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#2074392 - 04/30/13 05:14 PM harmonizing melody
Atman904 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/21/12
Posts: 27
Hello fellow composers,

Could you please help me find resources/books/videos that will help to improve my left hand patterns when I harmonize a melody?

After coming up with a melody and a chord progression, the only ''problem'' that I face is on how to come up with left hand patterns to create a smooth flow between the melody and harmony.
Any help would be very appreciated.


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#2074506 - 04/30/13 08:56 PM Re: harmonizing melody [Re: Atman904]
Polyphonist Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 8428
Loc: New York City
It's better to give an example than to try to explain it. Do you have a short melody I could harmonize for you, and explain my thought process?


#2074653 - 05/01/13 12:53 AM Re: harmonizing melody [Re: Atman904]
Sand Tiger Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 1226
Loc: Southern California
It is hard to tell how much the original poster knows. I'll start with the most basic. Use the triad chord for the lead note in the bar. For example, if the melody line starts on a C note for that measure, use a C major chord. Even simpler is a single full note harmony for the four beats (single C whole note in the left).

It sounds like there is a melody and a chord progression. The closest inversion for next chord in the sequence will make it sound smoother.

Step 1a is to use the inversions or the 7th chord (C7 chord). There are other chords such as C6 or C sus, of C diminished. If all this jargon is too much, some basic study of chord names and theory might be a good step. There are a zillion websites on theory, and/or Youtube lessons, and apps, and more.

Step 1b is to use the last note in the bar of the melody. Say there are four quarter notes ascending: C D E F, the harmony can use the F tonic as the chord or single whole note. It gives a different feel from using the lead C note. Experiment and feel the difference. There is no right or wrong, just a lot of choices. Each composer hopefully develops their own style.

A common method is to arpeggiate (three single notes on the left instead of a block chord) the left hand harmony, instead of using a block chord. Some use ostinato (alternating two notes back and forth). Some use a walking bass line (ascending or descending single notes or thirds or sixths or octaves). If the tune is meant to be a song with lyrics, sometimes fewer notes are a better choice, so the singer can cut through the clutter.

A person can study sheet music in the style they want to write, and learn quite a bit. A person with a good ear can listen for the harmonies.

Personally, I never got much value out of composition books or theory books. Most of them bore me to the point where I quickly close the book, or leave the website. I'm more of trial and error person, or deconstruction person (deconstruct known pieces and use similar techniques in my own compositions). I like to hear what folks are talking about, along with perhaps seeing the notation.

Anyway, I hope this gives the original poster enough to get started. Rome wasn't built in a day, and a beginner composer that is struggling with harmony, isn't likely to jump to complex and beautiful harmonies in a day either. Dissonance and polyrhythms are some other concepts, best left for another day (or week or month or year).
my piano uploads

#2074720 - 05/01/13 03:59 AM Re: harmonizing melody [Re: Atman904]
Atman904 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/21/12
Posts: 27
Thank you Polyphonist, I will upload my melody score later on. That will clarify things a bit smile

Sand Tiger, thank you as well for your wonderful tips. My situation is that I know the most used chords, scales etc. And I can write decent melodies and most often I know which chords sound ''right'' underneath it, but my left hand is often just block chords and I need to learn ways to create different left hand patterns like you said ostinato etc.

#2075028 - 05/01/13 01:34 PM Re: harmonizing melody [Re: Atman904]
Verbum mirabilis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/15/11
Posts: 210
First of all, when you harmonize a melody you need to know the common chord progressions. As Sand Tiger said, there are lots of different sources you can use.

After you know which progressions you're going to use you need the accompanying patterns. I think the best way to come up with different patterns would be analyzing scores. If you're "stuck with block chords", I assume that you're no virtuoso. What pieces have you played? You could take one of them and see what the left hand does in them. Other good pieces for analyzing would be some easy sonatinas (Clementi for example) and maybe even Chopin nocturnes.

Many composers of the classical period use the so-called Alberti bass. The Alberti bass is an accompanying pattern where first the bass note of the chord is played, then the highest note, then the middle note. For example Mozart's famous "easy" C major sonata begins with an Alberti bass in the left hand. Here's a link with the score.


Another popular accompanying figure is bass-middle-highest-middle. With a C major chord this would mean c-e-g-e.

Also, in more advanced piano music it's usual that also the hand playing the melody (usually the right hand) plays some sort of accompanying figure (for example Chopin's E major etude op. 10 no. 3).
Working on
Bach: Toccata in D minor, BWV 913
Chopin: op. 47, op. 10 no. 12
Schubert: Impromptu in B-flat major


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