How to Harmonize a Melody on the Piano or Keyboard
Want to be able to harmonize a tune at the piano or keyboard?
Here are a few techniques you can use to spice up any tune and add harmonies to it. It might be a tune you’ve written yourself, or a tune you heard somewhere. The simpler the tune, the easier it is, although the techniques will work for any melody once you get the hang of it.
We’ll start things off with a basic tune moving one note at a time, as in the graphic below:
To start the harmonizing process, we’ll use some basic chords. Let’s add the notes of the triads BELOW the melody line. Since this piece is in the key of G major, we know the main chords will be G, D and C. So now we simply need to insert the notes for the respective chords under their notes.
The first note in the melody is G, so we add D and B below it. The next melody note is A, part of the D triad, so we add F# and D. The next note is B, so we add G and D, Then next comes C, and we add G and E below it.
Here’s what it looks like when we “fill in” the chords below the tune.
You’ll notice when you play the excerpt above that the melody is still easy to hear, because we’ve added the harmony underneath it.
Our next task is to spread the notes out and create a bit more excitement. This is very easy to do. Just remove the MIDDLE note in each of the chords and place it DOWN an octave, which will put it in the bass clef as in the image below:
[Note: 8ba means 8 notes (or an octave) below.]
Now things are really shaping up. We’ve already turned a simple tune into something more exotic that it takes two hands to play. The final part of the puzzle is also just as easy. All we have to do now is to add the ROOT of each chord BELOW the notes in the bass clef. For the G chord the root is G, for D chord it’s D, and for C chord it’s C.
Here’s what that looks like:
So far so good. The benefit of using this harmonizing technique is that the notes always go together perfectly. Problem is, they don’t always sound as spectacular as we might have hoped. Using chords in their root positions all the time can get a bit boring. We’ll add some variety by using a chord inversion.
We’ll add the second inversion of the G major chord in the final bar. To do that, we just change the lowest note from a G (the root) to a D, as in the image below:
This is one simple way to give the piece some much-needed variety. But we’re not going to stop there.
Let’s see if we can’t improve the melody a little. To do that we can simply change the rhythm so that it’s not plodding along in a steady quarter note pattern. Here’s one example of how to achieve it:
It sounds much better now, doesn’t it? Now we can add the chords in the bass clef, following the same rhythmic pattern, as in the image below:
That’s not bad. However there isn’t much differentiation between the melody and the chords, so let’s try something else.
One way to liven the whole thing up is to make the chords move by giving them their own rhythmic pattern, sticking closely to the chord structure but using broken chords instead of solid ones:
If you look back at the melody we started with at the very beginning, you can see how much it’s grown and developed. You’ll find the whole exercise by following this How to Harmonize a Tune link, where you can listen and print the score.
If you enoyed this exercise, then please check out my other music related hubs.