Negative harmony is a fascinating concept in music theory that is gaining popularity among composers and music enthusiasts. It’s a technique that involves taking a piece of music and transforming it into its mirror image.
In simple terms, negative harmony involves reversing the intervals of a melody or chord progression. This creates a new composition that has the same rhythmic and harmonic structure as the original but with a different tonal quality.
The idea of negative harmony was first introduced by Ernst Levy, a Swiss composer and music theorist, in his book “A Theory of Harmony” published in 1946. However, it wasn’t until recently that negative harmony gained popularity among contemporary composers such as Jacob Collier and Billie Eilish.
How Does Negative Harmony Work?
Negative harmony works by taking the original melody or chord progression and reflecting it over an imaginary axis. This axis is usually the note halfway between the lowest and highest notes of the original melody or chord progression. For example, if we take the C major scale:
C D E F G A B C
The halfway point would be F, so we reflect the scale over this note to get:
C Bb Ab Gb F Eb Db C
As you can see, each note in the original scale has been replaced with its negative counterpart, creating a new scale that has a different tonal quality.
Applying Negative Harmony to Chord Progressions
The concept of negative harmony can also be applied to chord progressions. In this case, we take each chord in the original progression and reflect it over the imaginary axis.
For example, let’s say we have a simple I-IV-V progression in C major:
C – F – G
To create its negative counterpart, we reflect each chord over F (the midpoint between C and G):
Ab – Db – Eb
As you can see, each chord in the original progression has been replaced with its negative counterpart, creating a new progression that has a different tonal quality.
Pros and Cons of Negative Harmony
Negative harmony can be a powerful tool for composers looking to create something new and unique. It allows them to take an existing piece of music and transform it into something completely different while still maintaining the original structure.
However, negative harmony can also be challenging to work with. It requires a deep understanding of music theory and the ability to visualize the mirror image of a melody or chord progression. Additionally, it can be difficult to use negative harmony in a way that sounds natural and not forced.
Negative harmony is an intriguing concept in music theory that is gaining popularity among composers and music enthusiasts. While it can be challenging to work with, it offers a unique way of transforming existing pieces of music into something new and fresh. Whether you’re a composer or simply an avid listener, learning about negative harmony can provide you with a deeper appreciation for the complexity and beauty of music.