Harmonizing a Melody

An amazingly effective way to get started improvising is to harmonize a given melody (or use this in your compositions). By that I mean finding the right chord to fit the chord progression that gives you each melody note in the upper voice (ie. the highest note in the chord is the melody note).

Since most songs use a combination of minor and major chords we will start with those. In the following PDF, I have provided a series of minor and major chords in various inversions. Each chord has a chord tone as the highest note which will be our melody note (non-chord tones as melody notes to come later).

We use A minor as an example of a minor chord and E major as an example of a major chord. For other minor chords you just shift the shape up or down the neck. When you play each inversion, be aware of what the melody note is (name of note, whether it’s the root, third, fifth) and what the other 2 notes are (name of note and whether root, third, fifth).

Later we will discuss Dominant and Diminished chords but let’s start simple for now. Here’s the Melody Notes with Chords PDF.

Harmonizing a Melody with Chords

This is a free lesson but if this lesson has touched you in some way you can donate what you feel in your heart. Suggested donation is $4.99. 10% of your generous donation will go to Music for a Cure Charity for kids with critical illness.





The first four measures are the inversions of A minor. Play these ascending and descending. Each chord has a melody note on top, which is a chord tone so our melodies will consist of just chord tones for now. The second four measures are for the E major chord. These shapes can be moved up or down the neck to play any other minor or major chord – this is key!

Next on the second line in the PDF we have a melody with chords. Try and find the appropriate chord from the list in the first line which has that melody note as the highest note of the chord. Do this for each melody note. Then be able to play the melody in time and smoothly moving from chord to chord. Congratulations you’ve played your first chord melody!

If you need to look at the answer you can see it below. Please don’t look at this before you try it yourself. The work to find each chord is the critical skill you need to learn to do classical improvisation!

Work this out in other keys. Just transpose the chords (simple i V progression) to another key. Determine what interval each melody note is in relation to the chord. In our example melody we have 5th (E is 5th of Am), root, major 3rd, root, minor 3rd, major third, root.

Also we can use the same chord progression but alter the melody. You might be surprised how many songs use the same series of chord progressions.

Hopefully by now you can appreciate the incredible power of this type of approach!

Harmonizing a Melody – Answer

This is a free lesson but if this lesson has touched you in some way you can donate what you feel in your heart. Suggested donation is $4.99. 10% of your generous donation will go to Music for a Cure Charity for kids with critical illness.





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