Book review: Harmony for Computer Musicians

After Music Theory for Computer Musicians, Composition for Computer Musicians, here is Harmony for Computer Musicians. Michael Hewitt builds on some topics from the preceding books to dig in the complexity of harmony.

Content and opinions

As usual, the book can be split in several subparts, like the basics, the triads, then the more complex chords and finally the advanced chromatic harmony stuff.

The first part may encompass the first four chapters. It starts with a small introduction to harmony and its role in music writting, and then goes to the explanations of intervals. As for the first two books, this is well explained. Then, the third chapter is about tonality, which is the fundation of harmony in general. The last introductory chapter is about part writting, which will be important in all the following chapters, as it explains what can be done and what cannot be done in harmony.

Once the basis are covered, the author goes to the topic of common harmony with four chapters and a small bridge. Although it is common harmony, it is still the harmonty used in the huge majority of what we can hear on the radio/TV/Internet, so it is an interesting topic. I had knowledge of this common usage of some chords, but I didn’t know where it stemed from. The first chapter here covers the common triad with all its different approaches. The following chapter starts the actual harmony with the two chords that play the most often together, the tonic and the dominant. Then, the third main chord is added, which forms what is known as the primary triads. If we add the last chapter (before the bridge), we cover all usual triads, even the nasty different triads in the different minor scales. The bridge covers how chords can be played through repetition, arpeggiation and decoration. It’s interesting to note that decoration does not create new chords in this part, although it may in the next one.

The next part consists of nine chapters. It is dedicated to all the different additions that can be done to the chords. It starts with the seventh dominant, goes to the other seventh chords. Two chapters cover the sevenths in the major and the minor keys. After a chapter on modulation (how to change your scale), the added chords, ninth, eleventh and thirteenth are covered. Each time, the author spends treendous time explaining how all those chords progress together. It is thus important to test them each time. If you don’t, you won’t understand and benefit from them.

Finally, the last five chapters tackle the advanced harmonies, and mainly the chromatic one. It has to be used with care, as it is complex and has a specific sound. Also, if you want to really benefit from advanced harmony, you have to master all the other chapters first. You may want to read another book on this subject, as those chapters are too small to cover more than a fraction of the knowledge you will have to use.

Conclusion

Once more a valuable book from Michael Hewitt, with a wide approach to harmony in general, and not only for computer musicians. With a lot of examples and images, the author manages to reach his goal.

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