• How to Harmonize Melodies to Create Full-Sounding Songs Part 2

    in Playing songs

    (Part two of a two week series on harmonizing melodies. Click here for last week’s lesson).
     
     
    Last week’s lesson generated many questions so before providing answers to the exercises I issued in the last newsletter, I’ll first take some time to address some key thoughts:
     
     
    Question #1 from student:
     

    Hi Jermaine,
     
    Your harmony scale seems to be just what I’m looking for. Do these chords always apply to these melody notes and how do you know when to use other chords that may fit better?
     

     
     
    Answer:
     
    The simple answer to to the first question is no. For the second question, it depends.
     
    Here it goes…
     
     
     
    The harmonization scale taught in the last lesson (and shown below) is just a template to use for most basic songs, but it is not written in stone.
     
    There will be times, for example, in C major, when you play a “C” in your melody and it won’t be harmonized by the Cmaj (E+G+C) chord I discussed last week. In this case, the “C” melody note may be harmonized by an Fmaj (F+A+C) chord, which still puts “C” on top and is a better fit for the song.
     
    Let me give you an example:
     
    “Jesus Loves Me”
     
     
    Yes, Je-sus Loves Me
    G     E    G    A      C
     
    Yes, Je-sus Loves Me
    G     E   C     E      D
     
    Yes, Je-sus Loves Me
    G     E    G    A      C
     
    For the bib-ble tells me so
    A    A   G   C   E     D   C
     
     
    Normally, this entire song, like many others, could be harmonized using the chart I introduced last week:
     

    When melody note is: Simply play this chord:
    C E + G + C (played all at the same time)
    D F + A + D
    E G + C + E
    F A + C + F
    G C + E + G
    A C + F + A
    B D + G + B
    C E + G + C

     
     
     
    Simply put, all you have to do is take each note of your melody and replace it with the matching chord.
     
    So…
     
    According to the chart above, “Jesus Loves Me” would look like this:
     
    Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

    Yes
    C+E+G
     
    Je
    G+C+E
     
    sus
    C+E+G
     
    Loves
    C+F+A
     
    Me *
    E+G+C

    Yes
    C+E+G
     
    Je
    G+C+E
     
    sus
    E+G+C
     
    Loves
    G+C+E
     
    Me *
    F+A+D

    Yes
    C+E+G
     
    Je
    G+C+E
     
    sus
    C+E+G
     
    Loves
    C+F+A
     
    Me *
    E+G+C

    For
    C+F+A
     
    The
    C+F+A
     
    Bi
    C+E+G
     
    ble
    E+G+C
     
    Tells
    G+C+E
     
    Me
    F+A+D
     
    So
    E+G+C

     
     
     
    If you play this song with the triads listed above, mostly all the chords would sound good except for the ones I’ve noted with an asterisk *.
     
    It’s not that they sound bad. It’s just that there is a better fit for these melody notes.
     
     
    My golden rule is that your ear should always be the judge. So when you are harmonizing a melody and one chord just doesn’t sound right, ask yourself this question?
     
    “Is there any other chord that might harmonize this note better?”
     
     
    This is where you get into different types of harmonization scales. On pages 243-244 of the 300-pg course, I teach about three different harmonization scales with various functions:
     
     
    1) Using only primary chords to harmonize a scale (i.e., “I, IV, and V chords only”)
     
    2) Using a mixture of minor and major chords (like the chart you already learned above).
     
    And…
     
    3) Using substitute chords on certain tones of the major scale.
     
     
     
     
    Using only primary chords to harmonize a scale
     
    In any given major scale, the I, IV, and V make up the primary chords.
     
    For example, the C major scale is:
     
    C D E F G A B C
    1 2 3  4  5 6  7 8
     
    The primary chords of this key are Cmaj, Fmaj, and Gmaj.
     
     
    Let’s see how well you understand this concept:
     
    1) What are the primary chords of F major?
     
     
    Answer: F major ( I ), Bb major ( IV ), and C major ( V )
     
     
    2) What are the primary chords of B major?
     
     
    Answer: B major ( I ), E major ( IV ), and F# major ( V )
     
    So, if you had to harmonize the C major scale using only a Cmaj, Fmaj, and Gmaj chords, it would look something like this:
     

    Harmonizing a scale with primary chords only

    When melody note is: Simply play this chord:
    C E + G + C (played all at the same time)
    D G + B + D
    E G + C + E
    F A + C + F
    G C + E + G
    A C + F + A
    B D + G + B
    C E + G + C

     
     
     
    The only difference between this harmonization chart and the other one is that the “D” in this scale is harmonized by a “Gmaj” chord instead of a “Dmin” chord.
     
    This is the “Gmaj” chord that should be used in “Jesus Loves Me.”
     
    Try comparing the second part of “Jesus Loves Me” (one with the regular “Dmin” chord and one with the “Gmaj” chord used to harmonize the “D” note).
     

    Old version

    New Version

    Yes
    C+E+G
     
    Je
    G+C+E
     
    sus
    E+G+C
     
    Loves
    G+C+E
     
    Me *
    F+A+D  (old)

    Yes
    C+E+G
     
    Je
    G+C+E
     
    sus
    E+G+C
     
    Loves
    G+C+E
     
    Me *
    G+B+D (new)

     
    Doesn’t the second version sound a lot better with the Gmaj than the Dmin? This is exactly what I’m talking about — using your ear to make the final decision.
     
     
     

    Using substitute chords on certain tones of the major scale
     
    In some cases, only certain chords of the harmonization scale need to be changed.
     
    On page 244 in the course, I discuss how sometimes the IV chord can substitute for the I chord.
     
    To better understand this, let’s look at our original harmonization scale:
     
     

    When melody note is: Simply play this chord:
    C E + G + C (played all at the same time)
    D F + A + D
    E G + C + E
    F A + C + F
    G C + E + G
    A C + F + A
    B D + G + B
    C E + G + C

     
     
    Notice the first chord in this chart.
     
    Usually, if you were playing a melody, any time you’d hit “C”, you’d replace your melody note with E+G+C.
     
    However, in “Jesus Loves Me,” this chord didn’t sound correct when harmonizing the “C” notes with “E+G+C” in parts one and three.
     
     
    After poking around at a few more chords, you might notice that an Fmaj chord sounds a lot better there. An Fmaj chord is played: F+A+C.
     
    Understand that the highest note doesn’t change — it is still “C” like we want it to be.
     
    Now, try changing the (E+G+C) chords in parts one and three to (F+A+C) to see the difference it makes:
     

    Old version

    New Version

    Yes
    C+E+G
     
    Je
    G+C+E
     
    sus
    C+E+G
     
    Loves
    C+F+A
     
    Me *
    E+G+C (old)

    Yes
    C+E+G
     
    Je
    G+C+E
     
    sus
    C+E+G
     
    Loves
    C+F+A
     
    Me *
    F+A+C (new)

     
     
    I don’t know about you but the Fmaj beats out the Cmaj chord here.
     
     
     
     
    So the lesson to be learned here is:
     

    • If the chord you’re using to harmonize the second tone of a scale (in C major, that’s “D”) doesn’t sound right, try switching to a primary chord (or the V chord). In this case, we ended up replacing the Dmin chord with a Gmaj chord and it sounded much better.
    • If the chord you’re using to harmonize the first tone of a scale (in Cmajor, that’s “C”) doesn’t fit as well as you think it should, try switching to the IV chord (with the same note on top). Remember, the highest note shouldn’t change since the I and IV chords share this same note in their chords.
     
     
    Now, let’s see if you answered last week’s exercise correctly.
     
    If you remember, the aim was to correctly harmonize “Mary had a little lamb” and “Are you sleeping” with the help of the harmonization chart.
     
    Here are the answers:
     
     
    “Mary had a little lamb”
     
     
     
    E D C D E E E (Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb)
    _____________________________________
     
    G+C+E (Ma)
     
    F+A+D (ry)
     
    E+G+C (had)
     
    F+A+D (a)
     
    G+C+E (lit)
     
    G+C+E (tle)
     
    G+C+E (lamb)
     
     
     
    D D D (lit-tle lamb)
    _____________________________________
     
     F+A+D (lit)
     
     F+A+D (tle)
     
     F+A+D (lamb)
     
     
     

    E G G (lit-tle lamb)
    _____________________________________
     
     G+C+E (lit)
     
    C+E+G (tle)
     
    C+E+G (lamb)
     
     
     
    E D C D E E E E (Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb, her)
    _____________________________________
     
    G+C+E (Ma)
     
    F+A+D (ry)
     
    E+G+C (had)
     
    F+A+D (a)
     
    G+C+E (lit)
     
    G+C+E (tle)
     
    G+C+E (lamb)
     
    G+C+E (her)
     

     
     

    D D E D C (fleece was white as snow)
    ______________________________________
     
    F+A+D (fleece)
     
    F+A+D (was)
     
    G+C+E (white)
     
    F+A+D (as)
     
    E+G+C (snow)
     

     

     
     
    “Are you sleeping”
     
     
    C D E C (Are you sleep-ing)
    ______________________________________
     
    E+G+C (Are)
     
    F+A+D (you)
     
    G+C+E (sleep)
     
    E+G+C (ing)
     
     
     
    C D E C (Are you sleep-ing)
    ______________________________________
     
    E+G+C (Are)
     
    F+A+D (you)
     
    G+C+E (sleep)
     
    E+G+C (ing)
     
     
     
    E F G (Bro-ther John)
    ______________________________________
     
    G+C+E (Bro)
     
    A+C+F (ther)
     
    C+E+G (John)
     
     
     
     
    E F G (Bro-ther John)
    ______________________________________
     
    G+C+E (Bro)
     
    A+C+F (ther)
     
    C+E+G (John)
     
     
     
     
    G A G F E C (Morn-ing bells are ring-ing)
    ______________________________________
     
    C+E+G (Morn)
     
    C+F+A (ing)
     
    C+E+G (bells)
     
    A+C+F (are)
     
    G+C+E (ring)
     
    E+G+C (ing)
     
     
     
    G A G F E C (Morn-ing bells are ring-ing)
    ______________________________________
     
    C+E+G (Morn)
     
    C+F+A (ing)
     
    C+E+G (bells)
     
    A+C+F (are)
     
    G+C+E (ring)
     
    E+G+C (ing)
     
     
     
     
    C G C (Ding dong ding)
    ______________________________________
     
    E+G+C (Ding)
     
    B+D+G (dong) — use different harmonization type
     
    E+G+C (ding)
     
     
    C G C (Ding dong ding)

    ______________________________________
     

    E+G+C (Ding)
     
    B+D+G (dong) — use different harmonization type
     
    E+G+C (ding)

     
     
     
     I hope you enjoyed part two of this series. I’ll see you next week for a new topic…
     
    Thanks for reading!
     
     

    Chords to study for future online classroom lessons:

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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