• Harmonization 201: The Neighboring Chord Couple Concept

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano


    Welcome to yet another lesson on harmonization.

    Most folks get started with piano playing by learning how to play what our president calls “one-finger melodies” before graduating to chordal accompaniment, which is the use of chords to accompany these one-finger melodies.

    Today, we’ll be doing some serious work on harmonization using the neighboring couple concept. Let’s review harmonization before we get into the main loop.

    Review On Harmonization

    Suggested reading: Melody and Harmony.

    Harmonization is simply the use of notes to accompany a melody and one of the best ways to get started with harmonization is to learn how to harmonize the major (or minor) scale.

    Attention: Most of the time, the notes of a given melody are derived from the major or minor scale. Therefore, mastering the harmonization of the major scale automatically puts harmonization within your grasp. If you can harmonize the major scale, harmonizing melodies becomes a piece of cake.

    A scale is a melodic succession of notes in ascending or descending order.

    Harmonization of the major scale involves creating a harmonic relationship for every tone of the scale in such a way that it evolves from single notes (melody) to several notes (harmony.)

    There are many approaches to the harmonization of the major scale. Check out these two…

    #1 – Basic Harmonization Of The Major Scale

    If you’re yet to get started with harmonization, check out this one:

    C – 1st tone:

    D – 2nd tone:

    E – 3rd tone:

    F – 4th tone:

    G – 5th tone:

    A – 6th tone:

    B – 7th tone:

    C – 8th tone:

    Further reading: Basic Harmonization.

    #2 – Harmonizing The Major Bebop Scale

    Let’s do a simple exercise on the harmonization of the major scale in the key of C major – my all-time favorite.

    C – 1st tone:

    D – 2nd tone:

    E – 3rd tone:

    F – 4th tone:

    G – 5th tone:

    G# – 6th tone:

    A – 7th tone:

    B – 8th tone:

    Did you see that in each case we added other notes to the regular tone of the scale? That’s the idea.

    Further reading: Harmonizing the Bebop Scale.

    Now that we’ve covered what harmonization is, let’s get into our subject for the day – neighboring chord couples.

    Neighboring Chord Couples

    Triads can be formed on any of the seven degrees of the major scale. In the key of C, here are the scale degree triads…

    C major:

    D minor:

    E minor:

    F major:

    G major:

    A minor:

    B diminished:

    Playing two adjacent (or neighboring) scale degree chords produces a couple. Using the triads above as a reference, we can form a couple using two adjacent (or neighboring) chords.

    Check these couples out…

    Chord 1 and Chord 2

    Considering that C major:

    …and D minor:

    …are adjacent to each other, they are considered a neighboring chord couple.

    Chord 4 and Chord 5

    F major:

    …and G major:

    …are adjacent to each other, therefore they are considered a neighboring chord couple.

    Chord 6 and Chord 7

    A minor:

    …and B diminished:

    …are adjacent to each other. Therefore, they are a neighboring chord couple.

    You can create a neighboring chord couple with any two neighboring chords. Which can also be any of the following…

    Chord 2 and Chord 3

    Chord 5 and Chord 6

    Chord 7 and Chord 1

    However, we’ll limit our scope to chord 1 and chord 2 which are the C major and D minor triads in the key of C major.

    Before we get into harmonization using the couple concept, let’s till the ground by considering inversion and melody notes.

    Inversion Vs Melody Notes

    The neighboring chord couple concept is useful in harmonization even though it can only harmonize six out of the seven tones of the major scale.


    Inversion of a chord lets us rearrange the order of its notes.

    The C major triad:

    …is usually given as it is above – root, third, and fifth tones. Rearranging it would produce…

    The first inversion:

    …the third, fifth, and root.

    The second inversion:

    …the fifth, root and third.

    Each of the inversions consist of exactly the same C, E, and G notes.

    As far as neighboring chord couples are concerned, knowledge of chord inversions is of the most valuable importance.

    Melody Notes

    The lowest note of a chord is called the bass note while the highest note is called the melody note.

    In the process of harmonization, the integrity of the melody must not be compromised. The melody note is the highest tone in the chord and is usually assigned to the soprano voice in a choir.

    The melody note of a chord is important because that’s the note that the ear singles out easily¬† and this is obviously because of some scientific reasons we can’t cover in today’s lesson.

    In the C major chord below:

    …G is the melody note. Even though the chord is a C chord, the C chord is harmonizing “G,” which is at this point the highest-sounding note (aka – “melody note”).

    The number of tones in a chord can give you an idea of the number of notes the chord can harmonize.

    “The tones of any given chord are potential melody notes”Jermaine Griggs

    The C major triad consists of C, E, and G tones. Therefore, C, E, and G can be harmonized using the C major chord. However, to achieve this, you must invert the triad in such a way that it becomes the melody note in each case.

    The first inversion of the C major triad:

    …makes C the melody note.

    The second inversion of the C major triad:

    …makes E the melody note.

    Using inversion, we can make all chord tones melody notes.

    Harmonization Using The Couple Concept

    Six out of the seven notes in the major scale can be harmonized using chords 1 and 2 – which are the C major and D minor triads respectively in the key of C major.

    However, you must be familiar with the concept of inversion and melody notes and this is because it is a combination of both ideas that can enable you to use neighboring chords to harmonize six out of the seven notes of the major scale.

    Chord one (the C major triad):

    …consists of C, E, and G which are the first, third, and fifth tones of the C major scale while chord 2 (the D minor triad):

    …consists of the second, fourth, and sixth tones of the C major scale.

    Simply put, the C major triad harmonizes the following tones…



    …and G:

    …while the D minor triad harmonizes…



    …and A:

    You’re probably asking for the seventh tone of the major scale and that’s why I have to say at this point that the couple concept is formed from two adjacent triads.

    Considering that each triad has three notes, if you do the math, you’ll see that two triads will have six notes.

    I’ll be showing you how to harmonize the seventh tone of the major scale in another post.

    Check out the outcome of rearranging the melody notes in an alphabetic sequence from C to C…

    1st tone – First inversion of the C major triad:

    2nd tone – First inversion of the D minor triad:

    3rd tone – Second inversion of the C major triad:

    4th tone – Second inversion of the D minor triad:

    5th tone – Root position of the C major triad:

    6th tone – Root position of the D minor triad:

    8th tone – First inversion of the C major triad:

    Final Words

    Now that you’re familiar with the use of neighboring chord couples to harmonize the tones of the scale, let’s look at how we can apply that to a popular hymn tune, Amazing Grace.



    …zing grace:





    That’s how easy it is to harmonize songs. I really hope this adds to your playing.

    Bye for now.


    If you’re serious about harmonization, you’ll do well to check out our GospelKeys 101 course. You’ll find tons of useful information that will get you started with what it takes to transform any melody with full-sounding chords.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Tekena

    All of this is free information!!…its amazing and eye opening. Thank you sooo much for this, it was too helpful, may God bless you.


    2 julius

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    3 Chuku Onyemachi

    God bless Jermaine Griggs, our president and founder.


    4 Gideon

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