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Harmony Reconstruction Lesson 7: Reconstructing a Keyboard Piece

Grade 7 Music Theory Q2. Lesson 7:Reconstructing a Keyboard Piece from a Harmonic Outline

Most of the time, question 2 in the grade 7 music theory exam paper is based on a Baroque style Bach Chorale. He wrote hundreds of them, so there are plenty for the ABRSM to choose from! But it is certainly not guaranteed that a chorale will come up in your exam – it could be a keyboard piece by an early classical composer. What if it’s not a chorale?

The main differences are that:

  • A chorale is in strict four-part harmony, whereas a keyboard piece will have any number of notes sounding at the same time (usually between 1 and 4).
  • In a keyboard piece, the rules of voice-leading are more relaxed (but not abandoned!) Augmented and diminished intervals are acceptable as long as they are treated correctly. (More on this later in the lesson.)
  • In a chorale, the rhythm is usually driven by a quaver (eighth note) pulse, with a few crotchet and minim chords (quarter note and half notes). In a keyboard piece, the rhythm is likely to be very varied, with certain rhythmic “motifs” (short fragments) giving the piece its character.
  • At first sight, it might seem more difficult to reconstruct a keyboard piece, as you may have difficulty knowing where to start. In actual fact, early classical composers mostly stuck to the same rules of harmony as Bach, and the differences lie in how they treat rhythm and melody.

The first step is to analyse what you’ve got. You will always be given a few bars to get you started. Don’t just make a blind stab at it – look carefully at the given reconstruction and write down what you discover. Then, keep going in the same way. (Did that sound too easy? It’s not as hard as you think!)

You will need to analyse three things:

  1. The harmony
  2. The melody
  3. The rhythm

Let’s take a look at the first two bars of the Rondo movement of Mozart’s third piano sonata, composed in 1777. (The ornaments have been written out in full).

mozart-iii-rondo

 

Here is the harmonic outline:

harmonic outline

 

How do we get from the outline to the keyboard piece?

 

1. The Harmony

To understand what Mozart’s harmonic plan is, we should figure out what chords he’s using. We can start by looking at the chord names.

harmonic outline chords

 

Next, look at the likely relationships of these chords, based on key. Remember that in Baroque/Classical music, the tonic/dominant relationship is the strongest. Here for example, G(7) is the dominant of C minor, and F(7) is the dominant of Bb major. Notice the inversions too.

harmonic outline analysis

 

Here's the rest of the outline. Continue analysing the rest of the harmony in the outline, paying attention to any repeating patterns.

harmonic outline complete

  

Here, we can see that only primary chords are used (I, V and IV), and that the V7-I pattern from the beginning recurs from bar 4.

 

2. The Melody

As you know, melody is simply chord notes plus melodic decoration. We now need to work out what kind of melodic decoration has been used in the given reconstruction, so that we can continue in a similar way. The “extra notes” have been shaded; look at each note and decide what kind of decoration it is.

mozart-iii-rondo-decoration

  1. Harmonic auxiliary note (part of the G7 chord)
  2. Accented passing note (between G and Eb)
  3. Accented passing note (between Eb and C)
  4. Harmonic auxiliary note (part of the Cm chord)
  5. Harmonic auxiliary note (part of the F7 chord)
  6. Accented passing note (between F and D)
  7. Accented passing note (between D and Bb)
  8. Harmonic auxiliary note (part of the Bb major chord)

 

In fact, Mozart has only used two types of melodic decoration to make this melody. These are the types of melodic decoration we should add to the rest of the outline.

Look at the texture – how many notes are played in each hand? In this piece, the melody is a single musical line, and the left-hand has two-note chords.


3.The Rhythm

Lastly, we need to look carefully at the note values used in the given reconstruction, including the use of rests. Also notice what isn’t there!

  • Notice how the left-hand piano part starts with a rest, and this rhythm is repeated in the following bar.
  • The right hand uses simple note values (there are no dotted notes, no syncopation, no very fast notes)

 


Reconstructing

We’re now ready to have a go at reconstructing the whole extract. To recap, we are going to continue by using:

    • Harmonic auxiliary notes and accented passing notes
    • A single melody line in the right hand against 2-note chords in the left hand
    • A rhythm pattern including a rest in the left hand
    • The same note values as in the example opening

harmonic outline box 1

1. The boxed area is our first beat to work on. We can do the left hand quite easily – a rest followed by the chord notes (in the same way as the given opening). For the right hand, we could think about adding a G auxiliary note, but we should compare the harmonic outlines to see how this affects the harmony. In the anacrusis bar, we’ve got a V7 chord and both the F and G in the right hand are therefore chord notes. However, this time the chord is Ib, so a G would be a non-chord note. A non-chord note would be all right, but if we want to make a stronger connection with the previous section, perhaps a chord-note would be better. We could add an auxiliary harmony note Bb, instead.

beat-1-auxiliary-harmony-note

 

2. The next two beats are shaded here. Because the melody has risen up to Bb, we have an ideal opportunity to use A as the next melody note, which is of course an accented passing note. We can use two-note crotchet (quarter-note) chords in the left hand.

harmonic outline box 2

beat-2-passing-notes

 

3. We can continue in exactly the same way for the next two chords.

beat-3-passing-notes

 

4. And for the end of the phrase, again we use an accented passing note, but with a crotchet (quarter note) beat.

beat-4-passing-note

 

5. For the second half of the piece, the outline texture is different, with only single notes given in the left hand. You can interpret this in a number of ways – perhaps this section is much quieter, or perhaps the left-hand notes are doubled at the octave to create a stronger mood. The right hand outline melody is the same as the opening. Clearly we need this section to be “almost the same”, as the opening, with some noticeable differences. We will make it “the same but more”.

harmonic outline clean

harmonic outline bars 1 4

 

To achieve “the same but more”, we’re going to add a little more melodic decoration than before, and double up the left hand.

to-end

 

We used a combination of auxiliary notes and passing notes and introduced some chromatics. However the harmony is still the same and the patterns we used are consistent with each other. The two shaded areas, showing beats 3 and 4, use the same pattern:

consistency

 

And these two shaded areas, showing beats 1 and 2, use the same melodic pattern in retrograde (i.e. back-to-front).

consistency-2

 

 

 

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