mashup/photo art by Benjamin Kall
Several years ago, I presented a series of musical workshops at The Southern Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute (S.U.U.S.I.) with the above title. In my many years as a musician, I have noted that there is a relatively small percentage of humans who have innate sensitivity to the musical element, harmony.
The four basic elements of music are rhythm, melody, harmony and timbre (tone color.) The most primal of the four is rhythm. Everyone is affected by a beat, which is the most basic part of rhythm. Obviously, there is much more to it (meter, tempo, syncopation, accents, etc.)
Next of the elements, in terms of its universal familiarity, is melody, which could be defined as a "meaningful series of tones." A simple melody involves varied pitches of differing durations. Thus, a basic example of combining melody and rhythm would be your whistling YANKEE DOODLE in time to your jaunty footsteps as you happily walk to the friendly O.T.B. (no money left for gas.) Also, the sound of your whistling itself has a particular timbre (quality.) Thus, you involve three of the elements of music as you're off to the races.
If you happen to be playing your guitar as an accompaniment to your whistling stroll, you would be involving the element of harmony (in the form of rhythmic chords.) The timbre of your guitar's sound would tell listeners what instrument was being played
Here's where I'm going with this:
A casual listener would notice if you whistled a wrong ("sour") note in Yankee Doodle. If you walked and whistled this dear old tune in a herky-jerky way, a listener who was also watching you would be doubly perplexed by your lousy rhythmic sense. Moreover, if your guitar was a "cheapy" and had a strident and unpleasant sound, that terrible timbre, too would be noticed.
BUT, if you played an occasional wrong CHORD in your jaunty rendition, relatively few would notice.
THIS IS THE POINT! Harmony is the musical element that a large percentage of humans are least sensitive to.