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Are octaves harmony?

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Total votes : 17

Are octaves harmony?

Postby callumgolby » Tue Oct 01, 2019 10:31 pm

I would like to hear people's opinions on whether octaves are considered harmony. Although the same note is being heard, the pitch is still different, therefore I believe it is harmony. Many argue that it is texture though.

Please let me know your thoughts!

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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby themarqueeyears » Wed Oct 02, 2019 10:32 am

Well, one has to be careful with music to watch out for getting lost in semantics.

Is a unison harmony?

We all end up with a set of working definitions and then the musicologists can loose themselves in meaningless debate.

For me, personally - a single interval does not a harmonic chord make.

I call unisons, 2nd's 3rd's 4th's 5th's etc etc octaves .... "voice thickening"
though a singer would call adding a 3rd "harmony singing"! - so there you go.

Three voices or more and I'm defining this as harmony in the traditional sense so that the harmony has enough guiding tones to define it's diatonic function.

Sorry guitarists but for me power chords are just a root and an interval - not a chord.

I have no doubt others will look at all this with a different perspective - that's what makes music fun :-)
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby callumgolby » Wed Oct 02, 2019 1:19 pm

Yes I agree unison isn’t harmony however an octave contains two notes and two different pitches. A perfect 5th is harmony - it contains two notes.

For me I can’t say that two notes create no harmony.

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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby themarqueeyears » Wed Oct 02, 2019 2:41 pm

callumgolby wrote:Yes I agree unison isn’t harmony however an octave contains two notes and two different pitches. A perfect 5th is harmony - it contains two notes.

For me I can’t say that two notes create no harmony.

Callum

See I told you we all see things differently :)

For me harmony must have a harmonic function otherwise it's just an interval.

C and G are a fifth - G and C are a 4th - but these two intervals have no prescribed diatonic harmonic function.

I think what we have here is -

"harmony" with a small "h" as a singer would call it where voice thickening is described as "harmony"

.... and "Harmony" with a capital "H" where 3 or more voices prescribe Harmonic function within
a diatonic tonal system.

In my thinking and lexicon, intervals are voice thickening and Harmony is about Harmonic function.

But your view of octaves and intervals is of course perfectly valid and sensible.

Oh no, I sound like a musicologist!
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby Folderol » Wed Oct 02, 2019 2:49 pm

I my opinion (such as it is) a harmony is a tune, or tunelet in it's own right, not single notes. This is 'harmonically' related to the main melody, but not necessarily sounding on the same beats, nor necessarily within a recognised chord structure.
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby callumgolby » Wed Oct 02, 2019 4:46 pm

Folderol wrote:I my opinion (such as it is) a harmony is a tune, or tunelet in it's own right, not single notes. This is 'harmonically' related to the main melody, but not necessarily sounding on the same beats, nor necessarily within a recognised chord structure.

I don't think that describing harmony as another melodic line is totally appropriate. I understand your point however harmony is more than just two melodic lines being played together. For me, harmony is other supporting notes as you said (for example a singer singing in thirds), yes, but these notes don't follow a melody line. Instead, they accompany and protect a melody line in its key centre (perhaps a glorified definition of chords). An octave would have a completely different effect on the tonal centre if it were diminished or augmented. Therefore a perfect octave should also have the same harmonic effect, perhaps which is less noticeable.

Would a listener "feel at home" (in a key) if a dim or aug octave was being played? Would a perfect octave provide a sense of stability and easiness in the key centre

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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby desmond » Wed Oct 02, 2019 5:57 pm

Like many things in music theory, sometimes things are fairly ambiguous, and can be considered in a few different contexts.

For me, if you take the example of a male singer and a female singer singing the same part together, but the female is an octave higher than the male part because that's where the vocal ranges are comfortable for each singer - then they are not singing "in harmony" but singing "in unison".

For them to be singing in harmony, one of the singers would need to be singing a different melody to the other, both parts within the confines of the key/scale/chords of the piece - above, below, or overlapping is fine. But the harmony part adds a harmony context that you don't get with a unison (same note) part, regardless of the octave.

Anyone who's writing/singing a harmony part knows how unappealing it is when you happen to land on the same note (whatever the octave) that the other part is on (ugh!). You want a second part's harmony notes to *add* something to the first part, which usually means it will be a different note.

So no, I don't consider octaves to be anything other than unison parts when played together, not harmony parts. If someone said to me "I'll sing a harmony part to your vocal" and proceeded to sing the exact same vocal part at a higher/lower octave, I'd assume they didn't really understand what harmony is... :crazy:
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby callumgolby » Wed Oct 02, 2019 6:02 pm

Perhaps gah
desmond wrote:Like many things in music theory, sometimes things are fairly ambiguous, and can be considered in a few different contexts.

For me, if you take the example of a male singer and a female singer singing the same part together, but the female is an octave higher than the male part because that's where the vocal ranges are comfortable for each singer - then they are not singing "in harmony" but singing "in unison".

For them to be singing in harmony, one of the singers would need to be singing a different melody to the other, both parts within the confines of the key/scale/chords of the piece - above, below, or overlapping is fine. But the harmony part adds a harmony context that you don't get with a unison (same note) part, regardless of the octave.

Anyone who's writing/singing a harmony part knows how unappealing it is when you happen to land on the same note (whatever the octave) that the other part is on (ugh!). You want a second part's harmony notes to *add* something to the first part, which usually means it will be a different note.

So no, I don't consider octaves to be anything other than unison parts when played together, not harmony parts. If someone said to me "I'll sing a harmony part to your vocal" and proceeded to sing the exact same vocal part at a higher/lower octave, I'd assume they didn't really understand what harmony is... :crazy:


Sounds like this an opinion on what you think of octaves. I’m not saying I like I the sound of octaves or I don’t like the sound of octaves. The matter is purely based upon the musical analysis of octaves. Can they have an effect on the harmony? The notes being played in an octave are not at the same pitch. The same can be said about a major third.
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby desmond » Wed Oct 02, 2019 6:19 pm

callumgolby wrote:Sounds like this an opinion on what you think of octaves.

Of course. That's why I started my opinion with the words "For me...".

callumgolby wrote:The notes being played in an octave are not at the same pitch. The same can be said about a major third.

Sure.

Octaves: Same note, different pitch.
Other intervals: Different note, different pitch.

Think of it this way - imagine you had a piece of music consisting of *only* one note, say "C". The whole piece only consisted of C notes, in different octaves. You don't get any harmonic context from that piece, as there are no intervals that give you that context. It would be a "harmonious" piece in the fact that it would have notes that sound harmonious to each other, as opposed to discordant, but I don't think that's the context we are talking about here...
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby callumgolby » Wed Oct 02, 2019 6:24 pm

desmond wrote:
Think of it this way - imagine you had a piece of music consisting of *only* one note, say "C". The whole piece only consisted of C notes, in different octaves. You don't get any harmonic context from that piece, as there are no intervals that give you that context. It would be a "harmonious" piece in the fact that it would have notes that sound harmonious to each other, as opposed to discordant, but I don't think that's the context we are talking about here...

Yes I understand your point here. Perhaps in different contexts, octaves have a different effect.
However I still argue (perhaps as a matter of opinion) that octaves are still a harmonic interval and therefore when played alone, still have the same effect as any other interval would have?

It’s a really interesting topic of discussion, perhaps one that has too many answers!!
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby themarqueeyears » Wed Oct 02, 2019 6:57 pm

desmond wrote:Like many things in music theory, sometimes things are fairly ambiguous, and can be considered in a few different contexts.

For me, if you take the example of a male singer and a female singer singing the same part together, but the female is an octave higher than the male part because that's where the vocal ranges are comfortable for each singer - then they are not singing "in harmony" but singing "in unison".

For them to be singing in harmony, one of the singers would need to be singing a different melody to the other, both parts within the confines of the key/scale/chords of the piece - above, below, or overlapping is fine. But the harmony part adds a harmony context that you don't get with a unison (same note) part, regardless of the octave.

Anyone who's writing/singing a harmony part knows how unappealing it is when you happen to land on the same note (whatever the octave) that the other part is on (ugh!). You want a second part's harmony notes to *add* something to the first part, which usually means it will be a different note.

So no, I don't consider octaves to be anything other than unison parts when played together, not harmony parts. If someone said to me "I'll sing a harmony part to your vocal" and proceeded to sing the exact same vocal part at a higher/lower octave, I'd assume they didn't really understand what harmony is... :crazy:

But what of building a 3 part "harmony" BV.

3rd then a 5th finally an octave to give a ist inversion chord above the melody, here the octave is most definately part of the harmony imho.
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby BJG145 » Wed Oct 02, 2019 7:06 pm

Does it really matter? :headbang:

It's not generally considered a harmony, no, especially by music theorists. But if you want to think of it as a harmony, that's fine.
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby desmond » Wed Oct 02, 2019 7:08 pm

themarqueeyears wrote:But what of building a 3 part "harmony" BV.

3rd then a 5th finally an octave to give a ist inversion chord above the melody, here the octave is most definately part of the harmony imho.

A three part harmony is usually just that - three parts.

You've described a four-part harmony, with the main part, and three extra parts. If you're sticking to simple chords, then you're starting to have more parts than are needed, so you're starting to double some notes up.

It can work (it depends on the vocal blend), but again, unisons are not usually the most effective arrangements. Of course, there's no need to stick to simple chords - with four parts, then you get the advantages of throwing in some additional 7/9/11s etc. (Which you can still do with just three parts of course, it all depends on the music and the arrangements etc...)

Try looking at how contemporary three-part brass arrangements are done, to see just how creative you can be with three parts.

This is all of course why arranging in itself is an art... :thumbup:
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby wireman » Wed Oct 02, 2019 7:39 pm

callumgolby wrote:I would like to hear people's opinions on whether octaves are considered harmony. Although the same note is being heard, the pitch is still different, therefore I believe it is harmony. Many argue that it is texture though.

Please let me know your thoughts!

Callum

To me harmony is the effect of multiple overlapping notes where at least one is changing from time to time in a sequence. The case of one coincident set of notes would not count, or consecutive repeated notes with octaves.
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby themarqueeyears » Wed Oct 02, 2019 10:44 pm

desmond wrote:
themarqueeyears wrote:But what of building a 3 part "harmony" BV.

3rd then a 5th finally an octave to give a ist inversion chord above the melody, here the octave is most definately part of the harmony imho.

A three part harmony is usually just that - three parts.

You've described a four-part harmony, with the main part, and three extra parts. If you're sticking to simple chords, then you're starting to have more parts than are needed, so you're starting to double some notes up.

It can work (it depends on the vocal blend), but again, unisons are not usually the most effective arrangements. Of course, there's no need to stick to simple chords - with four parts, then you get the advantages of throwing in some additional 7/9/11s etc. (Which you can still do with just three parts of course, it all depends on the music and the arrangements etc...)

Try looking at how contemporary three-part brass arrangements are done, to see just how creative you can be with three parts.

This is all of course why arranging in itself is an art... :thumbup:

Well here in lies this circular debate is the octave a doubling of a voice, in this case the tonic, or is it a harmony note!

If the harmony is C major and I don't want the chord to be a C maj 7th then I'm not go in to sing the B but the C, I might want a 4 note chord but not anything more than a C major chord.

This gets to the heart of my personal definition, not that definitions matter (It's just for fun)
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby blinddrew » Wed Oct 02, 2019 11:36 pm

In my head, which is, i should point out, completely devoid of any musical theory whatsoever, harmony is 'something different that sounds nice'. The harmonic line may include an octave interval at points, but if the whole second line is at the same interval, it's just a bit dull.
From a music theory perspective of course, it may be that with the right two voices and in the right context it sounds glorious; but I still probably wouldn't call it a harmony.
Now if you'll excuse me, i've wandered out of my depth and my village would like its idiot back.
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby Eddy Deegan » Wed Oct 02, 2019 11:41 pm

During my classical training (though much of the theory I have forgotten) I was often referred to Steward Macpherson's venerable tome Melody And Harmony and just reached for the battered copy on my shelf.

Glancing at the introduction I am reminded of this (I paraphrase slightly for brevity):

Music depends on a combination of Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. These are so closely woven together in our thoughts that it is somewhat difficult to think of them apart. Underlyhing these three factors are the two elements of Time and Pitch.

Speaking of Harmony in a purely technical sense, it is customary to imply merely the thought of sounds in combination; but from a musical point of view any such combination must be based upon artistic principles, and bear definite relationship to others
.

In other words, a chord comprising any number of notes is not harmony. To have harmony you need a melody to harmonise, else the words 'chord' and 'harmony' would be synonymous, which they are not.

By definition an octave is not harmony if played as an interval, but a harmonic progression may include a point at which octaves are employed, although there are many rules pertaining to what constitutes technically correct harmony in the strict theoretical sense.

Play a 5th as an interval, and you have just that, an interval, not a harmony. However if you harmonise a melody, and at one point in the progression you have a tonic and a dominant playing together alone then that interval, along with those preceding and following it in the timeline are collectively a harmony.

Macpherson also references "two-part harmony" and "dual melodic lines" in various places.

Thus I kinda disagree with the definition of 'harmony' altogether as inferred by the title of this thread. It's much more complicated than that - especially if you consider counterpoint as a form of harmony and I think you're (unwittingly) over-simplifying it, to the point there the question you pose doesn't really make sense in the terms you've couched it.
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby Kwackman » Thu Oct 03, 2019 12:34 am

Eddy Deegan wrote: Steward Macpherson's venerable tome Melody And Harmony ..

Weren't they two of of Captain Scarlet's Angels? :smirk:
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby BenWilesMusic » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:15 am

I think Eddy Deegan is on the right track here. An octave is an interval, but would a succession of octaves in parallel (e.g. male and female voices singing the same line an octave apart) be harmony? If so, an organ voiced 8'4', or a synth sound with a pronounced octave partial could be said to be harmonising with itself when playing a single note, which I think most people would not agree with; you are adding texture not harmony.

Medieval music is interesting when trying to figure out what harmony is. In early medieval music, the precursor to harmony was to have two voices singing the same plainsong melody a fifth apart. At some point that changed so the second voice could sing with an interval of a fifth or a fourth (to avoid the diminished fifth interval), and at that point, not before, I'd argue that harmony begins - when there is a choice of intervals, and that choice implies harmonic progression (a change of chord to modern ears). So it is the change in interval which creates harmony, not a single interval by itself.

In other words, the answer to the question depends on what you mean by the question. But if you are asking whether the same melody sung in octaves (or fifths for that matter) is harmony, then no, the consensus is that it would not be harmony.

But by all means use it, if that's the effect you want!
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Re: Are octaves harmony?

Postby BenWilesMusic » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:22 am

I should add, though, that if your question is 'can I use the interval of an octave in a harmony line which is not just the melody sung up an octave and call it harmony without my friends mocking me?', then yes. Yes you can. As long as your friends aren't jerks.
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