How to Write Harmonies - Part 2

This lesson isn't going to deal with writing harmonies, so much as what to do with them once we have them. We'll cover two simple concepts that will give awesome results for your writing.

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This lesson isn't going to deal with writing harmonies, so much as what to do with them once we have them.

We'll cover two simple concepts that will give awesome results for your writing.

You can review part 1 here.

For both concepts, we are going to start with the following guitar harmony, in the key of E minor (equivalent to G major):

Concept 1 - Shifting Rhythm Section

Let's say we are playing this harmony over the chord E5. This will sound cool repeated a few times in a row ... but will quickly start to get a bit boring. One way we can make it really interesting is to change the harmony that we are playing over - change what the rhythm guitar (or bass) is playing.

In order to do this, we need to know the key (E minor / G major for working out chords). Once we know the key, we can take power chords from it almost at random and they will work pretty nicely over our harmony (note that the diminished chord from the key will sound more ... adventurous, than other chords).

Let's quickly revise the power chords in E minor / G major:

G5 A5 B5 C5 D5 E5 F#dim

So for example, we could use the following power chords for our backing:

Progression 1: E5 G5 D5 C5

Progression 2: E5 A5 G5 F#dim

Progression 3: E5 A5 C5 B5

If your band / composing tastes are for two guitars as opposed to three, you can have the bass player play the roots of these power chords behind the harmony and you will get the same effect.

Sounds pretty cool yeah? Let’s look at the second concept:

Concept 2: Shifting Your Harmony

We can also move our guitar harmony through different patterns along our guitar neck (you'll need to know your mode shapes pretty well to make this easy).

In order to do this, we keep the melodic pattern and the rhythm of each harmony part the same, and just shift them up through our mode shapes (note that we are note changing mode here, just moving up through the patterns):

 

 


And the tab for it is here:


Make sure you understand how the above diagrams correlate to the tab before moving on - it's important you understand the concept here!

Now let's do the same thing with the harmony part:

 

 


And the tab for this new harmony:


Which gives us these two parts over all:


Cool! Hopefully you took the time to understand the process. This also helps demonstrate how powerful it is to know your 3 note per string mode shapes. With the last example, we can also move the chords in the background.

Leave any questions in the comments below and I'll answer them as soon as I can.

You can hear the audio examples here.

About the Author:
By Sam Russell. Sam is a professional musician in West London. You can get his free book, "The Ultimate Guide to the Modes of the Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor Scales" which is available at: www.samrussell.co.uk/ebook.

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8 comments sorted by best / new / date

    2Crosser
    Whenever and if ever I teach anyone guitar, if they get to this stage... Let's just say I saved both the parts to your lesson. The only improvement could be expanding upon introduced ideas, but the intention of this was keeping it simple as far as what I can see. Therefore: 10/10.
    Sam-Russell
    Thank you! When you say "expanding upon introduced ideas", what do you have in mind?
    2Crosser
    You introduced modes very briefly here. Introducing full scales would require a deep understanding of modes, for example, and mixing chromatic harmonizing with modal harmonizing (not sure if these are the correct terms, but I guess you know what I mean) would require even more explanation. Most bands/songs never go past what you covered, so once again, 10/10
    Sam-Russell
    Yeah those are some cool ideas - I look at incorporating into a future article! If you want more information on the modes, the ebook in the link has a pretty thorough description