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What is Negative Harmony?

The concept of negative harmony has been around for a long time. It is largely credited to composer and musicologist, Ernst Levy. Many modern-day musicians are keen exponents too, such as Steve Colemand and Jacob Collier amongst others.

The basic approach of negative harmony is to invert harmonic structure. This essentially means taking a symmetrical approach to building melodies and chords. So if, for example a major triad builds upwards (pitch-wise) with a major third and a minor third, the approach with negative harmony would be to invert this structure. So instead of building upwards in pitch from the root note, we instead build downwards from the root. We take the steps interval-wise but invert the direction downwards in pitch.

Inverting a basic C major triad would give us a chord which is essentially a minor triad. This new chord has a root note which is a perfect fifth below the highest note.

So upwards from C, and using the intervals of a major third followed by a minor third, will naturally give us a C major triad:

Inverting these intervalic steps in a downward direction gives us an F minor triad:

This is just the basic concept of negative harmony. Jacob Collier explains negative harmony as a way of showing the contrast between the 'light' side of harmony and the 'dark' side. You can get some very interesting results using this inversion technique.

When applying negative harmony, each note will transpose around an 'axis'. The axis could be the root note of a chord, as in the above example, or it could be any other note of your choosing. The axis position can also be applied using quarter tones.

If we take the note 'C' and swing it over an axis of E/Eb (3 and 1/2 semitones up in pitch) this will give us the negative harmony note 'G'. Likewise, shifting a C major triad (C, E, G) over this same axis gives us what is essentially a C minor triad (C, Eb, G).

C moves through and beyond the axis to become G.
(3.5 semitones plus 3.5 semitones = 7 semitones or a perfect fifth):

E becomes E flat (E moves down 1/4 tone to the axis and down another 1/4 tone to Eb):


G becomes C (an inverted motion of the first movement):

For more examples click HERE

Negative Harmony App

The Negative Harmony app is available to download on iTunes and Google Play now.

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