Brian May Type Harmonies, How do you get Brian May Type Harmonies
Andrew Smith
Oct 1 2007, 03:17 PM
Posts: 10
Joined: 1-October 07
From: Sunnyside, Utah, USA
Hi all, I am brand new to the website.

I am a Brian May fanatic, and have been studying his style for 4 years now. The one thing that I have never been able to understand is how he develops his harmonies like God Save The Queen for example. I watched an read the Harmonies video on the site, but Brian's are so much more detailed and overdubbed with different parts (not playing the same thing exactly.) Does anybody know how Brian works out these harmonies? I have just got into recording heavily and I want to try one, but I don't know where to start.

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Andrew Cockburn
Oct 1 2007, 09:01 PM
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Hi Andrew,

and Welcome!

To make harmonies like Brian may, you are going to need some theory knowledge. If you haven't already looked into theory you should take a look at my lessons, here. It all builds on top of each other, so you will need to understand scales, intervals and then how the harmonies you want are actually constructed., I have lessons for the first two and I will have lessons on actual harmony construction at some stage.

It is possible to construct harmonies by ear, but some theory knowledge really helps.

Ok, so I have told you nothing so far - here is a little taster smile.gif

God save the queen - lets look at the first melody line. In the key of C it would be:


The associated chords for each note would be C, AM, F, G, G, G

The chords can serve as a guide for constructing the harmonies but we mustn't be a slave to them.

So lets harmonise the first note - its a C. Brian typically harmonizes notes lower than his lead. We start with a C, the chord is C, so lets add a couple of notes in from the chord of C (also we are using a scale of C major here). The first 2 notes of the chord of C moving downwards would be G and E. So, our lead plays C, harmony one plays G, harmony 2 plays E.

The second note - we move to a chord of A minor, the lead note stays the same. The notes we want from the chord of A minor would be A and E. So harmony one moves from G to A, harmony 2 stays on E - minimizing the harmonic movement between notes is a good trick and something to try and do as much as possible.

The third note is a D on the lead over a chord of F. D isn't in the chord of F but that doesn't matter too much - an F chord plus a D note makes an F6 which will sound pleasant. We can chose from the notes F,A,C in the chord of F. If we leave harmony one on A it doesn't have to change, and we can move harmony 2 from E to F. We could have used the C out of the F chord for harmonizing but it is close to the D so wouldn't sound good, plus we would have to move more of our notes.

Now, it gets interesting - we have played the first note of a 3 note run on the chord of G. The run is G A B in the melody, the chord stays as a G. We could alter the chord to follow this run, but too many chords for no reason usually sounds bad. So we have a C on the lead. I am going to choose to harmonize this as an F chord, but against the G chord already playing we add a a 7th, a 9th and an 11th making a flavour of 11th chord. This will work better if there is just a bass accompanying the harmonies as a full G chord plus the additional harmony notes would sound a little full. So, Lead plays C, harmony 1 is A, harmony 2 is F.

Finally, our lead plays D, our chord is G, stepping below the lead we could use B and G, so lead plays D, harmony 1 plays B and harmony 2 plays G.

Now, Brian actually does his version a little differently - he adds a chord of D7 in the middle of that 3 note run. That allows us to sharpen the F that harmony 2 plays (since F# is in the chord of D7), and I think that sounds a little better than my original harmony.

All together, it looks like this:

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This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Oct 1 2007, 09:18 PM

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