How About Harmonizing: Part 3

Eager to learn more about how harmonizing works? Read this; you'll get the basics, the advanced stuff, plus tons of playable examples!

Ultimate Guitar
Hello again, and welcome to the first half of the third installment of my How About Harmonizing? columns. I hope I got a lot covered in Part 1 and Part 2, but now there's even more to it. In the first half of this, I'll go over three basic intervals with which to harmonize. In the second half, there will be much, much more, but I can't cover everything I left out of the first two with just one column. So expect 3.2 very, very soon. In the meantime, though, enjoy this one! (Note: There will be plenty of playable examples)


As I stated in Part 2, once you know the notes of the key you're in, you can use any of those notes in your harmony and it will sound nice. Play two different melodies in C major, both using different sets of notes but in the same key, and you can come up with an excellent harmony. But, there's more to it than that. If you really want to make your experimentation sound good, you should have a good knowledge of intervals. Knowing which intervals you can use is important, and may be the difference between a good harmony and a great harmony. For instance:

Harmonizing In Perfect Fourths, Fifths, And Octaves

As usual, there are certain situations in which your perfect intervals will work perfectly, and there are times when you would want to stray from those. But don't worry, I'll explain which situations suit those intervals better than others.
  • Perfect Fourths: These are primarily used in metal and blues. If you're writing a rhythm, you may choose fourths to create a "heavier" sound, since the root and the fourth do seem to give off a dark impression if used properly. A prime example of this would have to be the main riff to "Creeping Death" by Metallica. Take a look:
    E E E E E E E E E E E E E E S S S S 8x |------------------|-----------------------|| |o-----------------|----------------------o|| |------------------|-----------------------|| |------2-----2---2-|-----2-----------------|| |o-2---2-----2---2-|-----2---2-3-2h3p2p0--o|| |--0-0---0-0---0---|-0-0---0---------------|| . . . . . . . .
    Now, wouldn't you admit that this riff wouldn't have been half as cool without the use of the perfect fourth? It's practically what makes that riff so memorable. I also mentioned that the perfect fourth is used in blues. In fact, it's used in blues more often than metal. But it's used for the same reason as it is in metal; to create a rougher edge. In many cases of blues, the noisier the better, and when used properly, the perfect fourth certainly can be noisy. A cool example that I can think of would be Led Zeppelin's cover of "In My Time of Dying":
    |---------------------------------|-----------------------| |---------------------------------|-----------------------| |-3\2^0-2/3/5~--0-3\2^0-(0)/12~---|-3\2^0-2/3/5~-0-3\0----| |-------2/3/5~----------(0)/12~---|-------2/3/5~---3\0----| |---------------------------------|-----------------------| |---------------------------------|-----------------------|
    See what I mean about noisy? It's noise, but it's good noise. Use the perfect fourth right and it could be your best friend. Okay, let's move on.
  • Perfect Fifths: Well, as you probably know, playing the root and the fifth is called a "power chord", and if you want an example of it, I'd suggest looking up a tab for pretty much any rock song you really like; I can almost guarentee you it's used. In fact, it's probably the most commonly-used interval in the history of music. I'd say the history of Western music, but that's not entirely true. Certain forms of Eastern music liked to emphasize the perfect fifth. A lot of Egyptian music would stress the fifth. I don't have any examples to back me up, you're just going to have to take my word on that. And, of course, the famous Chinese riff I know you all have heard:
    |----------------|----------------| |----------------|----------------| |7-7-7-7-5---5---|--------5-------| |5-5-5-5-3---3---|7---7---3-------| |----------------|5---5-----------| |----------------|----------------|
    Play that once without the fifths above; just the bottom notes. Now play it with the fifths. See? Much better, huh? Alright, moving on:
  • Octaves: Also known as Perfect Eighths, octaves are generally used to make a melody/riff/etc. more powerful, bigger. Though probably not as pleasing to the ear as fourths or fifths, if used in the right situation octaves can make your riff towering, gigantic. An exemplary riff would most definitely be the pre-chorus riff of Iron Maiden's "Powerslave":
    |----------------------------------| |-5-----------13---9/10-9------6---| |----------------------------------| |-2-----------10---6/7--6------3---| |----------------------------------| |----------------------------------|
    Once again, without the harmony added, that riff wouldn't be anywhere near as good. Beginning to see why harmonizing's so important? And if you're writing your own harmony, don't be afraid to comine all three. It's called experimentation for a reason. I'll end the first half of this column with possibly the greatest example of a harmony with fourths, fifths, and octaves all thrown into one. It's the opening riff to Metallica's "Ride the Lightning":
    |-7-8---------------------------------| |-7-8-------10-12---------------------| |-----------7--9------9-11----12-9----| |---------------------7-9-----0-------| |--------------------------------7----| |-------------------------------------|
    Alright, that's it for the first half. I've already taken up a lot of space, and I decided it'd be better to split it into two regular-sized columns instead of having one epic novel that'd take forever to read. Hope you enjoyed it, and expect the second half very soon!
  • 24 comments sorted by best / new / date

      heggazz wrote: the chinese riff is sposed to be harmonized in 4ths like e-5-5-5-5-3-3-0-0-3~----- B-5-5-5-5-3-3-0-0-3~--- --
      hey genius, those aren't fourths, they are fifths...
      Are you still making the rest of part 3? I'm looking forward to it if you are, but if you gave up, then...
      Cheers for this... i always seem to forget the theory behind things when i havent done them for a while. but this helped get me back into it
      phantom of the opera by iron maiden is another good example this is sweet. looking forward to the next one
      Donkey Fly
      Im glad you used Maiden in one example....Iron maiden make some unbelievable harmony riffs. Check out the one from Rainmaker....awesome.
      Play it but, you can't deny that's one oriental tune! haha yeh i dig what your sayin, fair enough
      ^I've always known it to be in fifths. I suppose either way, though, it gets the point across.
      the chinese riff is sposed to be harmonized in 4ths like e-5-5-5-5-3-3-0-0-3~----- B-5-5-5-5-3-3-0-0-3~-----
      good job man. local_hippy, how about following the links to Part 1 and Part 2 at the top? Rocket science!
      Nice lesson. Really easy to understand. Btw, Ride The Lightning does kick ass.
      Ampeg J
      Well done. I like your selection of examples also To a degree this can relate to vocal harmonies, which there are far too few of these days. Good job!
      Yay more harmonies... Good article dude I know most of whats on parts 1 2 and 3 but you explain it better than most books!
      great lesson. this series has taught me a lot. good examples.
      well didnt got the first part then why da **** wud i read 3rd
      then why do u care to comment?
      Urban1ninja wrote: heggazz wrote: the chinese riff is sposed to be harmonized in 4ths like e-5-5-5-5-3-3-0-0-3~----- B-5-5-5-5-3-3-0-0-3~--- -- hey genius, those aren't fourths, they are fifths...
      Hmm...that's like sayin' that a root and a fifth isn't a power chord!