Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Happy Birthday re-visited


Hi Clare. I wanted to add to the question you answered in your last post on chromatic noted in the key of c, re. Happy Birthday. But the post seems closed so i'll ask here:

Firstly there are two parts The treble and bass clefs.  Within the treble clef are there both melody and harmony (which you referred to) with the bass line we are not talking about at all? Sorry but new to this software along with theory itself.

In your answer you refer to modulation to the relative minor key.  Which measure or bar are you referring to?  Since the piece is in C major, the relative minor being A minor, However i donít see any accidentals there.  Also not sure what you mean by Ib IIb and Ic V7 as harmony.  I know of only I, ii, iii, IV, V, VI, vii referred to as scale degrees.  


Hello again Sunny, and thanks for waiting - I was offline for a week visiting my mum as it's half term.

In the file you sent me, the tune's on top where you'd expect it.  Your right hand's playing both tune and part of the harmony so whoever's typeset this has made the various parts clear by writing the note stems in different directions - the melody line has stems pointing up and the harmonies pointing down.

My problem in answering your questions is I don't know how much theory you've learnt.  You know about the degrees of the scale, clearly, but have you learnt about triads yet?  If not, that's where you need to start.  We build up triads on each degree of the scale and number them I to VII.  The numbering systems in Europe and the US are slightly different since in America you use upper case and lower case Roman numerals depending on whether the chord is major or minor.  This is actually unnecessary so in Europe we don't do it - all chord symbole are upper case.  (Incidentally, VII is neither major nor minor so I don't know how you indicate it using the American system.)

Chords are always constructed from the bottom up so, regardless of whether you're talking triads in the right hand + one note in the left (as we are now) or 4-part harmony, it's always the bass line that enables us to identify the inversion of the chord.  In the Roman numeral system root position = a if you need to indicate it (root position is the default so it generally isn't necessary), 1st inversion = b, 2nd inversion = c and 3rd inversion (of dominant 7ths) = d.  So Ib = 1st inversion tonic, VIc = 2nd inversion submediant etc.  When you venture further into harmonic analysis you should be able to hear a harmonic progression like I Ib V Ib IIb V7d Ib in your head.

The modulation to the relative minor is the cadence in bars 5-6 and you can tell we've modulated because of the new leading note (G#).  There's a case for arguing that the cadence in bars 3-4 is an implied modulation but the harmony's ambiguous.

As I said, the harmony is over-elaborate.  A fun exercise for harmony students is to take a really simple melody like Jingle Bells or Baa Baa Black Sheep and see how many different ways you can harmonise it, from the bog standard (= static) to the outlandish.  During the process you discover which is the most effective.  As always, you're guided by your ears.

Hope this helps.  

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Clare Redfarn


All aspects of the academic/theoretical side of music, including harmony, counterpoint, elementary composition, history, harmonic analysis, aural training, sightreading - the lot! Please note I'm not primarily a composer so I can't help with composition beyond what's required for Grade 8 theory or A'level. And don't ask me about psychoacoustics or music psychology as I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, either subject.


57 years as pianist (soloist and accompanist); 42 years as harpsichordist (soloist and continuist); 10 years as violinist and 6 years as bassoonist (youth orchestras/chamber groups); 45 years as piano teacher, coach in performance/interpretation (all ages, instruments and levels) and private tutor (mainly the old O'level, Grade VI+ ABRSM theory/practical musicianship, A'level and undergraduates); 20 years as ballet pianist (Cecchetti syllabus).

Member of Musicians' Union in Britain 1978-1989 and 1991-2009.

I've been writing professionally since I was 20 - too many programme notes to count over the years and a number of articles. Additionally, from 1996-2000 I was a Music Assessor for London Arts and as such regularly wrote critiques of concerts given by recipients of Arts Council funding.

MA in European Cultural Policy & Administration (Warwick University, 1994)
B Mus with Honours (London University, 1977)
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration (City University, 1982)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Piano Teaching (1976)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Harpsichord Teaching (1978)

Studied RAM Junior School (1966-74), then as full-time student (1974-78).

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