• Harmonization Of The Major Scale Using Third And Sixth Intervals

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    In this lesson we’ll be taking a look at harmonization of the major scale using third and sixth intervals.

    In previous posts, we’ve made efforts in letting you know how you can transform melodies to full sounding chords, however, nothing has been done about harmonization using intervals, and that’s why we dedicating this lesson to the learning of how melodies can be harmonized, using third and sixth intervals.

    We’re not using all classes of intervals, and you’ll find that out why this is so when you get into this lesson. To prepare you for this study, is a short review on the major scale.

    A Short Note On The Major Scale

    Whenever notes are played in regular successions which usually involve distances of whole steps and half steps, this produces a scale. According to Jermaine Griggs, “…a scale is a succession of notes in ascending or descending order based on a fixed intervallic formula.”

    The major scale is the traditional scale of the major key. It is a scale that is the collection of the tones or degrees of the major key from the first to the eight degree.

    The easiest major scale to form on the keyboard is the C major scale, which can be formed by playing all the white notes on the keyboard from C to C:

    Therefore C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C are the eight degrees in the key of C major, and if played in a regular succession can be called the C major scale.

    The term major is used to describe the major scale because of its quality. The quality of a scale (whether major or minor) is determined by the interval or distance between its first and third tones.

    The first and third tones of a scale can either form a major or minor interval.

    If the interval between the first and third tones of a scale is a major third, then the scale is a major scale. Conversely, if the interval between the first and third tones of a scale is a minor third, then the scale is a minor scale.

    The C major scale:

    …has a major quality.

    Because the interval between its first and third tones which are C and E:

    …respectively, are a major third interval apart from each other.

    That’s the much we can discuss about the major scale in this lesson because we still have a lot to cover, however, before we go on into harmonization in the next segment, here are the major scale in all twelve keys for your reference…

    C major scale:

    Db major scale:

    D major scale:

    Eb major scale:

    E major scale:

    F major scale:

    Gb major scale:

    G major scale:

    Ab major scale:

    A major scale:

    Bb major scale:

    B major scale:

    “What Is Harmonization?”

    A very good way to explain harmonization is going back to the word ‘harmony’.

    Harmony is a relationship between notes that are heard or played together [versus melody where notes are heard or played separately.]

    The primary goal of harmony is to provide accompaniment to a given melody using thicker textures.

    Music scholars define texture as the number of layers of  notes that are heard at once, and the primary goal of harmonization is to increase texture the texture of a melody from single notes to two or more notes.

    The goal of this lesson is to show you how to harmonize or how to create a relationship between notes using intervals. Intervals are a product of the relationship between two notes, and in this course we’ll be taking a look at harmonization using two notes (aka – “intervals”.)

    To take you further in this study, let me give you a quick insight on a special class of harmony known as the tertian harmony.

    Quick Insights On The Tertian Harmony

    The word tertian has to do with three (or thirds) and is used to describe the harmonization that is based on interval of thirds. Hence, tertian harmony is an outcome of the relationship between notes that are played/heard when the distance between them are in thirds.

    Tertian harmony is the traditional harmony used in classical music and is used to form various classes of chords, from triads, to seventh chords, to ninth chords.

    In a triad like the C major triad:

    …the interval between successive chord tones are all in thirds.

    From C to E:

    …is a third.

    From E to G:

    …is another third.

    The same thing is obtainable in bigger chords like the C major ninth chord:

    …the interval between all the chord tones are all thirds…

    C to E:

    …E to G:

    …G to B:

    …and B to D:

    …are all thirds.

    Tertian harmony, which is the relationship between notes in thirds is the traditional class of harmony that is used in chord formation.

    “Please Take Note…”

    In our previous lesson the characteristic features of intervals, we learned that intervals can be inverted. The inversion of an interval changes its size. For example, the inversion of a third interval produces a sixth interval.

    “Let me show you on the keyboard…”


    …is a third interval because it encompasses three tones of the C major scale:

    …C, D, and E:

    When inverted, C-E:

    …[which is a third] becomes E-C:

    …a sixth. E-C is a sixth because it encompasses six tones of the C major scale:

    …from E to C:

    Therefore, inversion of all third intervals produces sixth intervals. Consequently, harmonization using tertian harmony can either be in thirds or in sixths (inverted thirds.)

    The inversion of the tertian harmony gives us the relationship between harmonization in thirds and sixths. Third and sixth intervals are related; one can be inverted into the other. Inversion of a third produces the sixth and vice versa.

    Therefore, tertian harmony features harmony in sixth and third intervals.


    …the C major triad built in thirds, can be played as…


    …with exactly the same notes, but in sixths…

    G to E:

    …is a sixth interval.

    E to C:

    …is also a sixth interval.

    Harmonization Of The Major Scale Using Thirds And Sixths

    Musicians who are classically trained appreciate third intervals more because melodies move in skip of thirds. Take the song “Kum bah ya, my Lord” in the key of C:

    ..for an example…




    The melody featured the first, third, and fifth tones of the C major scale.

    The skip of melodies in intervals of thirds explains why thirds are important – not just for harmonization but also for melody determination.

    Let’s go further by looking at harmonization in thirds…

    Harmonization Using Thirds

    The traditional practice for harmonization in third intervals is that you harmonize a given note using another note that is a third below it.

    However in the case of the first tone of the scale we’ll be going down a fourth instead. This is because a third below the first tone of the scale is the sixth tone of the scale which is not a stable tone.

    The stable tones in a key are the first, third, and fifth tones and due to the fact that the sixth tone is not a stable tone, we’ll be using a neighboring note (the fifth tone) which lies a fourth below the first tone of the scale.

    In the case of the key of C:

    …instead of harmonizing C with A:

    …which is a third below C, we’ll be harmonizing C with G:

    …which is a fourth below C. So, G-C:

    …provides us with the harmonization for C [the first tone of the scale.]

    A third below D:

    …is B:

    …therefore B-D:

    …provides us with the harmonization for D:

    A third below E:

    …is C:

    …therefore C-E:

    …provides us with the harmonization for E:

    A third below F:

    …is D:

    …therefore D-F:

    …provides us with the harmonization for F:

    A third below G:

    …is E:

    …therefore E-G:

    …provides us with the harmonization for G:

    A third below A:

    …is F:

    …therefore F-A:

    …provides us with the harmonization for A:

    A third below B:

    …is G:

    …therefore G-B:

    …provides us with the harmonization for G:

    …and that takes us back to C:

    A third below C is A:

    …but A is the sixth tone of the scale and its an active tone. Therefore, we’ll be harmonizing C:

    …by going down a fourth. A fourth below C:

    …is G:

    …consequently, G-C:

    So this is the harmonization of the C major scale using third intervals.


    …which is an exception,








    Alright, let’s round up this study by taking a look at harmonization using sixths…

    Harmonization In Sixths

    To harmonize the first tone of C major scale:

    …you need to go down in sixths.

    A sixth below C:

    …is E:

    So E-C:

    …is the sixth interval that harmonizes C.

    A sixth below D:

    …is F:

    …therefore F-D:

    …is the sixth that harmonizes D.

    A sixth below E:

    …is G:

    …therefore G-E:

    …is the sixth that harmonizes E.

    A sixth below F:

    …is A:

    …therefore A-F:

    …is the sixth that harmonizes F.

    A sixth below G:

    …is B:

    …therefore B-G:

    …is the sixth that harmonizes G.

    A sixth below A:

    …is C:

    …therefore C-A:

    …is the sixth that harmonizes A.

    A sixth below B:

    …is D:

    …therefore D-B:

    …is the sixth that harmonizes B.

    And then back to C:

    …the eight tone (aka – “the octave“), a sixth below C is E:

    …therefore E-C:

    …produces the harmonization for C.

    Altogether, here’s the harmonization for the tones of the C major scale…









    So that’s basically how sixth intervals can harmonize the C major scale.

    Final Words

    Now that you’ve seen how the major scale can be harmonized using thirds and sevenths, go ahead and practice them in all twelve keys. At first, this may be difficult, however, as you keep doing it, you’ll eventually master thirds and sixths.

    In a subsequent post, we’ll be learning how to harmonize with thirds and sixths at the same time.

    Until then!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

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



    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 David Wachter

    Check your F scale in the chart at the top. Should have one flat.


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