How to Harmonize a Melody on the Piano or Keyboard

Updated on August 5, 2016
JohnMello profile image

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Learn to harmonize a tune at the keyboard
Learn to harmonize a tune at the keyboard | Source

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:


Here's a basic tune to try to harmonize
Here's a basic tune to try to harmonize | Source

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.

Fill in simple chords below the tune
Fill in simple chords below the tune | Source

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:

Move the middle note down one octave
Move the middle note down one octave | Source

[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:

Add the root of the chord in the bass part
Add the root of the chord in the bass part | Source

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:

Add some simple chord inversions for variety
Add some simple chord inversions for variety | Source

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:

Give the tune a more interesting rhythm
Give the tune a more interesting rhythm | Source

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:

Add some basic triads below the rhythmic tune
Add some basic triads below the rhythmic tune | Source

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:

Add a rhythmic element to the left hand chords, breaking them up as necessary
Add a rhythmic element to the left hand chords, breaking them up as necessary | Source

Magic!

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.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Mel McIntyre 

        7 weeks ago

        Hi Kabatoeze

        It's exactly the same principle whatever chords you use. I plan on creating a Hub using minor, augmented, diminished and even 7th chords in the future, but I think if you follow the article's advice it will work with any triad or 4-note chord :)

      • profile image

        Kabatoeze 

        7 weeks ago

        I love this trend. Have been trying to get better in harmonizing a song but with your explanation i think i can now harmonize comfortably. But can you just explain how we can harmonise using advanced chords such as aug, minor, Dim,......

      • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR

        JohnMello 

        14 months ago from England

        Hi junior james ajuna. Follow the techniques above. Start with the melody and add the chords as I've done, and then take the middle note out and down an octave. Finally add the bass note :)

      • profile image

        junior james ajuna 

        14 months ago

        Thanx a lot.,but i need your help,how do I find the hermony notes soprano,tenor,alto and basson a piano for any songsong??.for exampla the old hym "blessed assurance".

      • profile image

        amir.burstein@gmai.com 

        18 months ago

        very helpful indeed ! tnx !

      • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR

        JohnMello 

        3 years ago from England

        Thanks Gintare. The basic principles are exactly the same no matter what kind of music it is. I can't use examples of pop songs that you might already know, because they're under copyright. However I might create another Hub to demonstrate "types" of pop songs like rock and ballad in the near future :)

      • profile image

        Gintare 

        3 years ago

        Very helpful.

        Could you please make examples with some popular songs?

      • profile image

        ian n 

        4 years ago

        v helpful

      • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR

        JohnMello 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks Viviene. Glad it worked for you!

      • profile image

        Viviene 

        5 years ago

        I really found this very very helpful I have been trying for months to harmonize a tune. The steps are quite simple I tried them and they worked. Thanks a mil. I will use the same principle to try to create some songs!!!!!

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