The Craft of Harmonization

Dimitar Ninov


During the past few decades, the art of harmonizing melodies in American music departments has been falling into oblivion. This means that creativity in the study of harmony is going out of the window. The reasons for that unfortunate situation may vary anywhere from the global commercialization of society to local policies concerning the curriculum of theory studies. Whatever the reasons are, the average American undergraduate and graduate student cannot harmonize melodies because this craft is not taught extensively in the music departments. Harmony is studied under the umbrella of a uniform theory curriculum (N.1–4), and the way this sequence is structured makes it impossible to gain real mastery in the field. Buried under diverse material that has to be covered in a short period of time, students are not given the opportunity to study harmony in depth and to delve into its essence – harmonization. As a result, many newly produced instructors of theory do not possess working knowledge in harmony; they do not have first hand experience and genuine insights into the nature of that discipline. They feel content to teach strictly by the book, to reiterate definitions whose credibility they never question, and to close the door before creativity and critical thinking. And it must be so, because a teacher cannot sell what he or she does not have, namely – professionalism in harmonization and the ability to nourish critical thinking and query. These factors make the difference between a professional instructor and a disguised amateur. One of the goals of this written lecture is to provide a glance at the procedures that constitute the craft of harmonizing a melodic line. Another goal is to incite a discussion on the need to implement radical changes in the curriculum of music theory studies in the United States.

Keywords: the art of harmonization of a melody, curriculum in music theory, musical education in the USA

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