Christmas Music and Chords Part 2

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Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming Tab

Following up my manipulation of Silent Night from just the other day there is still much fun to be had in the realm of harmony. Yet again I’m going to hit two birds with one stone. This article’s specimen is yet another song prescribed by my teacher in a homework type fashion.

What I’m demonstrating this time around is an alternate approach to playing chords. For Silent Night I had picked, chose, and played chords to manipulate the feeling of the melody. In this case I’m sticking strongly to the harmonies laid out on the score and rather than play them as chords on a designated track I have sort of followed the melody and harmonized along with it using tones available from the listed harmonies… if that makes sense.

What I mean by that is the melody that defines the song (you know, when you hear the melody and comment “that sounds like Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming“) will remain the same, however under that I’ve consulted the harmony progression and, say it says G at the top, I’ve played the same notation while playing either a G, B, or D.

The bass tone is easily the most predictable. I’ve simply just played the bass tone of the harmony listed and called it a day. So if it says G, the lowest track is playing a G. For the part that says D/F# you can expect to hear an F# at the bottom. Simple.

The middle track is a bit less predictable. I had consulted what was already written out in the main melody and chose something to contrast that. For example. The first staff note we hear is a D half note with a G Major harmony. So we’re already hearing a G and a D off the bat one half note and two quarter notes. That’s a Perfect 5th, and while it’s consonant as crap it doesn’t readily showcase the feel of a G Major harmony. So to finish that off I landed on B.

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming Tab
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The second bar, to contrast that, has a C on the bass with the original melody playing the Major 3rd E. The Perfect 5th isn’t as pivotal of an interval as the 3rd, so what I choose to stress isn’t as… eh… game changing so to speak, but it will solidify the C Major feeling, so for the sake of convenience I have chosen to finish the C Major harmony off with G anyway.

And in the name of demonstration what you can really hear through all of this is the difference between playing a chord on one track compared to building chords with multiple tracks playing one tone at a time each. While the feel of an open G Major chord, for instance, may be the similar from one to another the feel of several individual tones played together in harmony lends itself to a whole different feeling and potential ideas beyond our greatest imagining. As Bob Ross would say, it’s your world. You can take that premise and build miracles with it.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming – Harmony by The Smitchens

For whatever reason Jameson also insisted I interrupt the article to make a reference to Philly cheese steak sandwiches along the way. I have no idea why, but he insisted so here it is.

Philly cheese steak sandwiches. I’ve never had one.

Anyway. The way I’ve played this I’ve started flirting with counterpoint. I didn’t initially plan on delving into counterpoint here, but it happened so I may as well address it.

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming Tab 2
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Counterpoint, if you don’t already know is when you play a melody. In this case I’ve played Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming’s melody. Then you have another melody with its own pitches and notation. Then you take another melody also with its own unique pitch selection and notation (the word for these is voices. I have three separate voices).

So you take these three voices and you layer them on top of each other and play them at the same time. Together they form harmonies while retaining their independent melodic feel. The only thing I have yet to do is apply unique notation to each voice, so let’s go on ahead and do that since I’ve already brought it up.

If you take a look at the picture here you can see the original melody we all know and love right in the track labeled soprano. As previously discussed the first bar is dominated by a G Major harmony. The original melody’s staff notation is one 1/2 note and two 1/4 notes, all D. Sticking with the idea beforehand of building the harmony I have a G on bass as a whole note, and in the alto section I have two 1/4 notes and a 1/2 note, all B tones. Doing this completely removes that strum, strum, strum feel to the sound and really gives more life to the listening experience.

Simply by looking at the notation alone you can see that when one melody takes action the others back off. None are ever fighting for the attention, but rather giving and taking, which is sort of a side effect to the first example. Of course there are oceans of creative fun to be had with counterpoint so you can bet there will be more on that in the future. In the meantime you can listen to the examples of Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming with the counterpoint touch to hold you over.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming – Counterpoint by The Smitchens

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Kyle Smitchens

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.

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