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What is Musical Harmony?

The word 'harmony' comes from the Greek word harmonia meaning agreement. Musical harmony deals with how pitches relate (or agree) with one another.

Pitches relate in many ways. Groups of pitches can be played at the same time forming chords. Or, groups of pitches (chords) can be played successively forming chord progressions. And, individual pitches can be played successively forming melodies. Harmony is the theory behind all of these musical relationships.

Harmony is Not Random

The ways in which pitches relate are not random. There are consistent patterns used over and over in music regardless of style. The more pleasing a pattern sounds, the more often it gets used. Likewise, less pleasing patterns tend to be avoided.

The more you learn about harmony, the less random chords and melodies will all appear. As you start to see, hear, and memorize the common patterns found in harmony, you will have an easier time learning songs and basslines, composing, and improvising. You may even be shocked at how many songs use the very same harmony. There's not as much harmonic variety as you'd like to think.

Harmonic Logic

As you study harmony you should eventually discover the best sounding harmonies always have some sort of strong, internal logic to them. By that I mean there are certain key elements that, when present, create strong harmonies, and when absent, create weak harmonies.

With study, you will understand how to create and control harmony. In fact, you will realize just how much control the bass has over the harmony in a group. If you want to do anything creative with the bass or music, you need to study harmony.

Chord Progressions

A chord progression is a succession of chords. Progress means to move forward. A large aspect of playing the bass deals with defining the sound of the chord progression as it moves forward.

The bassist’s job especially revolves around the root movement of the chord progression. Defining each chord’s root is one of the bassist’s most rudimentary responsibilities. Beyond defining the root, bassists typically strive to create interesting connections between the roots of each chord in the progression. The better a bassist understands harmony, the more interesting and effective his or her basslines and solos will be.

About the Harmony Lessons

Some of the other lesson categories like bass chord patterns and bass scales already focus on some elements of harmony. In this lesson category we will be focusing on the broader aspect of harmony — keys and how chords relate to one another. That is, how and why certain chords go with one another. We will also explore many common chord progressions, their internal logic, and what we can play over them.

Harmony is a vast subject. You will see the most common harmonic relationships are very simple and easy to learn. And, as you study more advanced harmony, you will see they are built on the same principles as the simple harmonies you first learned.