Harmony Improvisator short manual
Full User Manual (PDF)

This VST plugin is intended to compose music based on the rules of classical harmonic theory. The program lets you explore, by clicking the mouse, the infinite world of harmonic theory without having to consider rules of part-writing or keys and scales.


Embedding
Harmony Improvisator has to be inserted into your host software as a VSTi plugin. Per default it routes the chords you trigger to a built-in synthesizer. You can optionally load a separate sampler or synthesizer in your hoimp-menust application and route the MIDI output of Harmony Improvisator to it instead of using the built-in synthesizer. For that, choose „Midi out“ in Improvsator‘s „output“ option menu and connect both Harmony Improvisator and your sound generator via a MIDI track which has Harmony Improvisator as the input and the sampler / synthesizer as the output. After setup you should hear harmonies when clicking and holding the mouse on any of Harmony Improvisator‘s chord buttons.

 

 

First steps
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The main key is chosen in the Circle of Fifths on the top right. The two rows of buttons top left are the most important buttons. These are the scale degrees of the chosen key. The upper row corresponds to the current major key and the lower one to the corresponding minor key. Below that you find more complex derivatives of these functions:

  • Various inversions, i.e. the same chord with different bass note,
  • one gender inversion,
  • Suspensions, which are chords that tend to be solved to a simple harmony,
  • various characteristic derivatives of subdominants,
  • various characteristic derivatives of dominants.

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If you prefer the harmonic functions to be named as chords (like A7) or as scale degrees (like I-IV-V-I) you can change the display style in the "Show harmonic function" dropdown.

 

 

 

 

Suggestions

On the middle of the plugin you find suggestions of harmonies that could well follow the one you actually triggered. These are computed anew after each choice of harmony. The first suggestion usually iimp-sugs a rather common sound, for example the standard resolution of a suspension or of a dominant. To try more than one suggestion without loosing the others, you can right click them to avoid that new suggestions are generated after each click.

 

Recently triggered

Above the ten suggestion buttons Harmony Improvisator registers the four most recent harmonic functions that have been triggered.

 

The harmonic timeline

Any harmonies that you play you can drag with the mouse into the harmonic progression area. Individual harmonies can be deleted, replaced or moved via drag and drop. With that timeline you can not only visualize the actual sheet music of the chords you are interested in but also you can compose up to seven different chord patterns for assembling a piece of music. (See chapter "Patterns") To switch between the patterns you can use the dropdown menu "Active Pattern". Individual patterns can be played back in a loop with the play button beneath the harmonic timeline. The Zoom slider on the right below the timeline allows to zoom in and out to the desired time resolution to create your style of music. Some other means of manipulation of the timeline are available via right-click into the timeline whereby a drop-down menu is opened. Use this to reset the whole pattern or to insert pauses.

 

 

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Sheet music editing

The timeline not only shows the harmonic functions but also the corresponding notes of the functions in a sheet music view. With the mouse you can manipulate these notes: Once you have set up a little harmonic progression it is possible to change any note or to remove some notes as well. You can also freely put melody notes into the sheet music view between the actual harmonies by clicking into an empty time frame. By pressing c/n/b you can force a #/nothing/b to the active note.

To make writing of melodies and manipualtion of chord notes in the sheet music view easier, you can make a certain scale or the notes of the underlaying chords magnetic with the dropdown menu "Magnetic". This means that when moving a note vertically it will always flip to the next magnetic step of the chosen scale / chord. Per default, only notes that are contained in the underlying harmonic function are magnetic unless you choose a different "Magnetic" option.

 

Patterns and harmonic sequencing

When it comes to assembling a whole piece of music based on the harmonic functions you have picked, Harmony Impovisator makes it very easy for you. Just fill some patterns with harmonic functions for the different parts of the piece and make sure the "Input" dropdown is set on "trigger patterns". Now use your MIDI keyboard to trigger the individual patterns which are looped and synchronized to the host project automatically. Any C on the keyboard triggers pattern #1, any D triggers pattern #2 and so forth. The triggering notes (C, D etc.) you can record and tweak around in your host sequencer to generate long and more complex arrangements.

You can alternatively export the actual notes of the active pattern by clicking "Save" and then choosing "Save Midi". The MIDI file being generated you should be able to load in any sequencer software.

 

Voicing adjustment

imp-patternFor each pattern, you can adjust the representation of the four chord voices: "Soprano", "Alto", "Tenor" and "Bass". To mute one of the voices, click the glowing square for that voice below the "Save" and "Load" buttons so that it does not glow anymore. Alternatively, you can activate more than one square for each voice which means doubling that voice shifted one or two octaves up or down. With the matix of voicing adjustment you can thereby vary between "thin" and "full" voicing or between bass-rich or treble-rich voicing of the chords.


Parallel instances of Improvisator
With the new version of Harmony Improvisator it is easy to set up combos of different Instruments with independent voicings but with the same underlaying chord backbone:
Simply launch Harmony Improvisator several times within one host project and route the different MIDI outputs to different sampler or synthesizer plugins. When you manipulate the harmonic progression or the main key in one of those Harmony Improvisator instances, all the other instances are updated automatically. You can write different voicings for different instruments now and all of them are being played back synchronously triggered by your host sequencer.


Special: Right click on scale degrees

In the circle of fifth you choose the main key of your music that is the reference for all your harmonic functions. But often a piece of music does side steps to other keys for a short duration.

imp-harmFor example so called "intermediate Dominants" target other scale degrees that the Tonic. To choose a scale degree to be the target key for a period of time, right click it. All scale degrees now reference to that target scale degree which is visualized by square brackets. For example, if you want to create an applied dominant of the Subdominant click right on "S" to mark the target and then click "D" in the scale degrees. Such a construct is written "D [S]", it is a Dominant that tends to be solved to S.


About the meaning of the harmony symbols
Unless you change the „Show Function“ / „Show Chord“ selector this plugin by default deals with function symbols (like Dv) instead of chord symbols (like E7). This may be confusing at a first glance as these symbols are seldomly used in the context of producing music with the computer, but they represent the essential concept of the Harmony Improvisator:
The chord symbol E7 for example only tells you how to play the chord, which does not contain any information about the meaning of the chord. Harmony Improvisator does not aim at presenting interesting chords out of a black box that you can only play but not understand. Instead, Harmony Improvisator is meant to present the value of a chord in a certain context to the user and to let the user choose as soon as he or she has spent a little time getting into the system.
The symbols are quite easy to understand: A small character stands for minor, a large one for major. T stands for “Tonic“, the key itself. S stands for “Subdominant”, the chord which is based on the 4th of the key, and D stands for “Dominant”, the mostly major chord based on the 5th of the key. The progression T-S-D-T is called “Cadence”; it is the most common harmonic motif in european music. The small upper numbers (superscript) represent an added note or suspension in the corresponding interval to the base note of the function symbol. s56 for example means a minor Subdominant with added 6th, a so called “Sixte ajoute”. Numbers below the symbols denote which tone is set as the lowest note, the bass of the chord. The 3 for example means that the 3rd is the bass, which corresponds to the first inversion of a chord.

 

  • p / P means the parallel of a chord. The parallel of a major chord is a minor chord 3 semitones below. The parallel of a minor chord is a major chord 3 semitones up. ( So aminor is the parallel of C major and vice versa)
  • An upper “v” means diminished which has a dissonant, dominantic character
  • A crossed symbol means that the first of the chord is missing
  • DD means „Double-Dominant“, which is the Dominant targeting the Dominant
  • sn means “Neapolitan Chord”, which has a characteristic small 6th and no 5th.