Musical Harmony and the "Seeing Harmony" Software


Traditional harmony theory is surprisingly complex, given that all we really want to know is why some chords sound so nice!

The short-cut to understanding is the acoustics of 3-tone combinations.




The Geometry of Harmony


Study of musical acoustics shows that there are two distinct components that cause the "instability" of certain chords. The first is "dissonance" (gsensory dissonanceh) and the second is "harmonic tension" (sometimes referred to as gmusical dissonanceh). Tension is a consequence of the relative size of neighboring intervals – as illustrated in the following Table and Figure.




Whatfs the Big Deal?


The study of harmony perception has focused almost exclusively on interval effects. Basically, how much dissonance is contained in any chord? Clearly, total dissonance plays a role in the overall sonority of chords, but without the 3-tone "tension" factor, none of the mysteries of harmony can be explained (Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 2001), (Music Perception, 2009), (American Scientist, 2008) (Der Spiegel, 2008) (English translation of the Der Spiegel article).

And, if youfve ever wondered what kinds of harmonic cadences your brain strongly responds to, read this article in

Brain Imaging and Behavior.



Seeing Harmony


Download some freeware [Windows

(ZIP version here) and Macintosh compressed version] that allows for the visualization of the (1) total dissonance, (2) total tension, (3) total harmonic instability, and (4) the major/minor modality of any combination of tones.

(If it doesnft run in Windows, copy the GLUT32.DLL file into the C://WINDOWS/system32 folder).

Or try the do-it-yourself version in C


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