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Harmony melodies and "Norwegian Wood" as an example
10 May 2014
4.53pm
Funny Paper
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I've been involved in music for many years of my life, but I still have a lot of gaps in my knowledge (for one thing, I can't really read music all that well).

One question I've noticed vaguely before really became clear on re-listening to Norwegian Wood -- and trying to sing it myself.  It seems that those parts where John and Paul are singing together in harmony (e.g., "She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh" etc.) create an interesting musical phenomenon:  the "real" melody is neither what John is singing alone, nor what Paul is singing alone -- but is actually created by the combination of both!  There might be readers here who at this juncture would say, "Yeah, so?  And your point is...?"  But this is new and strange to me. 

Like I say, I've had vague intimations of this when I've listened to other songs (particularly some Chicago songs where they are heavily harmonizing), but it never quite hit me before until I tried to sing Norwegian Wood recently with my guitar all by myself.  It seems I cannot sing those parts where John and Paul are singing together in harmony (e.g., "She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh" etc.) -- i.e. one person alone cannot sing those parts and actually convey the melody, because the melody is, by nature, a two-part harmony.

 

Am I correct?

 

If so, does anyone know where I can find the two-part harmony scored musically?  Although I said I cannot read music well, I can make it out if I study it for a while.

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10 May 2014
5.03pm
Linde
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Never really thought about it, but I think you're right. I just tried singing both parts apart, and it just doesn't sound right. 

10 May 2014
5.05pm
Annadog40
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Isn't that the same thing with Baby's In Black?

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10 May 2014
5.21pm
Funny Paper
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Yeah, they are doing the two-part harmony thing in Baby's In Black, but the melody of each part seems strong enough -- or one of them is dominant enough -- that it can be sung by one person without it seeming like something is horribly missing.  Norwegian Wood seems to create a new hybrid melody that a single singer cannot do justice to.

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10 May 2014
7.11pm
Funny Paper
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I found a tube that helps. 

Now I see that John's part during the harmony is not that un-dominant.  I was hearing the melody wrong.  What threw me was that both parts, John's and Paul's, are dominant, and they combine two different, dominant melodies -- but each one can indeed be sung solo if you want (it just sounds better when sung together).

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Matt Busby
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10 May 2014
7.19pm
BeatleManiacKane
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Same as in No reply, when they sing "If I were you, I'd realise that I love you more than any other guy" etc

It wouldn't sound right with one harmony, even if it was the high part alone

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11 May 2014
6.37am
Matt Busby
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I recently butchered Don't Let Me Down at karaoke because I tried to sing the 3 part harmony myself in the chorus.  I've learned not to try heavily harmonized songs, and am learning to stick to the melody only.  There are also pretty good singing lessons on youtube (I'm trying to recover some of my voice from before 28 years of smoking).

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12 May 2014
4.05pm
Von Bontee
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I would assume that the "real" melody is the part sung by whoever wrote the song, but I'm not really basing that on anything.

But in the case of "Norwegian Wood", the earlier "Anthology" version of the song featured George responding to John's (lower) part of the harmony on sitar with the same notes (at least, I think it's John's part that's duplicated.) So that would further suggest to me that John's part is "the" melody.

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17 May 2014
12.53am
Matt Busby
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Von Bontee said
I would assume that the "real" melody is the part sung by whoever wrote the song, but I'm not really basing that on anything.

But in the case of "Norwegian Wood", the earlier "Anthology" version of the song featured George responding to John's (lower) part of the harmony on sitar with the same notes (at least, I think it's John's part that's duplicated.) So that would further suggest to me that John's part is "the" melody.

I can sing Norwegian Wood all the way through, one voice, and I think it sounds good - I guess I've kinda stayed in the key and the general melodic structure or something...it is close to John's part in the youtube that @Funny Paper posted, but not exactly.

EDIT: I spent a lot of time getting a virtual keyboard, and working out the notes I sing, writing them here.  Then I noticed that this sheet music appears to have a single melody vocal.  It parallels what I sing, but I'm in g (it's in e, but I found other sheet music of the same song in a couple other keys).  I'm not well versed in music theory, and I don't know what key they sang it in.  But whatever...anyway, I think that sheet music provides a possible "single voice" melody to Norwegian Wood.  Might not match the unique harmony John & Paul sang, but it works, for me in my car, anyway a-hard-days-night-george-10

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17 May 2014
6.40am
Funny Paper
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Yes Matt Busby, I looked at that sheet music, and now I see that is John's melody, and it is in a sense the main melody -- but I still think it's ingenious how Paul's harmony also "competes" with it as a viable second dominant.  You can sing just John's part and it sounds right, but in a way, it's even better when done in two-part.

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18 May 2014
1.17am
Matt Busby
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Funny Paper said
Yes Matt Busby, I looked at that sheet music, and now I see that is John's melody, and it is in a sense the main melody -- but I still think it's ingenious how Paul's harmony also "competes" with it as a viable second dominant.  You can sing just John's part and it sounds right, but in a way, it's even better when done in two-part.

I agree, and another song that I can't really imagine without the harmony (again, 2-part) is Two of Us.  Though there's an obvious melody for that one.  The harmony just sounds so "sweet", like the song was born for it (plus it is still the only song I can harmonize regularly to!). 

I think the melody when they sing "Don't let me down" is really cool too.  It sounds like John just has higher harmonic frequencies in his voice, when really he's only singing the low melody.  I blew that one at karaoke a-hard-days-night-george-10

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"She said...And it's making me feel like my trousers are torn"

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18 May 2014
1.48am
vonbontee
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I think one of the most ingenious contrapuntal-harmony (for want of a better term) dual-vocals is "If I Fell" - that one can captivate me anytime. Those crazy intervals!

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18 May 2014
4.13am
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Trying to be equally helpful..This was the first one I came across where this Italian guy teaches me things I didn't appreciate about my fav group….

 

He's brilliant!

 

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18 May 2014
7.33pm
Funny Paper
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Yes, "Two Of Us" is a good example, @Matty Busby

@ vonbontee -- "If I Fell" I think is in a different category: it sounds marvelous with the harmonies, but there is still a definite single dominant melody.  This is like a different equally ingenious feat they pull off.

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18 May 2014
7.37pm
Funny Paper
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On the topic of that particular type of harmony singing where the listener can't quite tease out any single dominant vocal melody, I'll risk the blasphemy of citing a non-Beatles example -- a song by Chicago, "Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home" -- exemplifying a 3-part harmony sung by keyboard player Robert Lamm, bassist Peter Cetera, and guitarist Terry Kath (it may be in parts 2-part with just two of them).  The singing is all "La la la las" -- no actual lyrics:

noredirect=1

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Matt Busby
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18 May 2014
7.58pm
vonbontee
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Thanks FP, I haven't heard that track since 1987!

I just want to play. I’d like to think I could work opposite Sinatra, B.B. King, the Beatles, or a polka band... - Jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, 1967
18 May 2014
8.59pm
Funny Paper
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YW, vonbontee -- it's one of my favorites. 

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18 May 2014
9.16pm
Matt Busby
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Funny Paper said
On the topic of that particular type of harmony singing where the listener can't quite tease out any single dominant vocal melody, I'll risk the blasphemy of citing a non-Beatles example -- a song by Chicago, "Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home" -- exemplifying a 3-part harmony sung by keyboard player Robert Lamm, bassist Peter Cetera, and guitarist Terry Kath (it may be in parts 2-part with just two of them).  The singing is all "La la la las" -- no actual lyrics:

I listened to this (Chicago was a great band, no blasphemy there), and immediately thought of Please Please Me.  I listened to the first "verse" of la las, then quickly turned it off and Please Please Me on, and it sounds to me like they're using the same or very similar harmony - the middle seems to be dominant to me in both.  But in a few places they deviate, for example, "Please *Please me* oh yeah, like I please you" Paul goes up high inside the *s which takes it out of the structure we're talking about....and preceding that line, the "c'mon, *c'mon*, c'mon, *c'mon*' I think Paul sings it differently inside the *s.  So what is left you ask?  The first two lines of each verse (or is it split into 4 - it's basically the verse), plus half those first two lines I mentioned.  I dunno though - vocal harmony is like a fog that's just beginning to clear for me...

Half of what I say is meaningless...

"She said...And it's making me feel like my trousers are torn"

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18 May 2014
9.49pm
Funny Paper
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I'll have to study Please Please Me in more detail later with your comments.  I don't know much about harmonies, but I think the typical and "easy" way to do it is just add the third above whatever note is sung for two-part, and for three-part, add the fifth above.

Where harmonies get interesting is where they vary this with fourths, sevenths, ninths -- and most ingeniously the second (like singing D right on top of C) or a dissonance with a B natural plus the C right above it for a Cma7 effect perhaps.

I really like the way Gordon Lightfoot harmonizes with himself (double or possibly triple tracking) in his song "Rainbow Trout" (the link takes you to a Tube Chop where it picks up at the short guitar interlude in the middle of the song, and also ignore the chorus of female singers who start slowly getting introduced).

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Oudis
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21 May 2014
8.24am
Matt Busby
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Funny Paper said ou
I'll have to study Please Please Me in more detail later with your comments.  I don't know much about harmonies, but I think the typical and "easy" way to do it is just add the third above whatever note is sung for two-part, and for three-part, add the fifth above.

Where harmonies get interesting is where they vary this with fourths, sevenths, ninths -- and most ingeniously the second (like singing D right on top of C) or a dissonance with a B natural plus the C right above it for a Cma7 effect perhaps.

I really like the way Gordon Lightfoot harmonizes with himself (double or possibly triple tracking) in his song "Rainbow Trout" (the link takes you to a Tube Chop where it picks up at the short guitar interlude in the middle of the song, and also ignore the chorus of female singers who start slowly getting introduced).

Harmony has an "easy" way?  I started trying to learn to harmonize when I was in 11th grade (age 17) and I was singing.  Then lately I've been practicing, and I think I've got Two of Us down - and I think I'm singing the 3rd part (3rds), not just singing Paul's part(5ths?).  I can do it for a couple notes in some other songs, so I guess I'm making process.  Trying to sing low harmony under John or Paul seems to be impossible...

As far as Rainbow Trout, I thought I heard a woman's voice near the end...

Half of what I say is meaningless...

"She said...And it's making me feel like my trousers are torn"

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