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The word ‘harmony’ is used broadly to describe the way in which different pitches are put together, very often to underpin or accompany melody. More than one pitch played at the same time makes a chord, and it is the use of chords in various ways that makes harmony.

When a composer puts harmony and melody together, a musical environment is created that often has a strong ‘pull’ towards a certain important note or chord, like a musical identity or ‘home’. This important note or chord is often called the tonic and the environment is known as the key. This is what we call tonality.

In simple terms, then:

  • Harmony is the use of pitches to make
  • Tonality is the use of scales and chords together to make

A good way to think of this, if looking at a piece of sheet music, is to consider the horizontal use of pitches as the melody, the vertical use of pitches as the harmony and the overall sound-world that both create together as the tonality.

The word ‘tonality’ can also be used to describe music which is not in a key – perhaps because it is modal or atonal. In modern music there are many approaches to harmony and tonality, some more challenging to the ear than others, and we will look at all of these approaches in this module.

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