17 ago. 2012

Los Panchos and harmony

Some years ago I heard the song named 'You’ve gone' from Los Panchos.


I was in high school in that time and was very romantic. The harmony of their voices was so perfect for me that I repeated the song several times and though that life was wonderful only because of being able to listening music.

Los Panchos was a group of three people that began in 1944. The original members were the Mexicans Alfredo Gil and Chucho Navarro and the Puerto Rican Hernando Avilés. In those days the trios were very popular. Other groups like them were The Calaveras, The Tres Ases, The Duendes, The Dandys and The Tecolines among many others. The trios main characteristic were the harmony of the voices in a romantic song.

You know, many people can sing well any kind of tones or any type of music and moreover, they can mix the voices and sounds to have that agreeable effect to the ears known as harmony. But how?

Well, there seem not to be a recipe. However, there are some physic concepts that could be useful in order to understand a little bit about harmony.
Sound is produced for the propagation of air waves due to the voice. If you speak or sing, you do a pressure on the air around you. This pressure push the air around it and that air push the air around it and so on. This phenomenon is similar to a rock that falls in the water and produces water waves. In the air, the waves are propagating and changing the state of the medium until reach somebody who can hear you. If there was no air around us or other medium like water nobody could be able to hear us.

Do you remember what the film Alien used to say?

‘ In space no one can hear you scream.

Well, it is true!

Music depends where you play it. For example, if you sing in the shower, your voice sounds really good. This is because hundreds of drops let the sound shock many times improving the original sound.

Also depending of the physical medium of propagation, sound waves have different frequencies. It means the characteristic of air, water, etc. determines what small or large is the separation between the waves or in other words, it determines how frequent the repetition is. In air, this is not easy to see but the frequency is related with musical notes and each note has a particular frequency. Some notes played together sound nice to human ear but some others not. In the former case, we talk about harmony.

If you play a guitar chord you can se the main mode of the chord. This is the note produced by vibrating the chord between its extremes. If you push in the half of the chord and play again, the note is more acute. This is the first mode. Divide the chord in three parts, push in the two interior points and play again. This is the second harmonic.

The process can continue with several length divisions of the guitar chord. If you could play all those notes, they would sound very well. That is harmony.

Something similar happens in our throat. The air coming from our lungs use the vocal chords to be modulated and sing some possible notes. The final result depends of the shape of our mouth, the throat and stomach use to produce light or strong sounds... or a little bit more complex processes.

There are people who sing very well without learning about the use of their body. But the professional singers overall the opera singers study how to use their vocal chords and their stomachs to improve their sound quality.

Put voices in harmony depend of the notes sung at the same time. Musical theory has grouped notes in chords in three kinds of scales: the mayor, the minor and the natural. Mayor chords sound happy, minor chords sound sad and natural chords not always are in harmony.

Los Panchos trio has been very famous around the world. They have given concerts in Central and South America, USA, Europe and even in Asian countries like Japan. After Alfredo Gil death in 1993, Chucho Navarro’s son continued with the group with new members. Although the original ones have given to the world a harmony legacy or their voices that easily challenged physic laws.

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