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Two-notes vs. Three-notes chords


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In a recent thread this issue was mentionned :

 

This discussion of dissonance and temperament prompts me to bring up an issue that has been discussed before in these pages. Namely, that many harmonic style concertina players of all stripes avoid the out of tune interval of the third.

 

I'm quite interested by this issue, but could not find where it has been discussed, so I'm launching discussion again.

I'm interrested to know in which circumstances players may prefer to ommit the third in chords.

It may depend on the style played, the instrument, the temperament, etc...

 

I personally own a Wheatstone C/G (currently at Dipper's for restoration) and a Stagi G/D.

The wheatstone has a very rich tone and I tend to avoid thirds. Also, I play mainly ITM on this one

and feel that two-note chords are best in this context.

The stagi has a softer tone and full chords sound a bit better. Also, I'm experimenting other

styles with this one, including french/breton tunes with richer chords.

 

As for the temperament, I learned a lot in the Helmholtz book "on the sensation of tone"

(150 years old but still a must. I warmly recommend it to every musician interested in physics - or physicist interested in music.)

Helmholtz experimented a lot on the harmonium, a close relative to the concertina, and states that on such

instruments with strong harmonics and sustained sound tempered thirds sound particularly bad. I'm wondering

if this point is linked to the reluctuance to play thirds on concertina. I would be interested in having the opinion

of people who have played instruments in other temperaments (such as meantone). Do full chords sound

much better on such instruments or only marginally ? Or does the tone of the instrument (soft or rich)

play a larger role on the quality of the thirds ?

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Here's what I learned in music theory many years ago

 

According to traditional (classical) music theory, a chord isn't a chord without the third...how do you play a major chord or a minor chord without the third? In most two part Baroque counterpoint (usually inventions) there's a lot of note skipping, creating what is called "implied" harmony. When you're creating a chord without all the notes, different notes take priority over others. When you're making a normal triad with only two notes, the common use is to drop the fifth and only use the third. If you're trying to make a seventh chord (1, 3, 5, 7) you drop out the 3 and 5 to make the seventh chord.

 

Additionally, dropping the third out of the chord can create "parallel" fifths when moving from chord to cord, which has usually been undesirable since the Baroque stamped out the medieval period where parallel fifths were common.

 

Having said that, I play a 20 key Anglo at the moment and frequently find myself in a situation where I want to play a chord that I don't have all the notes for. (like E Major...no G# on my squeezebox). So whenever I have that issue, I throw all my hard earned music theory out the window and play as many of the notes as I have. (E and B). Since I play in a band, I don't have to worry about missing notes because the other instruments in the band will probably be playing the notes I'm missing. (as an aside, in The Beatles, John and George used to play different chords together to get 11th and 13th chords)

 

One more point about dropping thirds is that rock guitar players do this constantly, especially in hard rock and punk. They're called "power chords", and when they're combined with a distorted guitar, they can give a meaty, beefy tone without the dissonance that adding the third would cause. (though technically they're creating parallel fifths all over the place!)

 

either way though, I'd go with what sounds good to your ears. There's no better judge of whether something is good or bad than how it sounds to your ears.

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If you sing with it, of course, you can sing the third and play the fifths, and minor/major is conveyed quite well.

 

I don't know how things work on an Anglo, but on the English I find if I want to play the third I often add it later. And you can play with octaves and other stuff so the temperament isn't such an issue. Because I have low notes (tenor-treble now, formerly baritone-treble) that also gives me more options - and in fact I often wind up playing four-note chords and sometimes 5-6.

 

wg

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On my Marcus Anglo I find that thirds on the right hand tend to "beat" uncomfortably but the effect is less noticeable on the left hand.

 

It's a long time since I studied any musical theory, but from what I recall you should try to avoid doubling the third - either with two notes in unison or an octave apart. It's not so bad to double the root or fifth.

 

As a style choice, I often make the chord with root and fifth on the on beat and add the third on the off beat.

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Hello timbecile (what a strange pseudo)

 

Here's what I learned in music theory many years ago

 

According to traditional (classical) music theory, a chord isn't a chord without the third...

 

You're referring to classical harmony. I've also studied it but I beleive (and am not alone) that it is not always

a useful guide for traditional music, wich is often of "modal" character (especially irish or breton)

and needs different and simpler harmonies.

 

Additionally, dropping the third out of the chord can create "parallel" fifths when moving from chord to cord, which has usually been undesirable since the Baroque stamped out the medieval period where parallel fifths were common.

 

I agree that parallel fifth sound "medieval", but I like how it sounds precisely for this reason.

 

One more point about dropping thirds is that rock guitar players do this constantly, especially in hard rock and punk. They're called "power chords", and when they're combined with a distorted guitar, they can give a meaty, beefy tone without the dissonance that adding the third would cause. (though technically they're creating parallel fifths all over the place!)

 

Interesting point. I actually beleive that the reason why rock guitarists use power chords is not very different

from the reason why I avoid thirds on the concertina : in both cases, sustained tone with strong harmonics, hence strong beats in thirds.

I'm still wondering if this is due to the tone alone or if the temperament has an effect. How would a "just" third sound on

a distorted guitar ?

 

 

either way though, I'd go with what sounds good to your ears. There's no better judge of whether something is good or bad than how it sounds to your ears.

 

Right too. That's why I asked the opinion of other players playing instruments with different tones and different temperaments

(as I can only juge from my own instruments)

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Hello Mike, Wendy, Dick,

 

Your advises make sense : alternating "power" chords with full ones, and when

playing thirds adding them later. I realise that's what I tend to do also.

I also agree that the effect of chords is best if the third is at the upper octave so

that the chord is "open" (such as C-G-E, compared to C-E-G) but it is not always

possible to play so, except if the third is part of the melody, or sung.

 

On a related issue I have noticed that on my instruments, "open 7th" chords

(such as B-D-A, A-E-G, C-E-B or Bb-F-A, one of my favourite on the C/G)

often sound better than "perfect" chords in closed position (such as C-E-G).

Maybe it's because you don't expect such chords to be consonant at all ;

or maybe it's because they are more "open".

Edited by david fabre
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Hello timbecile (what a strange pseudo)

 

You're referring to classical harmony. I've also studied it but I beleive (and am not alone) that it is not always

a useful guide for traditional music, wich is often of "modal" character (especially irish or breton)

and needs different and simpler harmonies.

 

I think this is the key point about dropping thirds, basically what is appropriate for the type of music you're playing. In a classical setting, parallel fifths sound awful and disturbingly empty. On the other hand, if you try to play a full chord on a distorted guitar, it all just comes out like mud.

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I personally like the "chord" without the major or minor third in most cases for ITM because it allows the listener to decide whether they feel Major or Minor at the time. The ambiguity is what I like. It also allows a guitar or piano accompanist to make those decisions on the fly and vary their choices each time the part is repeated. It is true that in equal temperament thirds are rough, but not too rough to be useable if you want them. The "modal" music carries with it the seeds of both major and minor, and I'd rather not spoil that. The "Rules" of music need to be kept in the context they were created in, and as in a recent Hollywood pirate movie, considered more as "guidelines". Rules shouldn't be allowed to spoil something you think sounds good. I personally rarely use thirds major or minor in my 2 note thingys if I can't call them chords any more and since I don't play them as a series of parallel 5ths, they don't sound like that. Seems like if it was that big an issue, they wouldn't make stops on button accordions to cut out the thirds for Irish Music. Those who don't have the stop on their button accordion often tape out the thirds anyway.

Dana

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I personally like the "chord" without the major or minor third in most cases for ITM because it allows the listener to decide whether they feel Major or Minor at the time. The ambiguity is what I like. It also allows a guitar or piano accompanist to make those decisions on the fly and vary their choices each time the part is repeated. It is true that in equal temperament thirds are rough, but not too rough to be useable if you want them. The "modal" music carries with it the seeds of both major and minor, and I'd rather not spoil that. The "Rules" of music need to be kept in the context they were created in, and as in a recent Hollywood pirate movie, considered more as "guidelines". Rules shouldn't be allowed to spoil something you think sounds good. I personally rarely use thirds major or minor in my 2 note thingys if I can't call them chords any more and since I don't play them as a series of parallel 5ths, they don't sound like that. Seems like if it was that big an issue, they wouldn't make stops on button accordions to cut out the thirds for Irish Music. Those who don't have the stop on their button accordion often tape out the thirds anyway.

Dana

 

That's a really interesting comment. Letting the listener decide if it's major or minor goes against everything I was taught in music theory. I love it!

 

You're absolutely right about the rules being more guidelines anyway. Even my music theory teacher agreed with that. Every time we did something wrong and tried to use the "rules were meant to be broken" excuse, she'd heartily agree with us.

 

...then she'd tell us that in her class we had to learn and use the rules before we were allowed to break them. :P

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David Fabre Quote"other players playing instruments with different tones and different temperaments"

 

After decades of playing tunes on the anglo by ear, but hating the sound of chords, I am now learning some of the theory (on a need-to-know basis) and experimenting with tunings. In the last year Dave Elliott has been very patient and tuned my even-tempered G/D anglo which I use for sessions; restored an old Jones 22+ button anglo and tuned it to Northumbrian pipe pitch in "just" intonation so that all notes are in tune with the drone; and also restored a 30 button Lachenal to a modified meantone tuning.

I still don't like the tuning of the even-tempered G/D. It is very unforgiving, the thirds sound very out of tune to me and chords only sound ok in fast tunes. However there isn't any practical alternative in a mixed session. The only thing that sounds good IMO is piano music!

 

The meantone box is interesting. The meantone system seems to be a clever mathematical concept which sounds fine for minor chords although the fifths are flat, and chords still sound out of tune to me. When I bought the Lachenal C/G it didn't seem to have ever been retuned and the G row was generally 6cents higher than the C row; so it was retuned as close to the original as possible. This means that very good chords can be played by careful choice of the chord shape used.

 

My favourite tuning however, is the old Jones in "Just Intonation". It is now in a sharp Bb with all notes in tune with the drone.

It is not responsive enough for fast jigs and reels, but has a beautiful tone for songs and old standards (like "buttons & bows" and "Home on the range".); and of course is perfect for any hurdy-gurdy or pipe tune - with or without the drone.

 

I got a very interesting book a few weeks ago by Ross W. Duffin entitled "How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care)" . It may have only recently been published in England and makes very informative reading. Only £10 for the paperback.

 

Regards, Gill

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I personally like the "chord" without the major or minor third in most cases for ITM because it allows the listener to decide whether they feel Major or Minor at the time. The ambiguity is what I like. It also allows a guitar or piano accompanist to make those decisions on the fly and vary their choices each time the part is repeated. It is true that in equal temperament thirds are rough, but not too rough to be useable if you want them. The "modal" music carries with it the seeds of both major and minor, and I'd rather not spoil that.

 

I absolutely agree with you.

A lot of traditional tunes have there roots in pipe or hurdy-gurdy music, where they were played against a two-note drone.

It is interesting to compare the chords used by a good guitarist for a tune in a minor mode, with those used by a two-note concertina "chords". The guitar in standard tuning might have to change chord more than once in every bar because it has to define whether each chord is major/minor/etc, whereas a concertina might only change once or twice in each part and leave the tune undefined. I personally do no not like guitars with traditional dance tunes for this reason.

 

Regards, Gill

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Ive played melodeon for years and taped out the thirds on the bass end before getting a Saltarelle with three knobs . I play that mainly with thirds removed . So when I went on to Anglo I kept to the same effect. Fo Irish music I use 'chords' mainly for a drone or regulator effect. For 'oompah' type 'English' tunes I do put in more thirds a bit like a fairground organ, but for Morris etc I tend to more modal sounds or ambiguity because sometimes it's neither major or minor I reckon

 

Round here in South Yorkshire singing and playing in parts has a long tradition, carols, brass bands , choirs etc.

 

Gerald of Wales in the twelth century , in de Keltorum wrote that 'the Celts of Yorkshire and Wales are much given to playing in parts' he noted the Irish love of melody. So we who straddle cultures adopt what feels appropriate

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I personally like the "chord" without the major or minor third in most cases for ITM because it allows the listener to decide whether they feel Major or Minor at the time. The ambiguity is what I like. It also allows a guitar or piano accompanist to make those decisions on the fly and vary their choices each time the part is repeated. It is true that in equal temperament thirds are rough, but not too rough to be useable if you want them. The "modal" music carries with it the seeds of both major and minor, and I'd rather not spoil that. The "Rules" of music need to be kept in the context they were created in, and as in a recent Hollywood pirate movie, considered more as "guidelines". Rules shouldn't be allowed to spoil something you think sounds good. I personally rarely use thirds major or minor in my 2 note thingys if I can't call them chords any more and since I don't play them as a series of parallel 5ths, they don't sound like that. Seems like if it was that big an issue, they wouldn't make stops on button accordions to cut out the thirds for Irish Music. Those who don't have the stop on their button accordion often tape out the thirds anyway.

Dana

 

Another reason not to use "full chords" in ITM is that a lot of tunes are based on a pentatonic or hexatonic scale.

In that case it makes sense to restrict to the basic scale also in the harmony, and this limits the choice of possible chords.

One example which comes to my mind is the jig "sliabh Russel". It is in A but based on a scale which does

not contain the note C, neither natural nor sharp. So the whole tune is neither minor nor major,

and I beleive a good backer should respect this ambiguity.

 

 

EDITED : I confused myself : the tune I had in mind is "the lilting banshee" , not "sliabh russell" which is A minor

(although, for the latter it can be interresting to throw a few A major chords)

Edited by david fabre
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yes, the third on the concertina is out of tune, and for some reason it sounds more jarring than thirds on other instruments that are out of tune, like the piano. brian peters (

) recommends dropping the third in most situations.

 

also, beyond tuning issues on the concertina, thirds can make a chord overwhelming, overpowering melodic notes above it, which is one of the primary reasons i recall brian peters saying to leave the thirds out. noel hill also teaches dropping the thirds, putting in the third as a variational special treat to really thicken up the music. i disagree that a chord is not a chord without a third--maybe according to music theory, but psycho-acoustically speaking, your ear will fill in the missing part of a chord if there is a note missing. often times i even drop the first, leaving third and 5th, and you'd swear the first was being played.

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Guest Peter Laban
One example which comes to my mind is the jig "sliabh Russel". It is in A but based on a scale which does

not contain the note C, neither natural nor sharp.

 

While I agree with your point, the example isn't the best: eAA Bcd eaf ged edB c2 A BGG does have the C

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I personally like the "chord" without the major or minor third in most cases for ITM because it allows the listener to decide whether they feel Major or Minor at the time. The ambiguity is what I like. It also allows a guitar or piano accompanist to make those decisions on the fly and vary their choices each time the part is repeated.
I absolutely agree with you.

I'm sorry, but I can't agree with that explanation. There are very few musical contexts I can think of where a major or minor chord on the same root are both appropriate. I don't know "sliabh Russel" (mentioned above), but it sounds like the same may be true of "O'Keefe's Slide." Also, a few modal "banjo tunes" like the first chord in the B section of "Cold Frosty Morning." But by and large, the shape of the tune will dictate which chords to choose from, and while D and B minor might be interchangeable in a given context, D and D minor rarely are.

 

That said, I often omit the third, but for the reason I mentioned in my previous post. Also, I don't play a lot of ITM.

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