Zero Inversion Harmony – by Mike Overly

August 21, 2014

Zero Inversion Interval ClockIn 1722, Jean-Philippe Rameau defined harmony as “…the gathering together of several sounds which are agreeable to the ear.”  This traditional definition of harmony is still true today – but needs a little modern updating.

Let us begin by stating that harmony begins with one sound, and this first sound of harmony is symbolized by a letter and a number. The harmony letter may be one of 21 letters, <https://12tonemusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/learn-guitar-in-a-flash> but, the harmony number can be only one number, tone 1. Tone 1 is also known as the root, tonic or scale degree 1.
Harmony then proceeds to gather more sounds by adding letters and tone numbers in a numerical order. The progressive harmonies that result are then given harmony names. For example, two sounds with the same letter name, or with two different letter names is called an interval. Three sounds with three different letter names is a triad. And four sounds with four different letter names is known as a tetrad. Theoretically, harmony continues extending until it includes all 12 sounds with 21 different letter names. Thank goodness dodecaphonic harmony can’t be played on a six string guitar! However, harmony can be played on the guitar in two different ways: melodic and harmonic. Simply stated, melodic is defined as one at a time and harmonic is at the same time.

When harmony of three or more different letters and tone numbers are played melodically, one at a time, it is called an arpeggio. And when harmony of three or more different letters and tone numbers are played harmonically, at the same time, it a known as a chord. Intervals of two sounds may be played both melodically and harmonically, but, are not considered or called arpeggios or chords.A traditional harmony symbol, such as Cm (C minor) is almost always referred to as a chord symbol. However, this would not be true if the Cm harmony was played as an arpeggio. In that case, the Cm harmony symbol would have to be called an arpeggio symbol, and that sounds weird.

So, to avoid naming harmony by the way it is played, simply use the term harmony symbol. That way, you are free to play the harmony however you wish, either as an arpeggio or as a chord.Harmony is grouped into types based upon the 3rd and 5th intervals. The 3rds intervals are: natural three major (3), flat three minor (b3), and sharp three suspended (#3). In traditional harmony, #3 is called 4 but as we will see in later lessons, this creates a lot of unnecessary confusion: think dominant 11.

The 5ths intervals are: natural five perfect (5), flat five diminished (b5), and sharp five augmented (#5).By combining the above six interval types, nine triads result: major 1 3 5, major flat five 1 3 b5, major sharp five 1 3 #5, minor 1 b3 5, minor flat five 1 b3 b5, minor sharp five 1 b3 #5, and suspended 1 #3 5, suspended flat five 1 #3  b5, and suspended sharp five 1 #3 b5.By adding the remaining major scale tones: 6 7 9 11 and 13 (plus their chromatic flats and sharps) to these nine triads, a virtually infinite number of harmonies is created.

A harmony progression is when an arpeggio or chord harmony moves forward to another harmony of any type. The definition of progress is to move forward. Therefore, by combining these virtually infinite number of harmonies with an equally virtually infinite number of harmony orders, the result is more harmony progressions than anyone on Earth has time to play!

’til next time, have some Zero Inversion harmony fun and don’t forget to progress!

P.S. If you liked this lesson, or even if you didn’t, please leave a comment and tell me so.

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If You Move Two Frets, You’ve Moved To Far – by Mike Overly

July 31, 2014

Barre Guitar ChordWouldn’t you like to change chords faster? You could if you played them closer.

Where do chords originate? The simple answer is: from the letters and tone numbers of a scale. In other words, it’s just like the Scrabble® word game. You know how to play that game, select some letters and then see how many words you can spell with those letters. Well, guess what? Music is exactly the same. You select the letters of a scale and then you see how many chords you can spell with those letters!

Since there are many scales from which you can select letters to spell chords from, we will limit this lesson to the G major scale and its chord triads. A chord triad is harmony of three different letters played simultaneously. Many books have been written about this “music-spelling” game. They are known as Music Theory books. These books go into great detail explaining the rules of spelling such as: intervals, inversions, extensions, alterations and so on, until you become a Ph.D. at the spelling game. But who has that kind of time? So, here’s a very simple concept that will have you easily spelling 7 different chord triads from the G major scale. Ready? Just select “every-other-letter” from the scale. Wow, that sure was simple!

Let’s begin by illustrating the G major scale as letters and scale degree tone numbers in two octaves. Figure 1.

 The following ilustrates the circle-6-2, G major scale as letters and tone numbers on the guitar fretboard. Figure 2.

Now, let’s start the chord triad spelling game. The first chord of the G major scale is the G major chord, which is spelled with three “every-other-letters: G B D. This first chord of the G major scale is symbolized by Harmony Numeral I (one). Figure 3.

Here’s another fun game, find the hidden picture. In other words, find the hidden chord! Do you see the circle 6-1 G major chord hidding within the circle 6-2 G major scale? Here is something interesting. Even though there are only three lettes, this chord has six sounds. Figure 4.

And now, a bit of the rules that was mentioned earlier. Since the G major chord begins on the tone 1 (also known as the root and tonic) of the G Major scale, it is called the I (one) major chord. Scale degrees tone numbers: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 symbolize single pitches. In contrast, harmony numerals: I ii iii IV V vi viib5 symbolize groups of pitches called chords or arpeggios. Chord tones are played at the same time and arpeggio tones are played one at a time with no sustain. The harmonies I, IV and V are major, while the ii, iii and vi are minor. The viib5 is a minor flat five. Traditional music theory calls harmony seven of the major scale: diminished.

Now, let’s proceed. In the key of G major, the ii minor chord is A minor (Am, A C E) and is shown in circle 6-3. Figures 5 and 6.

The iii minor chord is B minor (Bm, B D #F) shown in circle 5-1. Figures 7 and 8.

The IV major chord is C major (C E G) also in circle 5-1. Figures 9 and 10.

The V major chord is D major (D F# A) in circle 5-4. Figures 11 and 12.

The vi minor chord is E minor (Em, E G B) in circle 4-1. Figures 13 and 14.

And finally, the viib5 minor flat five chord is F#mb5 (F#mb5, F# A C) in circle 6-1 and circle 4-1. As we previously said, traditional theory  calls this a diminished triad. Figures 15, 16 and 17.


As you can now see, all the chords of the G major scale, or any scale for that matter, are within one fret of any other chord. You can’t get any closer, or faster, than that!

So, ’til next time, have some fun playing closer and faster chord changes… I’ll be listening!

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