Parallel Harmony – an obscure composition technique made modern.

With the advent of sampling came the possibility of triggering audio snippets sampled from existing recordings. Individual drum hits could be used to make new beats, and melodic sounds could be sampled and turned into new basslines and melodies.

But taking a sample of a chord would result in weird sounding chord progressions. The standards of music theory and harmony would normally dictate that the chord should vary between major or minor, depending on which root-note you are building the chord upon, but the sampled audio of a single chord is fixed at whatever harmony (chord structure) was already in the recording.

These “new” sounding chord progressions gave early house music a unique flavour – one that’s popular again today – and actually relates to an obscure composition techniques used by classical composers such as Debussy in the early 1900’s, called “parallel harmony”.

Parallel harmony is also called “chord planing”, and here’s a really quick and easy way you can apply this style to your songs using MIDI:

 

How these harmonies work…

Following the steps shown in the video will create an Inverted Minor Seven Chord.

Here’s a brief explanation of the concepts embedded in the term Inverted Minor Seven chord…

“Minor” Chords

In basic terms, a chord is a combination of notes all played at once.

A minor chord is one where the distance between the notes (known as its chromatic interval) is 3 steps above the root note. It can also be thought of in terms of the notes in the scale, where it would be the 3rd scale degree.

 

The “Seven”

This word doesn’t refer to the number 7 shown in the chord because the chord device deals only in chromatic steps (aka semi-tones) not scale degrees. The “Seven” of a Seven Chord refers to the 7th scale degree. To achieve this in the chord device use number 10 (a chromatic interval of 10).

“Inverted Seven”

The seven becomes “inverted” (it’s pitch position in the chord is turned upside down) by taking the chromatic number 10 and moving it down an octave to -2.

Parallel Harmonies

The term parallel harmony comes from the fact that the shape of the chord (the intervals between each note) doesn’t change as the chord progression plays, meaning the pitch position of the notes are constantly parallel to one another.

To learn more…

We offer a focus course on Music Theory for Electronic Music at our Sydney school.

Check out this more in-depth tutorial on parallel harmony techniques by Liveschool trainer Yama Indra.


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