Harmonic Rhythm & Chord Changes – Music Composition
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Harmonic Rhythm & Chord Changes – Music Composition

August 25, 2019

Hi. In this video we’re going to have a
little think about this topic, harmonic rhythm. Now what do I mean by this? Most
people probably know what rhythm is all about, but what’s harmonic rhythm, well basically it’s about how often the
chords change in a piece of music. So sometimes you might have a rhythm that’s
busy enough, but you might just have one chord that’s either being sustained or
it’s being repeated, in which case the harmonic rhythm is very slow because
here’s the first chord, it’s going on forever and eventually we move on to a
second chord so it’s taking a long time to move from the first chord to the
second chord. We might have a very busy harmonic rhythm where the chords are
changing all the time between one beat and the next and you’ll
hear in a minute when I try and demonstrate this, the kind of effect it
can have on the music. So here’s an example of a slow moving harmonic rhythm,
okay so what your hear here is there’s going to be a chord, and they’ll be
melodic and rhythmic things happening but the chord is not changing. Okay so
here’s the chord and then some melody. So you hear in that little tune that I
was playing in the right hand the melody was dancing around all over the
place, there was lots of rhythm going on, but actually there was only one chord. So
that’s a very static harmonic rhythm and you hear the effect that that can make.
Okay now if I have a fast-moving harmonic rhythm, then how does that sound?
Okay here’s a faster moving harmonic rhythm where I’m changing on just about
every beat. So you can hear the rhythm is moving along but the chords are changing quite quickly aren’t they. Why do we need to
know about harmonic rhythm? Well as a player it’s quite a useful thing to
think about because sometimes when the harmonic rhythm speeds up its a
composers way of slightly agitating music, so sometimes you get a slightly
slower harmonic rhythm and then the harmonic rhythm will speed up towards a
cadence and it kind of tips the listener in to the cadence, so it’s a way of doing
that. Sometimes when you want to make the music agitate a little bit more you
could use a faster harmonic rhythm as a way of doing that. If you want to have a
very kind of static kind of feel in the mood, then obviously a slow harmonic
rhythm might be useful thing there so as a player it’s quite a good idea to go
through a piece that you’re playing and just think – when to the chords change, how
often do the chords change, does the harmonic rhythm change as you go through the piece, does it get faster in certain places, does it slow down in certain
places, what’s that telling you about its impact on the character of the piece
that you’re playing, and certainly if you’re a composer it’s an important
thing to think about. You know, how often are you changing the chords or do you
have a rather sort of unbalanced approach to harmonic rhythm where maybe
you write four bars all on one chord and actually when you look back on it, it
does sound a bit boring or is it effective, it might be very effective but
sometimes it can leave you feeling like the whole music it feels a bit stuck
here and you might be thinking well why is it stuck because I’ve got lots of
rhythm, I’ve got a nice little tune going, it may just be stuck because the harmony
needs to move. Or there may be other moments in your score where you’re
thinking I want a nice kind of serene moment here, but the chords are changing
all over the place and causing a bit of underlying agitation in the music,
whereas actually maybe slowing down the harmonic rhythm might be a good thing. Or if you suddenly change from a slow moving harmonic rhythm to a very fast
moving harmonic rhythm, that could have a kind of sort of jolting impact on the music. Actually if you gradually increase the speed of the harmonic
rhythm, that might actually be quite an effective way of doing things or
gradually slow down the harmonic rhythm. You may want to make some dramatic
changes because you’re trying to make a dramatic statement, but certainly
thinking about harmonic rhythm is something that’s just going to give us a
bit more insight as performers and certainly a very helpful tool for a
composer to be thinking about. So if you’ve not thought about it before,
having spent probably lots of time thinking about rhythm, have a little
think about harmonic rhythm.

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  1. Thanks for your explanation, can we use slow harmonic rhythm for your second example or harmonic rhythmic and chord change are in the nature of melody? Please answer sir, it is so confusing for me to understand.

  2. Great explanation and Thank you. The question I have is how do you practice for that? What kind of exercise would force the fluidity?

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