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stratman37's avatar

What is "four part harmony"?

Asked by stratman37 (8678points) September 17th, 2010

I know a little music theory, like a triad is a chord with three notes within the scale. But to make it a 7th, you’d add the 7 of the scale. So when a band is singing “four part harmony” (ala the Eagles; Little Big Town, etc) are they always singing different notes, or do they sometimes duplicate the tonic at a higher octave?

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9 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

Four men or women haromonizing their voices together for a particular song. the Four Seasons are a good example. remember the song Sherry? another good example: remember the barber shop quartets? like the song Sweet Adoline?

stratman37's avatar

Oh yeah, sounds great. But what notes are they singing?

stratman37's avatar

Speaking of the Frankie Vallie, “Walk Like A Man”? How ‘bout you SING like a man Francis?

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

I think it’s soprano, alto, tenor, bass parts in one piece of music.
I went to a music school, and we would sing four part harmony pieces

Kayak8's avatar

I sang in a band for years and we did four part harmony. For us, it was often the tonal octave of one of the notes in the chord. On some chords, two of us would double up on a note and then each go a different direction on the next one (one up and one down). Individual A could be singing the same note as Individual B and then Individual A might be singing an octave of individual C on the very next chord, etc. But because you can hear each part moving the overall “thickness” of the sound can be manipulated by these various choices.

SATB as indicated above is often the breakdown for a choral group of male and female voices, but I would have to pull out some music to actually see how the chording was formed for that style of singing.

stratman37's avatar

@Kayak8 : thanx, that helps a lot!

harple's avatar

You might find this interesting, if not a little heavy… it goes into the background of it all.

gasman's avatar

I studied four-part harmony in high school — the teacher was my band director, who had a PhD in music. He used Walter Piston’s textbook Harmony as a guide. Ok, it was a loooong time ago but I doubt anything’s really changed much in the theory of harmony. I recall that quite often the lowest and highest voices were doubled in octaves, or middle parts even crossed in unison. In other words, not every note consisted of 4 distinct pitches, though most of the time they were.

No doubt it depends on the genre. One of my favorite kinds of music are the arrangements from the big band swing era, where 4-part harmony was often heard in close-voiced vocals, as well as instrumental sections (saxes, trumpets, or trombones) carrying the melody.

As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the pinnacles of western music. You don’t hear it much anymore, unfortunately.

stratman37's avatar

@gasman , thank you. That explains it well. Now maybe I can find Walter Piston’s book online for cheap!

@harple – yes, it IS heavy, but helpful!

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