BASIC PRINCIPLES OF 3-PART HARMONY

Harmony by itself is to give background to a melody; some would say “accompaniment” like what guitar, keyboard would do with a melody of a song.

Harmony is basically originated from a 3-note tone combined and played or sung together. This three notes is called triad, from the root word tri which means three.

This three notes are arranged according to the 3 parts of this 3-part harmony

1st-ROOT | 3rd-THIRD | 5th-FIFTH

The Root, the first and the foundation of the triad. It is also functions as the bass or the root tone of the triad. 3rd(third), as the 2nd note. 5th(fifth) as the third note of the triad. According to its basic arrangement, the root comes first as the first tone, the 3rd as the second tone and lastly the 5th as the third tone.

 Triads are named from the root. In this case we have the root C, so this triad will be named triad C. Its 3rd is Mi (E), its 5th is Sol (G).

 

Whichever tone you start, you can create triad using the idea of music interval.

Example:

Starting from Re(D), make 4 half steps (from a key to a key) of the keyboard or piano and you can find Fa# (F#) as the 3rd of the triad. And then 3 half steps from the 3rd, you can find La (A) as the

5th of the triad. Putting them together, is a D triad. In summary, we have this steps 4 and 3. Remember this steps. This is a good formula to creat triads.

Kinds of Triads

Triads as a harmony has different tonalities or some would call colors. Triad has 4 basic colors: Major, Minor, Diminished, and Augmented. Forming these different colors has different easy steps.

Major: 4 – 3 

 

 

Minor: 3 – 4

 

 

 

Diminished: 3 – 3

 

 

 

Augmented: 4 – 4

 

 

 

Play this on the keyboard, and you will know the sound.

Inversion Of Triads

Triads can be disarranged accordingly. Interchanging their positions are the very means of disarranging their positions. And by doing this, we create inversions. So root maybe placed on the second or third so as the 3th and 5th part of the triad.

So, if your triad is Do, Mi, Sol, it could be arranged as Mi, Sol, Do, and Sol, Do, Mi. And by the way, basic inversions of triads are only of two ways: the 1st inversion and the 2nd inversion!

1st inversion makes the 3rd of the triad be the first note followed by the 5th as the 2nd note and the root as the 3rd note!

2nd inversion makes the 5th of the triad be the first note followed by the root as the 2nd note and the 3rd as the 3rd note!

Examples:

C major triads

Root position: 1st Inversion: 2nd Inversion:

 

 

 

D major triads

Root position: 1st Inversion: 2nd Inversion:

 

 

Bb major triads

Root position: 1st Inversion: 2nd Inversion:

 

 

 

After mastering these idea of inversion, try to answer these following chords by giving their inversions. Given the root positions, give the 1st then 2nd inversion.

1. F#

2. G

3. A

4. B

5. C#

Click here for Answer Key

Triad application to Basic 3-part Harmony

Every note in a melody in a song always falls at a one note in a triad. Every melody is build from a triad. Therefore, harmony is born when creating the melody. Lets take the song “As the deer” by Martin Nystrom key of D, which means 2 sharps, fa#, do#. The first bar goes, “as the deer “, in the key of D major, the notes correspond to this first three words are, fa#, la, la…. 

 

 

 

Fa# falls on the triad D, remember? Re, Fa#, La. And by the way, and so with the 2nd word, “the”. Then the word “deer”, la note, falls on the triad A 1st inversion. But why not the root position of A? now here comes the idea of Harmony. It’s not all the time root position especially when the triads can be arranged with bass half step from each other: D_A/C#_Bm_ Bm/A_G etc…you can find the continuation of this chords click the attached PDF file below;

Here are some indications: .r means root position; .1in. means 1st inversion; .2in. means 2nd inversion.

Lets take a look at our piece!

As the deer chord analysis

At the first bar, you can see the syllable “pan” from the word panteth, has no triad analysis. Why? Okay, the main harmony actually falls on the next syllable “teth” an A triad root position. But what happens to the previous “pan”? the note on the syllable “pan” is what we call a passing tone!!! These notes are used by composers to create continuous run or curve for their melody, instead of just using firmly the notes on the triad. If not with the passing tones, melodies would sound monotonous or robotic. You can find lots of this in the piece!

Now, with the passing tone, it doesn’t mean that we incompletely created the 3-part harmony. This is what 4-part harmony does. The passing tone makes it the 4th substance making the 3-part harmony complete with the passing tone as the 4th note to the harmony! Sometimes, passing tones can also create clashing tones. It’s a note that plays together with some of the notes of the triad in half step interval or semitone. Look at bar 9 of the piece. All throughout the bar, the triad use is Bm, but with the passing tone do on the last syllable “my”, it creates a clashing tone between the note ti and re on the triad Bm. Same as on the next bar 11.

So in doing 3-part harmony, first thing to do is to know the chords or triads the whole song has. If possible, label them first to the musical piece. Then, one by one, analyze what part of the triad this specific tone belongs. As basic as possible, make the tone of the melody the top note of your triad, as what we are doing on the piece “As the deer”.

After, you can identify the passing tones. Arranging triads to 3-part harmony especially on choral works, distances from one note to another should be at most 6 steps. Look at the distance of lowest notes of the syllable “so my soul”, its from low fa# to re! it’s a 6-step interval. You can reach an octave but please not always.