in D major)
    2 paste the tune into http://www.mandolintab.net/abcconverter.php
    3 drop down box for tablature:mandolin
    4 drop down box for transpose:+3
    5 press submit
    6 the result will be your original tune in the key of F major and all of the notes will be minor thirds above the original melody note BUT you need some of them to be major third above -it depends on the size of the jump up, and it isn’t the same for each note. So...
    7 go into the text portion of the resulting tune to the line which is marked in ‘K:F major’ and change it back to ‘K:D major’.
    8 press submit again.
    9 press PDF
    (nb. at all times confirm that there is no space between the semi colon and the following text)

    Now you will have a pdf with TAB of your original tune but harmonised up to thirds (major or minor, depending).
    You can then use this to help singers harmonise with you.
    Or you can learn the harmony and play it to impress and astound your friends.

    I’ve done this only a couple of times, and after a short while you can ‘hear’ what the harmony notes should be.
    Also please, if someone could confirm that these instructions are correct, there’s also a debate about types of harmonisation (that I’m unsure of)...

    Here’s a tune I did for the MandolinCafe Song-a-week Social group yesterday:
    The Fox Hunter’s Jig
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/1rnvq39ywe...0GOOD.pdf?dl=0
    The Fox Hunter’s Jig (3rds harmony)
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/mqvp3vvmsx...0GOOD.pdf?dl=0

    Of course you can do the same for fifths by input +7 instead of +3, but it’s probably easier to find the notes physically -all but one are the note on the next string across, nearer the floor... Good luck.

    Enjoy!
    Last edited by Simon DS; Nov-08-2019 at 12:41pm.

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  28. #19

    Default Re: How to play harmony

    "Up to the next chord note" is a better way of saying "up a third". That gets you a good note for any note.

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by David L View Post
    "Up to the next chord note" is a better way of saying "up a third". That gets you a good note for any note.
    Thanks David, though it’s the second next chord note.
    This means that for example in the key of G, if the melody note is G then the harmony note would be two chord notes up -that is B.
    And it’s a jump of 4 frets. If the next melody note is A then the harmony note , again would be up 2 steps of chord notes up to C.
    BUT this is only a 3 fret jump.
    The important thing to remember is the separation between the harmony line and the melody changes. The major notes G, C, D have 3rd harmonies that are 4 steps above.
    (It’s late here, hope this is right)

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    Thanks David, though it’s the second next chord note.
    This means that for example in the key of G, if the melody note is G then the harmony note would be two chord notes up -that is B.
    And it’s a jump of 4 frets. If the next melody note is A then the harmony note , again would be up 2 steps of chord notes up to C.
    BUT this is only a 3 fret jump.
    The important thing to remember is the separation between the harmony line and the melody changes. The major notes G, C, D have 3rd harmonies that are 4 steps above.
    (It’s late here, hope this is right)
    Would be good to think about your terminology, perhaps.

    "Chord notes" i.e. "chord tones" of Gmaj chord = G, B, D ... so the next chord note in the key of G on melody note G would be a B note (B is not the "second next chord note"). Chords are made of stacked thirds. Major third interval is 4 half steps (four frets), minor third interval is three half steps (three frets). Hope you don't mind my making these clarifications, think about the terminology for the sake of clarity.
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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    Thanks David, though it’s the second next chord note.
    ....
    Confusing chord notes with scale notes.
    Phil

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    arpeggios, arpeggios, arpeggios....
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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Get Pickloser's guide to double stops. It presents a scheme whereby the most relevant double stops for any note in any position can be found. These double stops make excellent harmonies.
    Indulge responsibly!

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    Default Re: How to play harmony

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon DS View Post
    Thanks David, though it’s the second next chord note.
    This means that for example in the key of G, if the melody note is G then the harmony note would be two chord notes up -that is B.
    And it’s a jump of 4 frets. If the next melody note is A then the harmony note , again would be up 2 steps of chord notes up to C.
    BUT this is only a 3 fret jump.
    The important thing to remember is the separation between the harmony line and the melody changes. The major notes G, C, D have 3rd harmonies that are 4 steps above.
    (It’s late here, hope this is right)
    You are describing scale notes, not chord notes. You would go up one chord note, which is two or three scale notes. Sometimes the next chord note is a major third (four frets), sometimes it is a minor third (three frets), sometimes it is a perfect fourth (five frets).

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