Last night at All Hands Active I taught a class on the basics of harmonic music theory. It turns out that understanding what all is going on in the music we like so much can not only help us to like it even more, but also to begin taking ownership of our aural consumption and make music for ourselves.
We began with physics. Sound is just energy being transmitted through the medium of air from the source to your ears, and the waves of that energy give sound all of its characteristics. Complex heaps of dueling harmonics result in different timbres and help you tell your mother’s voice from an alarm klaxon despite both having the same pitch and intonation. Furthermore, the frequencies of those sound waves are pretty neat. It turns out that any given note has a standard frequency, and that that same note, 1 octave higher, is double the frequency of the original note. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, the intervals (2 notes played at once) we’re used to hearing in popular music like perfect fifths reduce to perfect ratios of their respective notes’ frequencies, in this case 3/2. That may not mean anything to you at all, and that’s neat, too. It just means there are holes in your head that we have yet to fill.
Then we got into scales and chords. I could bore you with talking about the Circle of Fifths, but let’s sum it up with this: scales are collections of intervals out of which you can construct chords, chord progressions, and melodies. Harmony refers to how everything fits together.
By the end of the class, everyone had written a basic chord progression and a melody along with it. Given with satisfaction rate of what happened, I’ve already organized an Intermediate-level class to follow up in greater details on the chords and melodies on February 6th at 7PM. If what is mentioned above is all duh and derp for you, feel free to drop in and pick right up and even if you feel out of your depth I think we can learn you a thing or two regardless. Suggested donation: $5 and hugs.
Here is a clip of the class trying to make their arms follow the changes in the pitch and sonorance of the music:
And here is one of the songs we used to point out counterpoint: