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Can't we all just get along in harmony?

How do I harmonise stuff?

Well that is a much bigger question that you realise. But not unanswerable.

Firstly, we need to understand a few things in order for you to correctly grasp what it is you are doing.

When you harmonise it is defined as “in music, the implementation of harmony, usually by using chords, including harmonized scales”

What the hell did that mean?

So let’s set up a scenario.

You bring me a simple 3 note line and ask for it to be harmonised. Firstly, we need to ascertain what are you playing this melody over?

In the first example I have taken the simple melody and placed it in E minor, which seems very obvious. Underneath the melody notes I have placed some chords that would be harmonies in the key of E minor. Have I lost you already?

Which chords are present in the Key of E minor? I’ll make it a bit easier, let’s call it G major as they contain the same notes.

E F# G A B C D are the scale notes. What chords do these form? Clue:

E min F#dim G Maj A min B Min C Maj D Maj . Did I say clue? I meant here is the answer.

I’ve selected 3 chords that contain each of the melody notes in that order.

I could select some others and it would still harmonise.

Let’s have a look. Keeping the melody on the top We could also have B min A min G maj. Have a listen to that harmony, it still works, it’s all about the chords present.

Are there other options? Of course there are. Even in this one key there are many options as to how you could harmonise these three notes.

As you can see, we can extend chords and use the melody notes as the extensions. There are so many options in this one key alone.

This is all from the perspective of knowing the melody but having no idea what the chords are.

If you know what the chords are you are playing over, or just chord then you can make some more informed decisions.

For instance, if it is just a static E minor chord that the melody line is being played over. Think Iron Maiden/Thin Lizzy. These bands typically would harmonise the melody with 3rds.

3rds? What the hell you talking about Willis?

Thirds. A special helping for those who aren’t filled up by seconds. OK no, It’s a musical interval. It is the 3rd note of a scale in relation to the note you are playing. Note letter wise it is easy to work out.

It is 3 letters up inclusive of the letter you start from. For example, C …3rd up = E. C> D >E

This will change dependant on the key and notes involved. A 3rd up C#.

Why? A major has a C# not a C in it.

So in order to be able to do this harmonising stuff correctly there is some back work you may or may not need to do. You will need to know which notes are in which keys. Otherwise known as your key signatures.

You will need to know how to count intervals in scales.

You will need to know what key you are in and/or how to work it out.

If any of those things do not make sense to you or you think I am talking a foreign language, you need to take a couple of steps back and bone up on some theory. It may seem dull, but you will be able to achieve your aim of harmonising your lead lines.

I shall elaborate on this further and provide more examples. There is definitive way to harmonise melodies, If we look at Brian May and his masterful use of harmony we will see all kinds of ideas in place.

As someone interested in utilising harmonies in their playing I suggest you expand your listening to include players to use the device extensively. These would be Brian May, Steve Vai, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden to name but a few of the heavy rock end.

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