“Rain, rain go away
Come again some other day.”
This little rhyme tune is created from a descending minor third. That interval (the distance between two pitches) is thought to be first and easiest musical interval a child can master. Melodies are created from repeated notes, scale passages and skips (intervals). The first little tunes a child will be able to master will lie within a three to five note range, or in music-speak, scale degrees do re mi fa sol. A major triad is built on the do, mi and sol pitches, or a minor third over major third. This “upper” third of the major triad is what the sing-song playground rhymes naturally tend to be built on.
Why does this matter? Well, thirds are the intervals in music that qualify our emotional reactions. Chords are built of stacked thirds or TRIADS. A major triad (major third with a minor third stacked over it) gives us the feeling of happiness or rest. A minor triad (a minor third with a major third over it) tends to make us feel a bit sad. The quality of the chord is always a product of how the thirds are stacked.
Some of my alto friends in choir are very conscious of their role in life. They understand very well that they were put on this earth to sing thirds. One friend says that before coming down to earth, she was likely given the choice between having a beautiful solo voice or being blessed to sing thirds. She must have chosen to sing thirds, because that’s what she mostly gets to do. My sister says that she doesn’t really even hear the melody. While singing in a group, if she hears someone on her “note” she automatically jumps a third lower.
I, for one, wish to thank all of the harmonizers of this world who are able to hear and sing thirds. It is a rare and beautiful gift to be able to sing thirds. Altos feel compelled to follow the melody and provide a somewhat parallel harmony a third lower. Tenors feel compelled to sing a somewhat parallel harmony to the melody but a third higher. Basses like to provide foundation and gravitate to the root or lowest note of the triads. Singing melody is important, and let’s face it, the melody is what most people hear. It is the common lot of the soprano voices. But, I think singing harmony is delicious and fills out the sound and helps us qualify our emotional reaction to the music. (I do so enjoy any chance I get to sing a harmony part, even if it is a descant up in the stratosphere!)
Thank you, all of you harmonizers out there! You are a great boon to my life! Thank you for singing thirds!