Read Time 4 Minutes
Yes, yes, it’s that time of year again. The perfect time to go into hibernation and not do anything until warm weather finally rears its beautiful face again. Unfortunately it seems the bulk of the human race seems to think we need to be more active in the winter despite our being mammals with far less fur than the other mammals that do hibernate. So since I’m up like my thermostat how about we do something fun?
It’s Christmas time and there’s a plethora of Christmas music out there and wouldn’t you know it, my teacher gave me a sheet of paper with the score to Silent Night on it. The staff notation is primarily based around the melody with the harmonies being defined with numerals.
For this experiment what I’ve done is play the melody as it’s written and toyed with the harmony built around it, so the song is irrefutably recognizable as Silent Night, but through the power of harmony you can still produce new feels. Just because a song is finished doesn’t mean there isn’t more you can do with it.
First up is a bright harmony. Let’s start with what’s written on the paper. The melody is written in the key of C and there are numerals written out in specific locations. The numerals used are I, IV, and V. So in the key of C that gets us the harmonies of C major, F major, and G major. Those are all major harmonies and naturally lend themselves to having a very bright and uplifting sound.
At this time I will guide your attention to Fig. 384729B. The top is the melody and the bottom is the harmony. I’m not a big tab guy, but for whatever reason I’ve included the tablature in this.
Moving on. I’ll see how pain free I can keep this. We’ll start from the beginning.
The first four bars, the melody is accompanied by a C Major chord. The chord includes the tones C, E, and G, and the melody includes the tones G, A, and E. There’s a lot of reinforcement there. With the C as a bass tone the E and G function as a Major 3rd and Perfect 5th respectively, and tip toe around the arpeggio premise. They are relative tones to the C Major chord so they naturally feel comfortable when played at the same time, as you can see. The A functions as a Major 6th and reinforces the bright, uplifting feel, though it only appears twice in the first four bars for one 1/8 note. Its impact is felt, but not heavily stressed. Every other bar that features a C Major chord has a melody that includes the tones C, E, G, and/or A. Like I said. The melody is more so built on arpeggiation with an extra tone for some extra zazz.
The other two chords that are used follow the same exact premise. G Major includes G, B, and D, and any bar that chord is used the melody happens to use G, B, D, or F. Again. Naturally comfortable feel. There’s a root, a Major 3rd, a Perfect 5th, and a Minor 7th at work. So occasionally we get a G7 feel. Isn’t that nice? In the case of the bars with F Major the chord is built on F, A, and C. There are only four bars total that use an F Major chord and the melody in all of those are built on the tones A, C, and B. With F as the bass tone the A is, again, a Major 3rd, and the C a Perfect 5th. The B is an augmented 4th and while a very dissonant tone, in the context of a Major chord can still lend itself to a brighter feeling. All of that into consideration the most common intervals we’re hearing here are Major 3rds and Perfect 5ths. Bright and consonant.
Now let’s add a different flare to this.
First and foremost the melody is exactly the same. I have not transposed it or toggled any of the tones in any way. It’s Silent Night. Played in isolation it’s easily recognized as an unaltered Silent Night. The experiment here is how to manipulate the feeling of the melody by toying with the harmony beneath it.
Secondly just looking at Fig. 9375226A1STEAKSAUCE you can see rather than sustaining chords for several bars I’ve included more.
Now. To the beginning. First three bars. The melody still being built on G, A, and E, the chords underneath are built on E, G, and B. Better known as the E Minor chord. Suddenly the functions of the tones in the melody become Minor 3rds and Perfect 4ths. Minor 3rds naturally make things sound sad. In the context with an E Minor chord the A (Perfect 4th) adds dissonance. The distance from G to A is a Major 2nd. From A to B is Major 2nd. Two 2nds in one chord means dissonance.
Picking and choosing bars I’m singling out for this I’ll fast forward to bar 10. The melody is C, B, A. The chord used is A Minor. A, C, E. The A sets the bar for everything and the C assumes the guise of a Minor 3rd, and the B a Major 2nd. The few other bars were handled differently (like bar 6). That was a demonstration of forcing the feel along the path I desired. The melody is a single B tone. Any number of things that can be done with that. What I chose to do was apply a B Minor flat 5 chord*. That chord includes B, D, and F. From B to F is a Diminished 5th and very dissonant. The melody is more or less forced into that by my own desire. The same trick is done in any case a D Minor chord appears.
*A lot of people would call that B diminished. I said that to my teacher once and garnered an unexpected lesson out of that, but that’s a whole different topic. More on that later.
Anyway. There are a few points to make in closing. My examples are pretty down to the basic point. The point being that a melody can be manipulated and bent to your will. Every individual tone can assume the role of any type of interval and by extension can yield the feel of your desire. And there are so many types of harmonies. Triads, tetrads, you name it. There is plenty enough fun to be had with that.