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Writing Harmonies to make your Melodies Come Alive

What you should get from this section:

After this section, you should be able to create simple harmonies for your melodies and vocal lines, and make sure they don’t clash with the rest of the band.

Harmonising sounds like a complicated term, but it simply means playing more than one note at a time. A chord contains harmony, so if you’ve been playing chords, you’ve automatically been doing it already!

But how do we USE harmony to enrich a melody or vocal line?

Well that all depends on what you want. Some people like really beautiful, sweet harmonies, whilst others like nasty harmonies that clash and create a discordant sound. As a rule:

Major Harmonies will create a happier type sound

Minor harmonies will create a sadder type of sound

Diminished harmonies sound more discordant

On a personal note, my favourite harmonies are minor 3rds, perfect 4ths, and minor and Major 6ths. My ear tends to like more melancholy types of music, but I also love Mozart who wrote some pretty happy tunes!!

How to create a harmony:

Here’s a step-by-step process you can use to create a harmony for any melody you wish to use.

  • Write your melody out on manuscript paper, and/or record it
  • writing harmony

  • On another stave, write out the melody again but a third higher. So if, for example, you started the original piece on G, start the second stave on B. Notice that although I went a third HIGHER, I placed the harmony underneath, as if I placed it higher it would then become more dominant than the original melody. There are no rules here, but for now I would stay within the same key signature and not add any sharps or flats.
  • writing harmonies

  • Repeat the exercise, but write out the melody a fourth higher than the original. So for example, if you started the melody on A in the original stave, write it out but start on D.

  • Creating simple harmonies

  • Now write out the same melody, but start a sixth higher than the original. So in this example, we’ll start on F


  • Play each harmony over the original melody
  • Mark which passages you like the sound of or dislike the sound of from each one.
  • Mix up the three new harmonies until you have a new, finished, combination harmony you really like.
  • Write this one out, and this becomes your new harmony.
  • You can use this method for vocal lines, piano lines, guitars, strings... you name it. You can do his with any harmony you like, and you DON’T have to stay within the key, but at the beginning, it’s a good idea to keep within the key until you’re a bit more confident, and you’re happy with the harmonies you’re creating.

    A mistake a lot of people make when they’re starting to create harmonies, is harmonising EVERY note in the melody or phrase. You definitely don’t have to do this. Many pieces of music will have a really simple harmony going in the bass or mid range, while a more frantic melody line goes over the top. Let’s take a look at how we can do this. We’ll use the same melody line, but we’ll just simplify it so it’s a lot less “busy”.

    Here is the original melody with a harmony placed underneath.

    creating simple harmonies

    Please bear in mind that these are ONLY examples and you can use any harmony you like. If you want to write an entire harmony consisting of nothing but diminished fifths, then go for it. It will probably sound a bit weird, but as a musician, that’s perfectly up to you.

    What you’ve learned:

  • How to take a melody and create as many harmonies as you like from it
  • How to pick which harmonies sound best and how to integrate them to create a finished harmony.
  • More Songwriting Books! 

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    If you have any questions, please contact me on my e-mail at: Copyright Simon Smith 2007. All rights reserved. 


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