What Is Harmony in Music? - Definition & Theory

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: What Is Impressionism in Music? - Definition, Characteristics & Timeline

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Definition Of Harmony In Music
  • 0:20 Chord Theory And Qualities
  • 2:00 Harmonic Theory
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Chouiniere

Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.

One of the structural pillars of music, harmony is as simple as it is strange. This lesson will explore the theory behind harmony, how it is constructed, and how to interpret it.

Definition of Harmony in Music

Harmony is when you have multiple pitches being played at the same time. If you think about a rock band, the guitar is typically providing the harmony. When we talk about harmony, we're generally talking about chords, which occur any time you have three or more notes played at the same time. Yes, that means your forearm striking the piano is a chord, and it is an example of harmony. But we're going to study how to make aesthetically pleasing harmonies.

Chord Theory and Qualities

We need to look at individual chords and harmony as a whole. First, let's look at some basic theory about chords. Commonly, chords are made up of stacked intervals called thirds. This stacking of thirds is called triadic, or a tertian harmony.

Each note in a chord has a name. The bottom note is the root, the next note is called the third, and the next note up is the fifth. These numbers come from the interval between the root and the corresponding note. For example, a C major chord has a C as a root, an E as a third, and a G as a fifth.

Chord qualities
Chord Qualities

Chords can be one of four qualities: major, minor, diminished, or augmented. The first two qualities (major and minor) are the most common and are concerned with the third of the chord. In a major chord, the third is a major third apart, while the minor chord has the third as a minor third apart. To tell the difference, you need to count half steps, which are the smallest distances between two notes (for example C to Db or A to Bb - the small b is notation for flat). A diminished chord has a minor third and a diminished fifth (the fifth is lowered a half step); the augmented chord has a major third and an augmented (raised) fifth.

When working with more advanced chords, such as 7th chords, you are simply stacking thirds up onto the existing chord. For example, a C7 means to have a major chord built on C and then a minor 7th above the root - in this case Bb. The minor 7th is implied, so you need to remember that if you see 7 next to a chord, it's a minor 7 unless notated otherwise.

Harmonic Theory

There was a time when harmony was thought to be created through the interaction between multiple melodic lines. This type of harmony, called counterpoint, largely went out of style in the early 1700s, to be replaced by what we traditionally think of as harmony today - chords providing accompaniment for a melody. Eventually, harmony evolved again to include further and further developments away from tonality, or a fixed pitch center, to freely associated harmony, atonality.

We're going to concern ourselves with tonal harmony. It's what we hear in most classical music from the 1700s on and in nearly all popular music we hear today. Tonal harmony emphasizes the relationship between chords, specifically the relationship between tonic, the home tone of the key, and dominant, the fifth note in the key.

The other relationship in tonal harmony is between consonance (musical rest) and dissonance (musical movement or tension). Chords can be classified as consonant or dissonant relative to the key they are in. The breakdown works like this (where each number represents a chord built on the corresponding note in the key):

  • Consonant chords: 1, 4, 6
  • Dissonant chords: 2, 5, 7
  • The confused chord: 3

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support