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Harmony Exercises For Beginners


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Some harmony exercises from an old music notebook. They belong to an elementary level course and deal with simple Renaissance harmony, so I thought they could be interesting and amusing to do for beginners here (of course, harmonizations in more advanced styles could be done).


The exercises are actual Renaissance villancicos from Spanish cancioneros. We were given the top line and were asked to complete a four part harmony following rules from the Renaissance era (if you are not familiar with Renaissance harmony and want to try that style, I can give you some guidelines and pointers). The scores are available (you might need to transcribe some of them from the Renaissance notation, though), but do not cheat and write your own solution.


The second song (Alta estava la peña) is transposed one octave up to fit a soprano range.


I can provide rough translations of the villancicos if you want, but here is the gist of each song:


1. Soy serranica: It is about a rustic mountain girl who is feeling unlucky and miserable because of unsatisfied sexual appetite.


2. Alta estava la peña: About some plants and flowers that grow on a towering rock formation by a river.


3. Lo que demanda el romero: About a dude who is refused something he wants at the gate of his lover. (the full lyrics are missing for this song).


The general structure of the villancicos is ABBA, ABBA, and so forth.


I can't seem to be able to attach the score here, but here is the link to the pdf:




I have some more of those exercises in my notebook, if you are interested. Enjoy!

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Simplifying things a bit, it is standard four part harmony, but with more focus on the horizontal than on the vertical. Sort of like the chords are a consequence of the independent horizontal lines, whereas baroque harmony works the other way round (horizontal lines are a consequence of a previous vertical harmonic structure).


The general rules of voice leading apply (such as parallel fifths & octaves and so on). There are some rules specific to the Rennaisance harmony (types of chords and their inversions, notes that can be doubled or omitted, approach to and resolution of dissonance...) Also, the harmony is not as functional as Baroque harmony (Renaissance music is mostly modal); triads can be connected freely, with functional V-I structures happening at the cadences.


I'll post more details on Renaissance harmony as soon as I can, but the tunes I posted could be harmonized in a baroque style, if you are more familiar with that one.

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Thus, we are dealing with more with species counterpoint (a la fux per say) than strict 4 part harmony chorales of bach?

Fux would give you a Renaissance sound, but you can use chorale style harmony à la Bach if that suits you better. Technically, neither Fux nor Bach would be appropriate models; they are too stuffy for this kind of music, which is light-hearted and fun.

I'll post some general Renaissance guidelines this evening, hopefully.

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Hahaha. I sense Saratro is at again with provding tryos(newcommers) a fantastic  way to learn counterpoint and harmony all the same time. Myself I will just sip my coca and enjoy the comedy....


That is very optimistic of you to think there would be anyone interested in doing this exercises. I'm not holding my breath.


Here are some guidelines, anyway. I'm focusing more in harmony than counterpoint (it is ok for this examples because the "villancico" genre is mostly homophonic/chordal, very much like chorales).


* ALLOWED NOTES: Due to the tuning systems, the available notes were: The seven natural notes and five altered notes (C#, Eb, F#, G# and Bb). The alternate alterations (Db, D#, Gb, Ab and A#) would call for retuning of the instruments in order to use them, therefore they were excluded in instrumental music. For instance, the B major chord would sound dissonant unless retuning of the third. The excluded accidentals could be used in purely vocal music, but they were still very rare.


* ALLOWED CHORDS: Only major and minor triads, excluding those with the discarded alterations (B major, Db major, F minor and so forth would not belong to the system)... Also there is one dissonant chord, the diminished triad, which is used sparingly and always in the first inversion (a chord that takes on the role of a dominant, but this terminology is anachronistic). The diminished chord is the only one that has obligatory resolution to a tonic (it creates something a dominant-tonic relationship in later terminology). The other chords are linked freely, without functional relationships (except at the cadences, where a V-I structure emerges).


So, the music is very consonant (there can be, of course, passing dissonances, and more deliberate, structural dissonances in the cadential formulas - more of that in a separate point). But because the music is so consonant, the subtle dissonances, even if tame by later standards, become highly expressive.


* INVERSIONS: Only root position and first inversion for major and minor triads (no second inversion, sorry), and only first inversion for the diminished triad. First inversion chords happen mostly in weak beats, and the bass note is left by step (can be arrived to by a skip, though). Inverted triads are used with parsimony.



- Major chords in root position: doubling of the root.

- Minor chords in root position: doubling of the root in most of the cases, and doubling of the third allowed in certain cases for melodic considerations, such as note exchanges by contrary motion and stuff like that.

- Any triad (major or minor) in first inversion: Any note can be doubled (Renaissance first inversions behave differently than later 6 chords).

- Diminished triad: Doubling of any note, except the one the one acts as leading tone, which must resolve to the "tonic". The fifth of the this chord can be doubled because it can resolve either downwards or upwards. In the baroque harmony, it would always be resolved downwards, thus preventing its doubling.


* OMISSIONS: In earlier styles, the third can be omitted for the last chord. This "open fifth sound" went out of fashion and later Renaissance practice would omit the fifth. The chord would have typically the root triplicated in that case. Incomplete chords are rare anyway, and basically limited to the last chord ("last chord" meaning not the actual last chord of a composition, but the last chord of a cadence).


* CADENCES: V - I conclusive formulas (not a global tonic, but a local one; i.e. a piece can have a cadence on Cmaj, then on Gmin, then on Amaj and so forth. The most common type of cadence use the dissonant suspended fourth, introduced as consonance in the previous chord, and resolved downwards to the consonant third.


That is all for now. If there is any real interest, I will give further general instructions on voice leading conforming to Renaissance style in chordal settings, otherwise I'd rather entertain myself with something else.


Best wishes.

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