Discussion:
4-part harmony for pop music: worthy of study?
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bruce phipps
2004-02-18 11:53:20 UTC
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I'm a self-taught pianist, playing mostly pop music.
Whilst searching the web for info. on voice leading I came upon a lot
of material about 4-part harmony and the basic "rules" for arranging
parts.
Interesting stuff, not sure I follow it all at the moment.
A few questions:

* Is a 4-part harmony score designed to be played on piano? Or is it
intended more for choral voices? One or more of the parts seem to
change on every beat. It might be a bit tricky for me to play on
piano.
* The 4-part harmony "rules" (avoid parallel 5ths etc.). Are these
valid for pop music?
* As I said, 4-part harmony seems interesting. Would people advise
that I study it more considering I am intersted in playing pop music?
I was thinking it might help me if I ever have to make up my own
arrangement of a song if I just had a chord sheet & melody line to go
on.

Bruce
Skip
2004-02-18 13:40:20 UTC
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Post by bruce phipps
I'm a self-taught pianist, playing mostly pop music.
Whilst searching the web for info. on voice leading I came upon a lot
of material about 4-part harmony and the basic "rules" for arranging
parts.
Interesting stuff, not sure I follow it all at the moment.
* Is a 4-part harmony score designed to be played on piano? Or is it
intended more for choral voices?
Never seen 4 part harmony for piano but i could be wrong.

One or more of the parts seem to
Post by bruce phipps
change on every beat. It might be a bit tricky for me to play on
piano.
That would average between 2 and 4 times per bar which seems a wee bit
excessive to me.
Post by bruce phipps
* The 4-part harmony "rules" (avoid parallel 5ths etc.). Are these
valid for pop music?
Not sure what you mean because the Baritone in a quartet often sings in
5th's (which is very hard to do IMO) . Have a listen to Bohemian Rhapsody by
Queen. In My Life by the Beatles or most Beach boys songs.
Post by bruce phipps
* As I said, 4-part harmony seems interesting. Would people advise
that I study it more considering I am intersted in playing pop music?
I was thinking it might help me if I ever have to make up my own
arrangement of a song if I just had a chord sheet & melody line to go
on.
I think that it is absolutely essential . All aspects of my music has
improved out of sight since I joined a Barbershop group and learnt about
lead , tenor , baritone and bass. Not to mention how much fun it is.
Gary.
Marc Sabatella
2004-02-18 17:36:38 UTC
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Post by bruce phipps
* Is a 4-part harmony score designed to be played on piano? Or is it
intended more for choral voices? One or more of the parts seem to
change on every beat. It might be a bit tricky for me to play on
piano.
Some are designed to be played on piano, for sure - they are generally
called "chorales". But indeed, many four part arrangements intended for
an ensemble can be tricky to play on piano.
Post by bruce phipps
* The 4-part harmony "rules" (avoid parallel 5ths etc.). Are these
valid for pop music?
They are if you don't think of them as "rules" in the sense of telling
what you must do or not do. Think of them instead as rules like the law
of gravity. It says, if you drop an object, it will fall to the ground.
It doesn't tell you whether you *should* drop the object or not. It's
simply a matter of cause and effect. Parallel fifths create a
particular type of sound. In most classical music, stylistically, that
sound is perceived to be dissonant and hence you avoid it by avoiding
parallel fifths. In pop music, that same sound might be just want you
want so you achieve it by using parallel fifths.

The key here is, you have to *understand* the rules - hear for yourself
what effect a given technique causes. That way you can decide when you
want or don't want those effects.
Post by bruce phipps
* As I said, 4-part harmony seems interesting. Would people advise
that I study it more considering I am intersted in playing pop music?
I was thinking it might help me if I ever have to make up my own
arrangement of a song if I just had a chord sheet & melody line to go
on.
If you are planning to write four part arrangements, definitely, study
how it has been dfone in the past. If you are concerned mostly baout
creating piano arrangements, you'd do better to study *that*. Many of
the principles are common, but there is no need to get sidetracked by
the stuff that is really more vocal-specific. Especially when, as you
observed, many four part arrangements end up needless difficult to play
on piano, compared to a more "pianistic" arrangement that might not only
be easier to play, but ore musically satisfying as well, as it might
take better advantages of the capabilities of the instrument.

--------------
Marc Sabatella
***@outsideshore.com

The Outside Shore
Music, art, & educational materials:
http://www.outsideshore.com/
IPGrunt
2004-02-18 18:17:24 UTC
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Post by bruce phipps
I'm a self-taught pianist, playing mostly pop music.
Whilst searching the web for info. on voice leading I came upon a lot
of material about 4-part harmony and the basic "rules" for arranging
parts.
Interesting stuff, not sure I follow it all at the moment.
* Is a 4-part harmony score designed to be played on piano? Or is it
intended more for choral voices? One or more of the parts seem to
change on every beat. It might be a bit tricky for me to play on
piano.
* The 4-part harmony "rules" (avoid parallel 5ths etc.). Are these
valid for pop music?
* As I said, 4-part harmony seems interesting. Would people advise
that I study it more considering I am intersted in playing pop music?
I was thinking it might help me if I ever have to make up my own
arrangement of a song if I just had a chord sheet & melody line to go
on.
Bruce
**Yes, 4-part harmony can be played on the piano.

**Yes, those rules apply to pop music as well.

**Yes, study it. Harmony is harmony. If you know the rules of traditional
harmony, then you will write better pop music.

However, there are other music theory fundamentals that you may need to
know before you pick up Piston's Harmony.

For example, can you read notes on a staff? Do you know the time value of
notes and do you know how to count 8th notes, 16th notes? Do you understand
intervals, the circle of fouths/fifths, and basic chord construction
(major, minor, diminshed, 7ths and extensions, etc.) How about simple scale
theory? Do you know a major scale from a minor scale (both harmonic and
melodic)?

I wont cover a complete syllabus of intro to music theory here, but you get
the point. Musical theory study can be a little like the study of
mathematics.. you must learn and master the fundamentals before you can
successfully move on and build upon your knowledge.
--
-- ipgrunt
Sandman
2004-02-18 19:17:35 UTC
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Post by IPGrunt
**Yes, study it. Harmony is harmony. If you know the rules of traditional
harmony, then you will write better pop music.
No harm can come from it, even the beatles studied harmony.
Terryo
2004-02-19 00:36:10 UTC
Permalink
Post by bruce phipps
I'm a self-taught pianist, playing mostly pop music.
Whilst searching the web for info. on voice leading I came upon a lot
of material about 4-part harmony and the basic "rules" for arranging
parts.
Interesting stuff, not sure I follow it all at the moment.
* Is a 4-part harmony score designed to be played on piano? Or is it
intended more for choral voices? One or more of the parts seem to
change on every beat. It might be a bit tricky for me to play on
piano.
Most hymns are written in 4-part harmony. I've always found (most of)
them particularly easy to play. You might pick up a hymnal and play a
few of them to get some ideas -- seeing how the voices change, how
cadences are used, etc. -- that you can carry over into pop music.
pjb/
2004-02-19 15:57:54 UTC
Permalink
I was suprised to see that nobody mentioned JS Bach's 4-part
chorales...you can buy the score...there are some 369 of the chorales,
and they comprise the definitive treatise on four-part writing. No one
has done it better....they are a true joy to explore and study. Many
composers have called it their musical 'bible'. I've been thru 3 or 4
copies of it over the years. It's available in a number of editions..I
recommend the Riemenschnieder edition, commonly available. They are all
playable on the piano, each one them (they are very short) contain one
or more little harmonic twists that make you sit up and take note.

Highly recommended. They are also very beautiful. They are old hymn
tunes which Bach codified into four-part settings to preserve them and
use in many of his later compositions. They appear throughout his
large-scale works in various guises. Many of the Cantata's are based
upon one or the other of them. IMO, you will not find a greater master
of 4-part writing.
bruce phipps
2004-02-19 19:29:23 UTC
Permalink
Post by Terryo
Most hymns are written in 4-part harmony. I've always found (most of)
them particularly easy to play. You might pick up a hymnal and play a
few of them to get some ideas -- seeing how the voices change, how
cadences are used, etc. -- that you can carry over into pop music.
Is there a standard teechnique for playing 4-part on piano? Two notes
in LH, 2 notes in RH?
Or 1 bass note in LH, 3 notes in RH?
Or does it vary?

Bruce
Marc Sabatella
2004-02-19 21:07:57 UTC
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Post by bruce phipps
Is there a standard teechnique for playing 4-part on piano? Two notes
in LH, 2 notes in RH?
Or 1 bass note in LH, 3 notes in RH?
Or does it vary?
It can vary, but assuming that you'll play two notes in each hand and
move the tenor to the right hand every now and then as necessary is
probably a good starting point.

--------------
Marc Sabatella
***@outsideshore.com

The Outside Shore
Music, art, & educational materials:
http://www.outsideshore.com/

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