Putting harmony into a broad context can help give young composers a way to organize consonant intervals as well as resolve dissonant intervals.
What do we mean by a broad definition of harmony?
Harmony = any two sounds ocurring at the same time.
As you know, the idea of what two notes sound consonant or dissonant together is a subjective preference. Since the beginning of human history composers have pushed the boundaries and expanded tonality. During the 20th century leading composers in many styles of music dispatched with the very notion of Western harmony to create their own rules governing the harmony in their music. Where does that lead us interms of present day harmony? There are two things to consider when helping young composers grapple with the concept of consonance and dissonance in their music:
To get students started in controlling dissonances in their piece we will use a contrived harmonic rule we'll call Harmony Rule 1 Don't worry this is going to be the only harmonic rule we'll use!
Harmony Rule 1 says:
This rule makes the subjective choice about steps and skips in the musical alphabet. One important thing to note is that we need not discern between 1/2 steps and whole steps. E to F is a step just as C to D is a step. We also need not discern between major and minor thirds. C to E is a skip and E to G is also a skip. During a second or third composition students can learn about "two kinds of steps" to explore 1/2 steps and whole steps.
We want to stress that dissonances (or clashes) are not necessarily bad. In order to give our music a sense of movement we need to hear dissonant notes resolving from dissonance to consonance. Controlling these resolutions is the goal for our young composers!
Here is a simple activity that can help students experience Harmony Rule 1.
Use iPad apps like PlayPad, Garageband, Thumbjam or any other app that allows for melody performance. Or, use classroom instruments like the piano or Orff pitched percussion.
Student Directions: (students should work in pairs)
Now let's do this in Noteflight!
The simplest way of analyzing steps, skips and leaps is to think of the intervals as they relate to the musical alphabet regardless of different octaves. For example, we'll treat the interval of a 9th the same as a 2nd or step. While these intervals sound very different it is helpful for the young composer to relate the intervals to the musical alphabet only.
Post a reply to the topic about Consonance and Dissonance here: Talk About Our Approach to Harmony
Let us know your general thoughts about this harmonic concept. Read about tips from other teachers. Share any experiences about your students. Any breakthroughs?