Close and open harmony

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Close and open harmony
C-major triad in close and open harmony

A chord is in close harmony (also called close position or close structure [1] ) if its notes are arranged within a narrow range, usually with no more than an octave between the top and bottom notes. In contrast, a chord is in open harmony (also called open position or open structure [1] ) if there is more than an octave between the top and bottom notes. The more general term spacing describes how far apart the notes in a chord are voiced. A triad in close harmony has compact spacing, while one in open harmony has wider spacing.


Close harmony or voicing can refer to both instrumental and vocal arrangements. It can follow the standard voice-leading rules of classical harmony, as in string quartets or Bach chorales, or proceed in parallel motion with the melody in thirds or sixths.

Vocal music

Close and open harmony
The beginning of "Yankee Doodle" [2] with accompaniment in close harmony
Close and open harmony
The beginning of Schubert's "Meeresstille," D. 216 is an example of accompaniment in open harmony, spaced according to the overtone series [3]

Origins of this style of singing are found in harmonies of the 1800s in America.

Early radio quartets continued this tradition. Female harmonists, like The Boswell Sisters ("Mood Indigo", 1933) and The Hamilton Sisters and Fordyce ("Who? You That's Who!", 1927), who then became Three X Sisters, performed and recorded this style in the 1920s, and continued it on commercial radio of the 1930s. Close harmony singing was especially popular in the 1940s with pop and R&B groups using the technique quite frequently. The Andrews Sisters also capitalized on a similar style with swing music.

Many gospel and soul groups in the 1950s and 60s also used this technique, usually 3- or 4-part SSAA or TTBB harmony with one person (either bass or lead) doing a call-and-response type lead. Examples of this are The Blind Boys of Alabama,[ citation needed ] a group that is still recording today. The folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel used close harmony, echoing their chosen role-models, The Everly Brothers. [4] The Louvin Brothers were a duo that used close harmony in the genre of country music. [5]

Barbershop harmony has a unique TTBB structure: the melody is in the 2nd tenor or "lead" voice, while the 1st tenor takes the next part up, usually in 3rds, with the baritone and bass voices supporting. The bass line tends to be more rhythmic and covers the root notes of the harmonic progression, providing more "support" and independence than in classical vocal music, since Barbershop is usually sung a cappella. Barbershop can be sung by males (TTBB) or females (SSAA). Public domain pieces, such as "Sweet Adeline", and newer pieces are abundant. National organizations promote the music with local chapters in many communities.

Soul and gospel groups flourished in America in the years after World War II, building on the foundation of blues, 1930s gospel songs and big band music. Originally called "race music" by white mainstream radio and its target market, it was the precursor to rock and roll and rhythm and blues of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, influencing many English and American artists of that era. They often used the more traditional TTBB or SSAA 4-part structure, but with heavy use of solos and call-and-response, which is rooted in the African American church. These groups sometimes sang a cappella but also used instrumental backing, especially when recorded by the bigger labels. Pop music and doo-wop can be seen as a commercialization of this genre.[ citation needed ]

Instrumental music

Impressionist composers like Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel often used close harmony in their works and other intervals, such as 7ths, 9ths, and 11ths may be used since the chords have four or more notes and the harmonies are more complex.[ citation needed ] In jazz, this influence flowered in the works of George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. [6]

A well-known example of consistent instrumental close harmony is Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" which uses the full range of single-reed wind instruments (soprano clarinet, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones) to make a distinctive sound by harmonizing the different sections all within a single octave.[ citation needed ] Miller studied the Schillinger technique with Joseph Schillinger, [7] who is credited with helping Miller create the "Miller sound", and under whose tutelage he himself composed what became his signature theme, "Moonlight Serenade". [8]

Block harmony

In organ performance, block harmony means that close position chords are added below the melody in the right hand, and the left hand doubles the melody an octave lower, while in open harmony the middle note of the chord is played an octave lower creating an "open" space in the chord. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Rhythm guitar Guitar used to provide rhythm

In music performances, rhythm guitar is a technique and role that performs a combination of two functions: to provide all or part of the rhythmic pulse in conjunction with other instruments from the rhythm section ; and to provide all or part of the harmony, i.e. the chords from a song's chord progression, where a chord is a group of notes played together. Therefore, the basic technique of rhythm guitar is to hold down a series of chords with the fretting hand while strumming or fingerpicking rhythmically with the other hand. More developed rhythm techniques include arpeggios, damping, riffs, chord solos, and complex strums.

Harmony Aspect of music

In music, harmony is the process by which the composition of individual sounds, or superpositions of sounds, is analyzed by hearing. Usually, this means simultaneously occurring frequencies, pitches, or chords.

A tenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone voice types. It is one of the highest of the male voice types. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.

Barbershop quartet A cappella close harmony singing group

A barbershop quartet is a group of four singers who sing music in the barbershop style, characterized by four-part harmony without instrumental accompaniment, or a cappella. The four voices are: the lead, the vocal part which typically carries the melody; a bass, the part which provides the bass line to the melody; a tenor, the part which harmonizes above the lead; and a baritone, the part that frequently completes the chord. The baritone sings either above or below the lead singer as the harmony requires. Barbershop music is typified by close harmony— the upper three voices generally remain within one octave of each other.

Schenkerian analysis is a method of analyzing tonal music, based on the theories of Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935). The goal is to demonstrate the organic coherence of the work by showing how it relates to an abstracted deep structure, the Ursatz. This primal structure is roughly the same for any tonal work, but a Schenkerian analysis shows how, in an individual case, that structure develops into a unique work at the "foreground", the level of the score itself. A key theoretical concept is "tonal space". The intervals between the notes of the tonic triad in the background form a tonal space that is filled with passing and neighbour tones, producing new triads and new tonal spaces that are open for further elaborations until the "surface" of the work is reached.

Barbershop music Type of vocal harmony

Barbershop vocal harmony, as codified during the barbershop revival era (1930s–present), is a style of a cappella close harmony, or unaccompanied vocal music, characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. Each of the four parts has its own role: generally, the lead sings the melody, the tenor harmonizes above the melody, the bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completes the chord, usually below the lead. The melody is not usually sung by the tenor or baritone, except for an infrequent note or two to avoid awkward voice leading, in tags or codas, or when some appropriate embellishment can be created. One characteristic feature of barbershop harmony is the use of what is known as "snakes" and "swipes". This is when a chord is altered by a change in one or more non-melodic voices. Occasional passages may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.

Ninth musical interval

In music, a ninth is a compound interval consisting of an octave plus a second.

In jazz, comping is the chords, rhythms, and countermelodies that keyboard players, guitar players, or drummers use to support a musician's improvised solo or melody lines. It is also the action of accompanying, and the left-hand part of a solo pianist.

In music theory, a dominant seventh chord, or major minor seventh chord, is a seventh chord, usually built on the fifth degree of the major scale, and composed of a root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Thus it is a major triad together with a minor seventh, denoted by the letter name of the chord root and a superscript "7". An example is the dominant seventh chord built on G, written as G7, having pitches G–B–D–F:

Voice leading is the linear progression of individual melodic lines and their interaction with one another to create harmonies, typically in accordance with the principles of common-practice harmony and counterpoint.

Consecutive fifths

In music, consecutive fifths, or parallel fifths, are progressions in which the interval of a perfect fifth is followed by a different perfect fifth between the same two musical parts : for example, from C to D in one part along with G to A in a higher part. Octave displacement is irrelevant to this aspect of musical grammar; for example, parallel twelfths are equivalent to parallel fifths.

Barbershop arranging

Barbershop arranging is the art of creating arrangements of barbershop music. The Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) and Sweet Adelines International (SAI) have prescribed rules that dictate what is an acceptable arrangement, particularly with regard to singing in competition. This makes barbershop arranging a specialist form of arranging, rarely tackled by those outside Barbershop; likewise, barbershop arrangers tend to be known only for their barbershop arrangements rather than for their work in any other musical form.

Voicing (music)

In music theory, voicing refers to two closely related concepts:

  1. How a musician or group distributes, or spaces, notes and chords on one or more instruments
  2. The simultaneous vertical placement of notes in relation to each other; this relates to the concepts of spacing and doubling

Falsobordone is a style of recitation found in music from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Most often associated with the harmonization of Gregorian psalm tones, it is based on root position triads and is first known to have appeared in southern Europe in the 1480s.


In musical choral notation, TTBB denotes a four-part men's chorus. Its configuration is Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Bass 1 (Baritone), Bass 2.

In music, harmonization is the chordal accompaniment to a line or melody: "Using chords and melodies together, making harmony by stacking scale tones as triads".

Harmonic seventh chord

The harmonic seventh chord is a major triad plus the harmonic seventh interval. This interval is somewhat narrower and is "sweeter in quality" than an "ordinary" minor seventh, which has a just intonation ratio of 9:5, or an equal-temperament ratio of 1000 cents.

Vocal harmony A style of vocal music

Vocal harmony is a style of vocal music in which a consonant note or notes are simultaneously sung as a main melody in a predominantly homophonic texture. Vocal harmonies are used in many subgenres of European art music, including Classical choral music and opera and in the popular styles from many Western cultures ranging from folk songs and musical theater pieces to rock ballads. In the simplest style of vocal harmony, the main vocal melody is supported by a single backup vocal line, either at a pitch which is above or below the main vocal line, often in thirds or sixths which fit in with the chord progression used in the song. In more complex vocal harmony arrangements, different backup singers may sing two or even three other notes at the same time as each of the main melody notes, mostly with consonant, pleasing-sounding thirds, sixths, and fifths.

The term "four-part harmony" refers to music written for four voices, or for some other musical medium—four musical instruments or a single keyboard instrument, for example—for which the various musical parts can give a different note for each chord of the music.

This is a glossary of Schenkerian analysis, a method of musical analysis of tonal music based on the theories of Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935). The method is discussed in the concerned article and no attempt is made here to summarize it. Similarly, the entries below whenever possible link to other articles where the concepts are described with more details, and the definitions are kept here to a minimum.


  1. 1 2 Kostka, Stefan; Payne, Dorothy (2004). Tonal Harmony (5th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. pp.  74. ISBN   0072852607. OCLC   51613969.
  2. Porter, Steven (1987). Harmonization of the Chorale, p. 9. ISBN   0-935016-80-5.
  3. Jonas, Oswald (1982). Introduction to the Theory of Heinrich Schenker (1934: Das Wesen des musikalischen Kunstwerks: Eine Einführung in Die Lehre Heinrich Schenkers), p. 18. Trans. John Rothgeb. ISBN   0-582-28227-6.
  4. Simon, Paul (April 20, 2011). "100 Greatest Artists: 33. The Everly Brothers". Rolling Stone . Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  5. Friskics-Warren, Bill (2011-01-26). "Charlie Louvin, Country Singer, Dies at 83" . Retrieved 2017-02-15.
  6. Hasse, John Edward (1995), Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, New York: Da Capo, ISBN   0-306-80614-2
  7. "Joseph Schillinger, the forgotten Guru Archived May 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine ", The Schillinger School of Music.
  8. "Who Is Joseph Schillinger?", The Schillinger System.
  9. Shanaphy, Edward and Knowlton, Joseph (1990). The Do It Yourself Handbook for Keyboard Playing, p. 220. ISBN   0-943748-00-3.