Melody, Harmony and Counterpoint
by Simon James.
Guitarists tend to think either of playing lead or rhythm, soloing or comping, melodies or chords. When you are a beginner you will probably think of melodies as licks and chords as grips. But, what about melody and harmony?
In a nutshell, melody is to do with playing one note at a time and in succession, harmony it to do with playing two, three, four, five or six notes at a time. The study of harmony usually begins with learning about triads (three notes at a time), followed by 7ths (4 notes), then 9ths, 11ths and 13ths.
The study of two notes at a time is known as the study of intervals and the discipline that is concerned with intervals is called counterpoint. Counterpoint can be outlined as point against point, or, in this instance, note against note, melody against melody.
Take the notes C and E. They are a perfect 3rd apart. It’s not satisfactory to call that a chord and it is the beginning of harmony and it could be classified in different ways in different circumstances. What it actually is, is a Perfect 3rd.
Counterpoint can be remembered as being the study of intervals that avoids the inflexibility of thinking about melody in one instance and harmony in another. It is one of the most important but neglected areas of guitar study for the insights it provides.
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