headphones and chord tabs showing harmony Photo Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema

We’ve already seen how a good structure can take your song to the next level; having a clearly defined form, which often is the result of having clear parts and having blocks of bars which are multiples of four,┬ácan really help your listeners remember your song! However, there are many many more aspects which make up a great song.

Often, when people think of they’re favourite songs, they are either thinking of the melody or the lyrics. While these are obviously fundamental aspects of songwriting, another really important thing to consider is the harmony.

What is Harmony?

To make it simple, the harmony consists in the chord progressions you feature in your songs and how you use them. Your harmony does not have to be particularly complex in order to be effective; often songs are constructed on only three or four chords. Rarely, songs can even be based on one single chord which repeats! This is the case with Madonna’s song, Give it to Me.

Sometimes, these chords repeat in the same order from the beginning to the end of the song. For example, Stand By Me by Ben E. King repeats four chords over and over again (A major, F# minor, D major and E major).

Other times, there will be a change in the chord progression in important parts of the song, such as the chorus or the bridge.

Often, the harmony of a song is born simply by playing around with the instrument until you find a chord sequence you like.

Why is Harmony so Important?

Harmony, just like melody or lyrics, is another element which makes our song recognisable and effective. Every songwriter uses harmony in one way or another. Harmony can help us portray a wide range of emotions and change the mood and feel of our song.

Many songs also share the same harmony, revolving around I, IV, V and VI chords. In the key of C major, this would mean these chords: C major, F major, G major and A minor.

Understanding Harmony

Harmony is a really long topic to talk about; it’s impossible to cover it in one blog post so look out for more in the following weeks!

Harmony is created when you play three or more notes together, effectively forming a chord. These notes are not randomly assembled but follow certain rules in order to create major chords, minor chords, seventh chords and so on.

Most songwriters and modern composers use traditional western harmony, and this essentially means knowing keys and scales. This allows you to create chord sequences in any key or transpose your song as needed. Knowing keys well can help you be a versatile and proficient songwriter.

In the next weeks, we will focus on how to build different types of chords and how to work with different keys.

In the meantime, look up the chords for your favourite songs and analyse the progressions; often (but not always), the key of the song matches the first or last chord in the song. For example, Stand By Me by Ben E. King is in A major and the first chord is A major.

Then, try to write something new on that very same chord structure. Writing a different song on an existing chord structure can be an interesting creative exercise!

Any specific requests or doubts? Let me know!

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