by Steve Eulberg
We play dulcimers, whose name incorporates the Latin word for “sweet” (dulce). So when I talk about sweet harmonies, in a broad sense, they are the beautiful tunes that we play on our lovely instruments.
However, in a more specific way, there are harmonies that reflect the intervals between notes that, at least to Western ears, trained to expect Western harmonies, that are “sweet.”
The space between two notes that are played simultaneously, or one after the other, is called an interval.
In the diatonic scale (the 7-step, or “white-key” scale around which both mountain and hammered dulcimers are organized) the intervals are a series of whole and half steps between each note in the scale.
The Ionian (or major) scale can be written like this: 1-2-34-5-6-78, or whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. (See this related post or this one)
The interval between do and mi in this mode is a Major 3rd. It is composed of 2 whole steps. It is this interval which determines that the scale or mode is considered a Major scale or mode. In the scale of D, a Major 3rd from Do=D is F#, two whole steps away. This can be called a 3rd harmony. And this is in close voicing.
If we play these same notes further apart from each other, for example, playing F# and then the D above that one, the interval between the two notes is a 6th and can be called a 6th harmony. The notes have the same name and same sweet feel, but their relationship to each other is separated and so their is some more space between the notes.
If we play that first D and then skip and octave and play the F# in the next octave, then we have a 10th interval.
When I talk about “sweet harmonies” then I’m talking about harmonies that utilize this interval.
Which songs do you use that feature these sweet harmonies? Do you tend to prefer the closer 3rds or the more distant 6ths?
Which harmony are you “sweet on?”