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harmony, in music, the sound of two or an ext notes heard simultaneously. In practice, this broad definition can likewise include some instances of note sounded one after the other. If the consecutively sound notes speak to to psychic the note of a acquainted chord (a group of notes sounded together), the ear create its very own simultaneity in the same method that the eye perceives motion in a movement picture. In such cases the ear consciousness the harmony that would an outcome if the notes had sounded together. In a narrow sense, harmony describes the extensively emerged system the chords and also the rule that enable or forbid relations in between chords the characterizes western music.

Musical sound may be pertained to as having actually both horizontal and also vertical components. The horizontal elements are those that proceed during time such together melody, counterpoint (or the interweaving of coincided melodies), and rhythm. The vertical aspect comprises the sum full of what is happening at any type of given moment: the result either the notes that sound versus each other in counterpoint, or, as in the instance of a melody and accompaniment, that the underpinning the chords the the composer provides the principal notes that the melody. In this analogy, harmony is primarily a vertical phenomenon. It additionally has a horizontal aspect, however, because the composer not only creates a harmonic sound at any kind of given moment but likewise joins these sounds in a sequence of harmonies that offers the music that distinctive personality.


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Melody and also rhythm have the right to exist without harmony. By far the greatest part of the world music is nonharmonic. Numerous highly sophisticated musical styles, such as those that India and also China, consist basically of unharmonized melodic lines and also their rhythmic organization. In just a couple of instances that folk and also primitive music are straightforward chords particularly cultivated. Harmony in the Western feeling is a comparatively current invention having actually a rather restricted geographic spread. It arose less than a millennium ago in the music of west Europe and also is embraced today only in those musical cultures that trace their beginnings to the area.

The concept of harmony and also harmonic relationship is not an arbitrary creation. The is based on certain relationships amongst musical tones the the human being ear accepts nearly reflexively and that are likewise expressible with elementary scientific investigation. These relationships were very first demonstrated by the Greek thinker Pythagoras in the 6th century bce. In one of his most renowned experiments, a extended string was separated by simple arithmetical ratios (1:2, 2:3, 3:4,…) and plucked. Through this way he demonstrated the the intervals, or distances in between tones, that the string sound before and after the was separated are the most basic intervals the ear perceives. This intervals, which happen in the music of almost all cultures, either in melody or in harmony, are the octave, the fifth, and the fourth. (An octave, as from C to the C over it, encompasses eight white notes on a piano keyboard, or a similar mixture of white and black notes. A fifth, as from C come G, includes five white notes; a fourth, together from C come F, 4 white notes.) In Pythagoras’s experiment, because that example, a string sounding C when cut in fifty percent sounds C, or the keep in mind an octave above it. In various other words, a string separated in the ratio 1:2 returns the octave (c) of its an essential note (C). Likewise, the proportion 2:3 (or two-thirds that its length) yields the fifth, and the proportion 3:4, the fourth.


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These notes—the basic and the note a fourth, a fifth, and also an octave over it—form the main musical intervals, the cornerstones on which west harmony is built.

The roots of harmony

The organized system of western harmony as practiced from c. 1650 to c. 1900 progressed from previously musical practices: native the polyphony—music in several voices, or parts—of the late middle Ages and also the Renaissance and, ultimately, indigenous the strict melodic music of the Middle ages that provided rise come polyphony. The company of medieval music, in turn, derives indigenous the middle ages theorists’ fragmentised knowledge of ancient Greek music.

Although the music of old Greece consisted completely of melodies sung in unison or, in the situation of voices of uneven range, at the octave, the ax harmony occurs generally in the writings on music in ~ the time. Leading philosophers such together Aristoxenus (flourished 4th century bce) administer a clear photo of a musical layout consisting the a wide choice of “harmonies,” and Plato and Aristotle discuss the ethical and moral worth of one “harmony” end another.

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In Greek music a “harmony” to be the sequence of tones in ~ an octave—in contemporary usage, a scale. The Greek system embraced seven “harmonies,” or scale types, distinguished from one an additional by their particular order of succession of tones and also semitones (i.e., totality steps and half steps). These “harmonies” were later on erroneously called modes, a wider term including the characteristic border of a melody, and the range it used.