How to Harmonize Melody Notes

Harmonizing the Melody Note E

In this discussion of how to play piano chords the focus will be on how to harmonize a melody note.  We will use the Phrygian mode to assist in harmonizing a melody note.  In this example we will use the E Phrygian mode as a source for chords to harmonize the melody note E.  Keep in mind that this method is not being presented as the exclusive method.  It is one of many but it can get you started with re-harmonization based on the melody note.

What chord goes with this melody note?

You may have heard this question posed as a starting point for someone selecting a new chord to re-harmonize a song.  While the chord selected may have sounded great, often times you were not given a method or thought process for selecting the new chord.  I am going to present to you a process that can be applied to any song.  Using E as our target melody note, what chords contain the note E and what is its function in the chord.  An easy way to harmonize a melody note is to use the Phrygian scale of the target melody note.  The E Phrygian scale consists of the notes E-F-G-A-B-C – and D.  If you examine the major scale for each base note you will find that E is the 7th of F, 6th of G, 5th of A, 4th of B, 3rd of C, 2nd of D,  and of course, the 1 of E.  The same would be true for any note using its Phrygian scale and assigning numbers descending from 7 to 1 beginning with the root.  The next thing to consider is what type of chord to use on the base note.  Part of the answer is in the function of the melody note, the other is in knowing the type of chords used before and after the melody note.

Function of the Melody Note

In this example the focus is on scale tones not altered tones.  Using scale tones we can see that the E melody note in the F major scale is the major 7th.  Therefore an F maj 7th or variations on a major 7th chord could be used to harmonize the note E.  The same would be true for G chords containing E as the 6th, A chords containing E as the 5th, B chords containing E as the 11th, C chords containing E as the major 3rd, or D chords containing E as the 9th.

What is the Phrygian mode?

The Phrygian mode is the 3rd mode of a major scale.  It is built starting on a root adding notes in intervals of an H-W-W-W-H-W-W, where “H” stands for half step and “W” stands for whole step.  In this example E Phrygian is the 3rd mode of C major.  In my previous post I explained that modes are simply the notes contained within a major scale starting on a different root and played to the octave of the beginning note.  Each root mode has a name and the name of the one we are using is Phrygian.



What about altered tones?

Sometimes the melody note is an altered tone.  Altered tones such as b7, b13, b5, b3, b9, #5, #11, and #9 will be discussed in a different post.  While the thought process is similar the tool is different and it would be confusing to present them both in one post.  This will be covered in a future post.


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