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View Full Version : Musical Term -- "Tight Harmony" ?


gytalf2000
10-25-2005, 03:12 PM
What exactly does the term "tight harmony" mean? Is there such a thing as "loose harmony"? Any musically-inclined Dopers care to enlighten me on this topic?

Gary T
10-25-2005, 03:33 PM
I'll stand to be corrected by those more knowledgeable, but I understand it to mean precise timing of the vocalization, with the underlying assumption that the pitches are correct. In other words, there's no detectable hearing of one voice without the other(s), even for a slight fraction of a second.

jacksprat
10-25-2005, 03:45 PM
What exactly does the term "tight harmony" mean? Is there such a thing as "loose harmony"? Any musically-inclined Dopers care to enlighten me on this topic?

Imagine your fist is closed. Then imagine you open your fist. Then imagine each of your fingers represents a single note. When a voicing (of a chord) is termed open or closed, this is exactly what is in question -- how closely are the voices grouped within the voicing? Tight is a synonym of close or closed in this basic sense -- any other use would be deviant.

On the other hand, most jazz and pop critics deliberately or unawares misrepresent basic musical knowledge and terminology to suit their own whims, like Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff, in the jazz field, and I'm sure many others in rock criticism. It seems likelier than not that some blurb-writer simply chose a cool-sounding phrase to suit his or her own mood.

jacksprat
10-25-2005, 03:47 PM
Gary's explanation is reasonable, also -- that is how people understand the meaning of something like "tight bass" or "tight choreography." It may not be a musical term at all -- it could just be an importation of slang into some review or other.

pulykamell
10-25-2005, 03:51 PM
Imagine your fist is closed. Then imagine you open your fist. Then imagine each of your fingers represents a single note. When a voicing (of a chord) is termed open or closed, this is exactly what is in question -- how closely are the voices grouped within the voicing? Tight is a synonym of close or closed in this basic sense -- any other use would be deviant.

On the other hand, most jazz and pop critics deliberately or unawares misrepresent basic musical knowledge and terminology to suit their own whims, like Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff, in the jazz field, and I'm sure many others in rock criticism. It seems likelier than not that some blurb-writer simply chose a cool-sounding phrase to suit his or her own mood.

I'm not exactly sure what "tight harmony" means. It could be a synonym for "closed harmony" as opposed to "open harmony." Or it could be, as Gary T suggested, "tight" in the sense of "together musically." It's hard to tell without any more context what is meant by the term.

yabob
10-25-2005, 04:01 PM
A primary example of "tight" or "close" harmony in the sense jacksprat is talking about is barbershop quartet singing. Also, 40's female groups like the Andrews Sisters, or several more modern acts that use a similar style (The Pointer Sisters spring to mind).

Kimstu
10-25-2005, 04:27 PM
"Close harmony" is a technical term for "A harmonic voicing technique in which all the parts involved remain as close together as the chords allow, often within a single octave".

So when, as in yabob's example, a barbershop quartet is singing with all the parts fairly close together in pitch, but on different notes of the chord, that's "close harmony". The notes are in harmony, but close together, geddit? Musical terms aren't always as logical as that. ;)

As far as I can tell, "tight harmony" seems to mean pretty much the same thing.

jacksprat
10-25-2005, 04:36 PM
A primary example of "tight" or "close" harmony in the sense jacksprat is talking about is barbershop quartet singing. Also, 40's female groups like the Andrews Sisters, or several more modern acts that use a similar style (The Pointer Sisters spring to mind).

Right on. The Beach Boys or early Parliament records are some others who come to mind, or, going back a while, some of the Neal Hefti arrangements for the Count Basie Orchestra, in the "block-chord" style.

I'm not really a student of arranging so much, yabob...who else would you say is a good listen for this type of stuff? Oh, and thanks kimstu -- I was a little confused about the concept myself, but you cleared it right up for me.

HMS Irruncible
10-25-2005, 04:44 PM
To me, "tight harmony" is to singing as "tight formation" is to high-performance flying. It is impressive because requires skillful execution with close coordination to avoid disaster :)

Tight harmony is distinctive and impressive because it is close, complex, and has changes and modulations that are likewise complex. And they're executed together, with precision.

Moe
10-25-2005, 05:51 PM
Well, I think the answers so far are the best you're gonna get. I do not believe that "tight harmony" is :: pause ::

ok, nevermind. I was going to finish with "an actual musical term", but my co- worker, who is currently getting her DMA in voice, told me that, as others have said, it is indeed a synonym for "closed" harmony, in which the chord is voiced in the most compact way possible.

Kimstu
10-25-2005, 06:03 PM
No prob, jacksprat! There's also the issue of "monophony", where the harmonizing parts all pretty much move together with the same note values (but different pitches)---as in your "block-chord" example and in most close-harmony singing---versus "polyphony", where the harmonizing parts have different melodic lines but weave around one another in a, well, harmonious way.

I would say that "tight harmony" is to polyphony as Brain Wreck's example of tight formation in flying is to a team high-wire trapeze act.

In the former, everybody moves together in the same pattern with closely coordinated symmetry. In the latter, everybody seems to be looping and whirling all over the place in their own separate trajectory, but they magically come together at just the right moments to catch each other or exchange places. (If they're a split second off---oooooooops!) :)

jacksprat
10-25-2005, 06:07 PM
In the former, everybody moves together in the same pattern with closely coordinated symmetry. In the latter, everybody seems to be looping and whirling all over the place in their own separate trajectory, but they magically come together at just the right moments to catch each other or exchange places. (If they're a split second off---oooooooops!) :)

Like I said, Kimstu, you have a way of clearing things up when there appears to be no hope. :cool:

GorillaMan
10-25-2005, 06:09 PM
There's also the issue of "monophony", where the harmonizing parts all pretty much move together with the same note values (but different pitches)
Eeeek...monophony is a single melody, without accompaniment (including parallel harmonies, as you describe)

Beware of Doug
10-25-2005, 06:11 PM
I think harmony is more often called close than closed.

Close harmony, on a C major chord for a keyboard or trio, is C (lead), G a 4th down (2nd voice), E a 3rd down (3rd voice). The intervals between voices are as narrow (close) as they can be with this chord.

Open harmony would be C, then E a 6th down, then G another 6th down. Here the intervals between voices are wider (more open).

fishbicycle
10-25-2005, 06:55 PM
For examples of tight harmony, listen to The Beach Boys. They were masters of this art. Also, the recordings of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Their signature sound was the tight, close harmonies of the sax section, led by the clarinet.

fishbicycle
10-25-2005, 07:01 PM
I thought of another perfect example: Bette Midler's rendition of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". Bette and the backup singers are singing as close a harmony as it's possible to get.

jacksprat
10-25-2005, 07:03 PM
For examples of tight harmony, listen to The Beach Boys. They were masters of this art. Also, the recordings of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Their signature sound was the tight, close harmonies of the sax section, led by the clarinet.

On the same tip, the "Four Brothers" sound for Woody Herman's Herd. On the opposite tip, check Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band for good stuff written with some spread in it. Oh yeah, and those Beach Boys -- I'm surprised this has been the first mention of them on this thread!

Moe
10-25-2005, 07:19 PM
No prob, jacksprat! There's also the issue of "monophony", where the harmonizing parts all pretty much move together with the same note values (but different pitches)---as in your "block-chord" example and in most close-harmony singing---versus "polyphony", where the harmonizing parts have different melodic lines but weave around one another in a, well, harmonious way.


Nope. GorillaMan is correct. Monophony is a single voice, nothing else. Homophony is a single melodic line with accompaniment. Polyphony does indeed refer to mulitple melodic lines, but isn't necessarily limited to those lines being harmonious. I think your definition better describes counterpoint. When chords move all together, with each of their notes moving in the same exact direction, that's parallel motion (and will cause great dismay in any tonal harmony instructor).

fishbicycle
10-25-2005, 07:25 PM
:: smacks self in the head ::

I don't know why I didn't think of these guys first - Except for The Beach Boys, The Beatles were otherwise peerless at singing harmony. Their own backing vocals were and are state-of-the-art in close and open harmony styles. Just try sometime to listen not to the lead vocals on Beatles records, but the backup singing. "Eleanor Rigby" is a classic example of the best harmonies in the business. Also "Yes It Is" and "Because".

gytalf2000
10-26-2005, 10:05 AM
Thanks for all the replies!

pulykamell
10-26-2005, 10:20 AM
I think harmony is more often called close than closed.

FWIW, I've always heard and used "closed harmony," but it seems "close harmony" is the more popular term.

Another quintessential example of close[d] harmony is George Shearing.

picunurse
10-26-2005, 10:40 AM
One other point. Harmony, when referring to multiple voices, are those parts that support and compliment the melody.

don't ask
10-26-2005, 10:48 AM
I recall when I used to manage a band and do their live sound, our agents turned up one night to hear them. After they finished their set one of the suits came up to me and said, "That was a really great sound you were getting. The rhythm section are as tight as a fish's asshole." Hope that helps.

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