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Activities for introducing children to parallel harmony.


Parallel harmony is harmony that generally follows the melody, going up when the melody goes up and down when the melody goes down. Because parallel harmonies are not independent of the melody, they do not follow the rules of well-written counterpoint and are generally not considered to be as interesting as independent harmony parts . However, parallel harmonies are easier to play for many instruments (keyboard instruments, guitar, dobro guitar, violin, and cello, to name just a few). Parallel harmonies are also very easy for even the "untrained ear" to grasp, and are very common in popular and folk musics. In Western classical music, they are most common in Impressionist music and in some types of medieval chant.

Parallel harmonies can be "precisely" parallel; for example, the "harmony line" of a medieval chant may be a perfect fifth higher or lower than the melody at all times. However, using this kind of exact shadowing not only results in a line that is less interesting (because it is already being heard in the melody), in common practice music it can result in notes that do not fit into the functional harmony of the piece. It is very common, therefore, to adjust a parallel harmony line so that it does not clash with the chord progression that is the underlying structure of the harmony. The adjustments are often small, for example, an interval of a minor third following a row of major thirds . Larger adjustments, or motion in a different direction (for example, with the harmony line moving up or staying on the same pitch while the melody moves down), may also be used to make the line pleasant, without changing its status as "basically a parallel harmony".


    Goals and standards

  • Goals - The students will learn what the term parallel harmony refers to, in music, will learn to recognize it when heard, and will learn to sing in parallel harmony
  • Music Standards Addressed - National Standards for Music Education standards 1 (singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music),6 (listening to, analyzing, and describing music), and 8 (understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts).
  • Grade Level - Recommended for grades 4-8, but with music of age-appropriate difficulty, adaptable for K-12.
  • Student Prerequisites - Before attempting this lesson, the students should be able to sing a melody, together, with accurate pitch and rhythm. It is not necessary, but you may wish to do the Harmony with Drones activity before this one. If you believe the students may not understand the concept of melodic contour, you may also wish to do the Shape of a Melody activity before discussing parallel contours.
  • Teacher Expertise - Teacher expertise in training students in part-singing, and in conducting and accompanying a music class, is recommended.
  • Time Requirements - Depends on the difficulty of the piece to be learned, and the students' abilities to learn parts quickly.
  • Objectives - The students will participate in a discussion of the meaning of the word "parallel", and listen to a short explanation, with musical examples, of parallel harmony. The students will listen to music with parallel harmony and will learn to sing a song in parallel harmony
  • Evaluation - Assess student learning by evaluating class participation in the singing. You may also quiz students, following this lesson, by playing short audio examples and asking them whether the accompaniment features parallel harmony. Advanced students may be tested following all of the harmony lessons, by playing audio examples and asking them to identify the type of accompaniment (drone, parallel harmony, counterpoint, etc.).
  • Adaptations - Students who cannot sing, or cannot sing well, may be asked to simply recognize the contours of melody and harmony when they are heard, and recognize parallel harmony when heard. If they can play a melody instrument, the lesson can be adapted to learn to play parallel parts instead of singing them.
  • Extensions - Advanced music students may be asked to add a parallel harmony to a composition or to a given melody. In this case, discussion of how to adjust the harmony line to fit the chord structure of the piece may be necessary.

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Source:  OpenStax, The basic elements of music. OpenStax CNX. May 24, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10218/1.8
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