Sight Reading and Harmony

Melodies are often written in ways that relate to chord progressions: arpeggiating the chords, moving by step from chord tone to chord tone by way of passing tones, and more. Our goal here is to develop a pair of “magic chord goggles.” Wearing these imaginary goggles, you can “see” the harmonies around the chords in the melody, and in many cases, you may only need to add one note to fill in the remainder of the chord. In other words, when you wear your magic chord goggles, you no longer have to “make up” the chords! They are visible right there in the music.

Given all the information we already have to interpret from notation when sight reading, why in the world would we want to add even more information? Perceiving the implied harmonies of a melody is useful in at least three ways:

  1. To the extent that we have internalized models of harmony (which maybe you haven’t yet, but they will come!), they can help us “picture” the notes to perform and thus improve our accuracy and tuning.
  2. Chords are such an important part of how many songs create a sense of tension and release that being aware of them can be very helpful as we think about musicality and shaping.
  3. Harmony is an important factor that affects “chunking,” so as we become more and more able to be explicit about harmonic implications, our chunking abilities will become more and more powerful.

We’ll save detailed discussion of implied harmony for the relevant chapter of this text. Simply consider this an invitation to bring that perspective to your sight reading to the extent that you are able, and to keep returning to sight reading as your understanding of harmony grows!


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book