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Learning How to Harmonize

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

When two or more notes are played simultaneously in a way that's pleasing to the ears, they create harmony. In singing, this beautiful layering of voices can send chills down your spine, evoke emotion, and add richness to a musical piece. Have you ever wondered HOW to harmonize? Let's talk about some concepts, techniques, and approaches to master the art of harmonizing in singing.

1. Introduction: What is Harmonizing?

Harmonizing is a fundamental concept in music that refers to the art of combining different notes or voices to produce harmony.

In Singing

In singing, harmonizing is the process of adding another voice or more to create a chordal structure that supports and enhances the melody. This can be done through various techniques that we will go over in more detail later, such as:

  • Parallel Harmony

  • Contrary Motion

  • Oblique Harmony

In Instrumental Music

Harmonizing isn't limited to vocals; it's also a core part of instrumental music. In a symphony, for example, different instruments might play different parts that harmonize with one another, adding layers and complexity to the overall sound.

The Role of Scales and Chords

Understanding scales and chords is key to harmonizing effectively. The choice of notes to harmonize depends on the underlying scale, whether it's major, minor, or a mode. Chords, formed by specific combinations of notes from these scales, provide the basic structure around which harmonies are built.

Emotional Impact

Harmonizing can dramatically impact the emotional tone of a piece of music. Simple harmonies might evoke feelings of calm and contentment, while more complex or dissonant harmonies might create tension or excitement. Musicians and composers use harmony to guide the listener's emotional journey through a piece.

Historical Perspectives

The practice and theory of harmonizing have evolved throughout musical history. From the strict counterpoint of the Baroque period to the rich chromaticism of the Romantic era, and the diverse explorations of harmony in contemporary music, understanding this evolution can provide a deeper appreciation of music's expressive power.

2. The Building Blocks of Harmony

a. Understand the Scale

Understanding scales is foundational in music. Major and minor scales have specific patterns of whole and half steps. Major scales are often associated with joyful emotions, while minor scales are seen as more melancholic.

Ways to Master the Concept:

  • Practice Scales: Engage with scales through practice to understand how different notes relate to each other, forming the basis of melody and harmony.

  • Recognize Intervals: Learn the distance between notes, called intervals. Recognizing intervals is key to understanding scales and chords.

b. Intervals

3rds and 6ths are crucial in harmony, often used because of their pleasing sound. 3rds can be major or minor, with the major sounding brighter.

Ways to Master the Concept:

  • Train Your Ear: Exercises to recognize intervals can help in constructing harmonies.

  • Experiment: Use these intervals in your compositions, integrating them into a broader musical context.

c. Chords

Chords, like triads and seventh chords, are essential in harmony. Triads are made of three notes: the root, 3rd, and 5th of the scale. Seventh Chords add a seventh note, creating complex harmonies.

Ways to Master the Concept:

  • Familiarize Yourself with Chord Structures: Start with basic triads and introduce more complex structures, like seventh chords.

  • Listen to Examples: Analyzing music with various chord structures can help develop appreciation and understanding.

3. Techniques to Harmonize

a. Parallel Harmony

Definition: Parallel harmony involves two or more voices singing the same melody at a different pitch, usually at an interval of a perfect fourth, fifth, or octave apart.

Usage: This technique is common in various genres, including folk and pop music. It creates a rich and resonant sound but can sometimes be seen as less sophisticated due to the exact mirroring of the melody. It was notably used in medieval and Renaissance music and has found resurgence in modern styles.

Ways to Explore This Technique:

  • Listening and Analysis: Find examples in different musical genres to understand how this technique is applied.

  • Experimentation: Try using parallel harmony in your compositions or arrangements.

b. Contrary Motion Harmony

Definition: Contrary motion harmony occurs when two voices move in opposite directions. If one voice ascends, the other descends, and vice versa.

Usage: Often found in classical music, this technique can create a sense of balance and complexity. It's especially effective in counterpoint, where the independence of musical lines is emphasized.

Ways to Explore This Technique:

  • Study Existing Works: Analyze classical compositions to see how contrary motion is used to enhance musical texture.

  • Compose or Arrange: Experiment with contrary motion in your own works to develop a personal understanding of its effects.

c. Oblique Harmony

Definition: In oblique harmony, one voice stays on the same note while the other moves. This creates an interesting contrast between stability and motion.

Usage: This technique is effective in creating tension or resolution and can be found in various musical contexts, from classical to contemporary styles. It's a subtle way to enrich a musical texture without adding complexity.

Ways to Explore This Technique:

  • Listen and Analyze: Identify instances of oblique harmony in different musical pieces.

  • Incorporate in Composition: Experiment with oblique harmony to create unique textures and emotional effects.

4. Listening and Practicing with Others

The process of harmonizing is enriched by both listening and active practice. Understanding how others approach harmony and applying those insights in collaboration with fellow musicians can foster growth and creativity. Below are more detailed ways to engage in these essential practices:

Listening to Harmonized Pieces

Learning by listening to groups, duos, or intricate harmonized compositions can be an enlightening experience.

  • Examples: Listen to the harmonizing in classic Beatles songs, choral works by Bach, or jazz ensembles like The Manhattan Transfer.

  • What to Listen For: Focus on how voices or instruments blend, create tension, resolve, or provide texture.

  • Application: Try to replicate the harmonies you hear, or use them as inspiration in your compositions.

Practicing with Other Singers

Joining choirs, ensembles, or practicing with friends opens doors to direct experience with harmony.

  • Choirs and Ensembles: Many communities offer local choirs or ensembles catering to different skill levels. Look for those fitting your interests and abilities.

  • Duets with Friends: Even simple practice with a friend can deepen your understanding. Choose a well-known song and experiment with harmonizing.

  • Online Platforms: If in-person practice is not possible, consider online platforms designed for virtual collaboration with musicians around the world.

Harmonizing with Instruments

You can also harmonize with pianos, guitars, or other instruments, whether you're a vocalist or an instrumentalist.

  • Pianos and Guitars: These instruments are commonly used for harmonization. Learning basic chord progressions on the piano or guitar can be a valuable skill for understanding and practicing harmony.

  • Sheet Music and Guides: Many pieces come with guides or annotations for harmonizing. Look for these as resources, or consult with a music teacher.

  • Technology: Software like GarageBand or Ableton Live allows you to experiment with harmonizing by layering different instrumental tracks.

Feedback and Reflection

Engaging with mentors, teachers, or even receptive peers to gain feedback on your harmonizing practice can accelerate your growth.

  • Record Yourself: Recording practice sessions and reviewing them critically or with a teacher's guidance can highlight areas for improvement.

  • Set Goals: Break down your learning process into achievable goals, such as mastering a specific harmony technique or successfully performing a harmonized piece.

5. Tools and Technologies

In the digital age, a plethora of tools and technologies can assist musicians in practicing harmonizing. Many applications and software tools are specifically designed to help musicians practice harmonizing.

Recording Yourself

Recording oneself is not just about capturing sound; it's a reflective practice that enables growth. If you're lucky it'll sound great on your first try, but in reality, it's probably not going to. Be kind to yourself and just keep trying until you find something you like. Here's how to make the most of it:

Choosing What to Record:

  • Cover Songs: Select a song you love and record the main melody. Then experiment with harmonizing over it in different ways.

  • Original Pieces: If you write music, recording and then harmonizing over your compositions can be an invaluable creative exercise.

Creative Harmonizing Techniques:

  • Imitation: Repeat a melody at a different pitch or rhythm.

  • Counterpoint: Create harmonies that move independently of the main melody.

  • Chordal Accompaniment: Build chords around the melody for a rich, supportive sound.

Technology for Recording:

  • Microphones: Consider USB microphones for ease of use or XLR microphones for higher quality.

  • Audio Interfaces: For professional-grade recording, an audio interface can provide better sound capture.

  • DAWs: Tools like Audacity, Garage Band, Cakewalk or Adobe Audition provide robust recording and editing capabilities.

Creating a Comfortable Environment:

  • Physical Space: Anywhere you feel comfortable where there isn't a lot of noise or distractions.

  • Emotional Comfort: Record when you feel relaxed and inspired. Consider having a friend or mentor present if that helps you feel at ease. OR completely alone where you feel no one is near you within a mile radius. (Sometimes practicing singing can feel embarrassing. That's totally normal.)

Review and Analysis:

  • Playback: Listen to your recordings with analytical ears. Use software like Transcribe! to slow down or loop sections for detailed analysis.

  • Peer Review: Share your recordings with trusted musical peers or teachers for feedback.

6. Professional Guidance and Lessons

Learning how to harmonize can be both exciting and challenging. Descant Music and Art Studio in Holyoke MA offers voice lessons that can help you master the techniques and artistry needed to harmonize beautifully. Tailored lessons from professionals can go a long way in nurturing your harmonizing skills.


  • Matching Pitch and Timing: It can be challenging to stay in tune and time.

  • Blending Voices: Achieving a uniform sound can be difficult.

  • Solutions: Continuous practice, ear training, and professional guidance.


Harmonizing is not just about hitting the right notes; it's about listening, blending, and creating a beautiful musical experience. Whether you're singing in a choir, duet, or just for fun, understanding how to harmonize can open up a new world of musical possibilities.

Harmonizing is like painting with voices, where each voice adds a unique color and texture. It's a skill that can be learned and refined with knowledge, practice, and passion. So, let your voice join the symphony of harmony, and let it resonate with the world.

Captivated by the world of music and eager to explore piano, voice, guitar, or bass guitar lessons? Take the next step on your musical journey by filling out our MORE INFORMATION form, and we'll connect with you soon!

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