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What constitutes "Modern" harmony?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mambo4, Jan 9, 2019.

  1. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I like to nerd out on Rick Beato videos
    This one has me wondering about what constitutes "modern" harmony

    I generally analyze harmony in terms of functional "roman numeral" harmony
    i.e, diatonic chords, cadences, secondary dominants, tritone substitutions.
    even when the chords get "weird" I look for fragments of familiar V - I motion.
    I tend to assume the "weird" notes are voice leading.
    This helps me grasp a sense of structure and navigate the song
    and (along with stylistic understanding) guides my bass line choices.

    As far as I can tell "modern" harmony seems to just chuck everything out the window except voice leading.
    Is there more to it?
    Are there some overarching common patterns or approaches out there?
    or is modern harmony just a mash up of arbitrary techniques?
    Groove Master likes this.
  2. Traditional harmony is based on triads, and built in thirds.
    Modern harmony is not. Examples of modern harmony are quartal (based on fourths), and 12 Tone, which uses any and all of the available chromatic tones to form complex, polytonal (more than one key played simultaneously) and dissonant (lots of clashing notes) sounding textures—popularized by the modern orchestral composers of the 20th century, like Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.

    Traditional harmony is a staple of Romantic, Classical, and popular (rock) music, because of its pleasing sound, which does not challenge the listener. Modern harmony was an experimental effort by composers to move forward from traditional constructs of the Romantic and Classical periods.

    Generally, popular music fans would neither understand, nor appreciate the inclusion of any of the above mentioned modern harmony techniques in their pop/rock playlist.
    LBS-bass, dtsand and bholder like this.
  3. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    It strikes me as choosing some arbitrary restrictions / filters on the 12 notes and trying to make something sound good out of it.

    As opposed to finding an underlying structure of useful / appealing patterns. It seems kind of the opposite.
  4. Exactly right. For 12 tone music anyway. They invented a rule: you have to use all 12 chromatic notes in the octave. Then they followed the rule. And to the typical listener, it does sound like an arbitrary restriction. Like saying, “I’m going to compose a new song, but I’m only going to work on it when I have a cold, or when the moon is full.”

    Why make it harder? Why thwart or complicate your efforts?

    Although, the opposite camp would say “you’re restricting yourself too, when you write pop/rock radio tracks: You’re limiting yourself to conventional major and minor triads, and forcing melodies into 8 bar phrases, and still doggedly adhering to verse-chorus-bridge formats.” And they’d be right. Popular music hasn’t changed much in 100 years. If anything it’s been dumbed down since the likes of Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rogers & Hammerstein, and such, not progressed or evolved.

    And that’s the catch 22 of music, right there. Music is about tension and release; conflict and resolution; meeting expectations versus surprising the listener. And you stand a greater chance of scoring with the masses if you stick to what they know and are accustomed to, rather than be daring or innovative. There have always been fringe, avante garde, and innovative artists. Have they enjoyed mainstream success? Hardly ever.
    dtsand and Spin Doctor like this.
  5. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
  6. I've got no kick against modern jazz
    Unless they try to play it too darn fast
    And lose the beauty of the melody
    Until they sound just like a symphony

    That's why I go for that that rock and roll music
    Any old way you choose it
    It's got a back beat, you can't lose it
    Any old time you use it
    It's got to be rock and roll music
    If you want to dance with me

    -Chuck Berry
    ak56 and dreamadream99 like this.
  7. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Adam Neely has dropped a nicely structured outline of the development of "modern" harmony

    level 1: 7th chords and non diatonic ii-V's
    level 2: tritone substitutions
    level 3: extensions & altered extensions
    level 4: functional pedal point w/ non functional chords
    level 5: non functional harmony guided only by melody notes
    level 6: 'liberated dissonance': polychords, mirror harmony, 12 tone serial "anything shoenberg & stravinsky used"
    level 7: chords individually just intonated to melody notes
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
    eJake and gebass6 like this.
  8. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    I am me
    Nothing new in the video.

    All he did was do a pedal point on the A, filled in chord below it to what he liked.
    BassChuck likes this.
  9. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    To me that is pretty modern by using a Maj7 sus4 chord from the start and then put that in different harmonic contexts. Deep stuff right there from the start and I like it a lot. Very Dick Grove like approach whom was my harmony teacher in L.A back then. A truly genius.
  10. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    Mambo - you have been in the shed again. You know what Mom said about that.

    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
    mambo4 likes this.
  11. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Yeah that's the Rick in the First video, doing what Adam defines as "level 4" Jazz Harmony in the second video.

    For me the big leap is between level 3 and 4: Turning away from any idea of functional harmony and relationship to a temporary key center or constant tonic, and instead focusing on what melody note am I supporting and what voice leading sounds interesting. To my ear ,harmony needs to be functional to make sense. I like the harmony clearly outlining where its going.

    Level 4 stuff tests my ear, but the constant pedal point helps anchor things.
    Level 5 and 6...strikes me as almost complete noise.
    Very few people are skilled enough to create music at that level that strikes me a coherent and pleasant.
    Jacob Collier is the really only one I can think of. He's probably level 8.

  12. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    I am me
    I was explaining to one of my BL's a trick I learned a while back, and it this very thing you address as temporary key centers.

    Generally speaking, when you build your chords for a tonal center, you don't build it in 3rd's as we traditionally do, we build it in intervals of 2nd's, 3rd's, 4th's and so on. You target whether you want a consonant, dissonant, or neutral sound. When adding up all of the intervocalic relationships in the chord you made, you'll find that the chord will sound consonant, dissonant, or neutral, depending on what you have most of. Generally speaking, lots of 3rd will yield a consonant sound. Lots of 2nd's will yield a dissonant sound.

    Maybe this technique has a formal name.
  13. AFRO


    Aug 29, 2010
    Kinda freaky I saw/watched this very video yesterday when I was clearing up dinner mess..so when I saw this thread I was like how weird is that!?! the title of your thread made me think of that exact video and then that video is in this thread! Crazy.

    its almost like those "Big Brother" 'eyes' (erm, Cookies) that see when you click/search for like a bed mattress; then the next time you are on the internet, there are TONS of mattress adverts! Only this is way less creepy, as it is coincidence and not some cookie farming bot tracking my online search/history, and bombarding me with subsequent like material(s).

    anyhow, good thread Mambo. :thumbsup:
  14. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    mambo4 likes this.
  15. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    As we learn from Jamie Abersold material, 3rds and 7th are what propels harmonic movement. So to get 'modern harmony':
    1.) Use suspensions (remove the 3rd, replace with 2nd or 4th)
    2.) Major 7th instead of minor.
    3.) Use complete major or minor triads together, a major second apart.
    4.) Don't worry about resolving minor 2nds.
    5.) Once the traditional functionality of a collection of notes is removed, any bass note can be used as a root.
    The wonderful thing about 'modern' harmony is that, once the rules are removed (that is, expectations are eliminated) anything can be accepted and your ear is the only guide (as it always should be).
    mambo4 likes this.
  16. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    ^ very concise, I like it. basically "remove the functional stuff"
    A good demonstration:

    It has interesting implications for the role of a bass in the context of modern harmony.
    To me , beyond simply outlining the chords, a good bass line also communicates something about what is going on functionally. Some say good music "tells a story" , and that story is typically starting at the tonic, wandering away from it, and somehow returning.
    But if the harmony is deliberately not doing that, you sort of lose the functional narrative.
    Maybe you are now playing bass haiku or something

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