Augmentation in Music: Definition & Value

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  • 0:04 Musical Augmentation
  • 0:33 Increasing Note Values
  • 1:32 Increasing the Intervals
  • 2:42 Augmented Chords
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Augmentation is a common way to change harmonies and melodies in a composition and thereby change the impact of the piece. In this lesson, we'll explore augmentation and see how composers can use it to their advantage.

Musical Augmentation

Augment. It's a fun word to say. Derived from the Late Latin augmentare or Old French augmenter, to augment something is to increase it in size or value.

You may, for instance, wish to augment your paycheck. We all do. Well, this lesson may not directly help with your paycheck (if you're going into music, then don't expect one anyway), but it can help with some musical augmentation, which quite simply refers to the increasing of some value. So, as you watch the rest of this lesson, get ready to augment your knowledge.

Increasing Note Values

In music, there are three ways that we use augmentation. The first involves increasing the note values of a composition, or rhythmic augmentation.

Imagine the holiday classic 'Jingle Bells': Jing-gle bells; Jing-gle bells; jing-gle all the waaaay. Can you picture the notes for this simple melody? Think about it: quarter, quarter, half; quarter, quarter, half; quarter, quarter, quarter, quarter; whole.

When augmenting the values of notes, you are increasing them by a uniform margin. In this case, we'll double them. Quarter notes become half notes, half notes become whole notes, and that final whole note becomes two whole notes connected over two measures. Try writing that out on your own if you can't quite visualize it.

Try and augment this section of Jingle Bells.

So what did we do? By augmenting the note values, we essentially slowed the melody down. At the same tempo, the augmented 'Jingle Bells' is about half the speed of the first one.

Augmentation can be used by composers to create this effect, or to simplify complex musical passages and stretch them over a few extra measures.

Increasing the Intervals

Music is all about the spacing of notes, and because there are multiple ways to space notes, there are multiple ways to augment them. Another way is through intervallic augmentation, in which the intervals between notes in a melody are all increased by a uniform margin.

Find the sheet music for 'Mary Had a Little Lamb', and look it over. The relationship between notes is often defined by the interval between them.

In Western music, the smallest interval is a half-step, which is the halfway point between most notes. For example, there is a whole step between C and D, with C# in the middle. C# is a half-step up from C and a half-step down from D.

Mary Had a Little Lamb - but can you augment it?

When augmenting the intervals of a composition, you're going to increase all the intervals by the same margin. For example, we could double them.

In that first measure of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb', each note is separated from the preceding one by an interval of two half-steps (or one whole step). If we augmented that, each note would become separated by an interval of four half-steps.

Try and augment the entire melody, and play it if you can. It will sound pretty different than the traditional song. That open, almost unsettling quality can be used by composers to change melodies running throughout a composition, and thereby, drastically change their impact.

Augmented Chords

The final type of augmentation we're going to talk about is an augmented triad, or an augmented chord. When dealing with chords, we most often deal first with triads, or the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale. There are many ways to mess with triads to change their sound, and this is a popular one.

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