How About Harmonizing: Part 2

Part 1 was child's play. Now let's get into the serious stuff.

Ultimate Guitar
I'd first off like to thank everyone for the helpful reviews on Part 1. It got good acclaim, though some said it didn't go in depth enough. Well, I've finally gotten the time to throw another article together, and I hope this one will help just as much as the last; perhaps even more. Okay, now let's get down to business!


Though I explained intervals in Part 1, there is actually much more to them than that. I said that thirds, fourths, fifths, and octaves were the most common intervals to use while harmonizing. Silly me, I forgot that the sixth was the second-most common of all-time, right along with the third! A major sixth is 9 semitones above the root, and a minor sixth is 8. Of the two, the major sixth is used more often. Not sure how exactly to use these intervals? Read on.

How To Utilize Intervals

There is a "rule", so to speak, that was used very prominently in classical music and still holds true today. It states that, when harmonizing, never to use more than three notes in a row that are the same interval apart. For instance, if you're harmonizing in minor thirds, don't put more than three minor thirds above the melody in a row. The rule goes on to say that you should experiment with octaves, sixths, fifths, fourths, whatever. Too much of the same interval in harmonizing gives off the impression that it's not going anywhere, whereas using different intervals within a harmony can give quite a good sense of counterpoint. Not familiar with the term? Don't worry, I've got you covered.


According to wikipedia, "Counterpoint is a musical technique involving the simultaneous sounding of separate musical lines." Now, let's expand on that a bit more. What counterpoint basically states is that you are harmonizing in more than one interval. Which means that whatever harmony you are creating can move upwards or downwards in any fashion while still keeping the same key against the original melody. Johann Sebastian Bach is the undisputed master of contrapuntal movement, and it is evident in many of his works. Take the Bourree, for example:
e|--0--2----|---3----2--0--------0--2--|-------------------------| B|----------|---------------4----------|--0----2--4--5----3--1---| G|----------|--------------------------|-------------------------| D|----------|--------------------------|-------------------------| A|----------|--------0------2----0-----|-------------------------| E|--3--2----|---0----------------------|--3----2-----0----2------| e|----------------------|--------------------------| B|-0--------------------|-0------------------------| G|------2--0-------0--2-|----2--0------------------| D|------------4---------|-----------4--2-----------| A|------0-----2----0----|-------2------------------| E|-3--------------------|-3------------0-----------|
Judging just by those first 5 measures, we can already tell that great counterpoint is happening. There is a melody on top, which is good, but look at the lower notes. If you can play that (it's a bit tough, I know), you should be able to hear the magnificent counterpoint going on within the two sets of notes. Bach really was the musical genius behind counterpoint. Okay, I'll bet you're thinking to yourself, "How can I get my harmony to sound like that?" I know how you feel. Be patient, darlings, it's coming.

How To Harmonize

Writing a harmony is based a lot off of experimentation and trial-and-error, but I know you don't want to read this article to hear that crap. In fact, before you can experiment at all, you must know which notes will sound good against the original melody beforehand, otherwise you'll probably end up with a bad-sounding or just plain wrong harmony. The best way to find which notes will work well in a harmony is to find out which notes are the key you're in. For example: In the Key of C major Play your basic open C chord:
|0---| |1---| |0---| |2---| |3---| |X---|
The C on the 3rd fret of the A string is your root note. Now, if we wanted to start harmonizing on, say, a major third up, we must identify which note is a major third above the C. In this case, it's E, which is located on the 2nd fret of the D string. Now that we've identified that, how do we start harmonizing? Simple; just know your C major scale. Let's use this 2-octave version, for example:
|----------------------3-5-7-8-| |----------------3-5-6---------| |----------2-4-5---------------| |----2-3-5---------------------| |3-5---------------------------| |------------------------------|
That is your basic C major scale (it's also your A minor scale, and I'll cover that in this article, too). Knowing that those are the notes you can use in your scale, you already know all the notes you can use to harmonize! Yes, you can play any two or more of those notes together in any order, and no matter what it'll sound good. This will work with any scale; I can guarantee it.

Majors And Relative Minors

Take note that I said above that a C major scale is also an A minor scale. This is because A minor is the relative minor of C major, meaning that the notes of both scales are exactly the same, only you start on different root notes. To find the relative minor of a certain key, take the major sixth of the root of the key/scale, and that's your relative minor. The major sixth of a C is an A, so that's why it's your relative minor. C major obviously starts on C while A minor starts on an A; but the notes within are exactly the same. Why is this important? Because if you're in, say, C major, for example, and you wanted a bridge or interlude or something, you could very well put it in A minor. This is good to know in harmonizing because if you know one scale, you already know the relative minor's scale, and you can make a harmony in a minor key, too, depending on which notes you are emphasizing more. To help you out, here's a list of all the majors and their relative minors:
C major - A minor C#/Db major - A#/Bb minor D major - B minor D#/Eb major - C minor E major - C#/Db minor F major - D minor F#/Gb major - D#/Eb minor G major - E minor G#/Ab major - F minor A major - F#/Gb minor A#/Bb major - G minor B major - G#/Ab minor
Knowing those keys and which notes are in them, you can easily -- and I stress easily -- harmonize. Once you know the notes of the scales, all it takes is expermimentation and you'll have a brilliant harmony in no time. I hope this goes more in depth than Part 1. Some people were saying it was too simple, so I hope I got more explained, while still being as clear as possible. Enjoy!

52 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Erich yeung
    cool article good tip on how to find relative minors is to simply count up three half steps.
    well i didn't read this article or the other one, but i can tell you right now, harmonizing owns.
    This article rocked majorly. The only thing I had issues with was my dad was explaining this to me earlier today in the car, but you explained it 40x better.
    Sweet article, Props..... The harmonizing is genious. you're awesome
    It doesn't sound boring if you play a harmony all with the same interval. It depends on the circusmstances as you should play what sounds best not conform to rules!
    pretty good. Harmonizing is great especially for classical music. I love playing both parts takes a lot of time but its very intresting. Having two guitarist playing two different parts sounds like one guitar with 3 people harmonizing. Its insane
    damn i gotta learn all my scales, good article though man! is it important that you memorize every mode of every key though? or should i just learn a good chunk?
    cointurtlemoose wrote: Good job and not bad, but still just a little too simple.
    what the hell? harmony is definitely simple, so there's no simplization.
    I like the article man, although I have one qaualm (and I could be dead if I am clear me up!) as far as I know counterpoint between two notes only exist if the rythm is different as well as the actual musical notes. For example I have like 40 or 50 fugues(classical pieces that are basically composed to be nearly 100% counterpoint) that senior Johann Bach composed and the rythms for all the melodys are different. Maybe that is a technicallity that is disputed? Maybe I'm just plain wrong. Other than that, great article, espeically the relative minor stuff!
    Yes, you can play any two or more of those notes together in any order, and no matter what it'll sound good.
    What about root and maj7? I've never studied formally (yet... college will be awesome), but everything I've read basically says "avoid the major 7th"
    This is really good, I wrote something (only 6 bars long) with a I IV V C major progression using the C major scale and it sounded REALLY good. One question I do have though, is whenever I write something, whether it's using the minor, pentatonic or major scale, it sounds good, but it doesn't sound at all rockish/metalish etc. ...I've tried lots of different things, and I'm a bit confused can anyone help?
    stefanHBHB wrote: USING A HARMONIZING PEDAL, WOULD I BE ABLE TO GET THE "AVENGED SEVENFOLD" SOUND??? -thanks to anyone who answers
    Okay that all depends on how you set the intervals on the pedal and the intervals that are actually used. I am a big fan of a7x and have realized through playing their songs, it just sounds much better when you play the harmonies with another guitarist instead of a pedal because the pedal sounds so...mechanical...fake. It just cant match having another person to play with.
    Great article, yeah, one about dissonance would be good because i haven't got the slightest idea what it is. Thanks
    Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. I had considered giving examples like I did in Part 1, but for some reason it just slipped my mind. I might consider a Part 3, giving more examples and advanced harmonizing (even dissonance, as guitarbreaker said). It's good to know that people are actually learning from this stuff, so really, thanks guys!
    Thanks a lot for the title and the link! you did mention the title but i missed it, sorry about that. Great article, i enjoyed it very much and found it quite inspirational. Thanks!
    Good article, thank you! It has cleared up a few grey areas that I had with harmonies. I think a few more examples and analysis of these would have helped too like thomas_wh said but otherwise it's really neat.
    does anyone know what piece is that by J. S. Bach in the counterpoint section? great thing to play for practise... muchos gracias fellas
    i didnt realize this stuff was considered advanced. is it?? hmm... i learned pretty much all of this alone in my room when i was like 15 and experimenting with piano. now that i play guitar i imply everything that i know about music theory and chord relativity. i wish i could get together with u seth and see what we each know. i love the fellowship of music geeks
    oh yeah. and a difference btw/ you and me is that youre a great teacher of what you know, and i am not.
    ^Damn it, url tags don't work here. But you can probably just type that url into the address bar and it'll still take you there.
    Four Symbols
    1st... nice article already do a lot of harmonizing, but it was still interesting to read
    Nice. I was hoping for more examples of harmonizing and using counterpoint, maybe some analyzed parts of songs and also harmonizing with other instruments like violins, vocals or maybe bass. Anyways nice work.
    great article, but i could go for a part 3, one of the few worthwhile articles on UG these days.
    Nice article. As said above, a few more examples would be nice but I've learned quite a lot from this and Part 1
    good article it would also be nice to hear even know this mixing vocals and instruments like another person said, also maybe give ideas about dissonance.
    ya lets hear one on how to harmonize a bass with a chord progression :
    thomas_wh wrote: Nice. I was hoping for more examples of harmonizing and using counterpoint, maybe some analyzed parts of songs and also harmonizing with other instruments like violins, vocals or maybe bass. Anyways nice work.
    I agree, but that is a little more difficult, maybe a lesson or two later, but other than that, an amazing beginner/intermediate article
    very good man.. you have a talent to make things sound interesting.. i think you should write in newspapers and stuff ur really good! good job on this article really got everything covered...doesnt the interlude of master of puppets also use harmonizing?