Harmonizing Melodies – Beginner’s Guide

Listening to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s CD, inspired me to do a little post on harmonizing on the ukulele.

When you’re soloing on the uke, playing just one note can sound a bit wimpy. A great way to beef it up is to harmonize the notes.

For an example, I’ll use the simplest tune I know: the Fall into the Gap jingle which goes like this:

 
MP3

Harmonizing with Fifths

The tune is in C major, so you can use notes from the C major scale to harmonize with it.

The easiest way to harmonize is using fifths i.e. the note five notches higher than it on the C major scale. The C major scale goes like this:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

The first note of the tune is G which makes the fifth is D:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
G – A – B – C – D

The second note is F which makes the fifth C:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
F – G – A – B – C

Going through the whole tune creating fifths, you get this:

 
MP3

Those with razor sharp minds will have noticed that all you have to do to play fifths with the C string is add the G string at the same fret. The same is true of every note on the scale with the exception of the last one – in this case B – which is one fret lower. Easy as that.

Harmonizing with Thirds

Harmonizing with thirds works in the same way but is a little more tricky.

The first note of the tune is G which makes the third B (four frets higher):

1 – 2 – 3
G – A – B – C – D

The second note is F which makes the third A (four frets higher):

1 – 2 – 3
F – G – A – B – C

For E the third is G which is only three frets higher:

1 – 2 – 3
E – F – G – A – B

When there’s a gap of four frets, it’s know as a major third. When the gap is three frets, it’s a minor third. Think of a G chord; there you’re playing G and a B which is 4 frets higher making it a major third and a major chord. With a Gm chord you’re playing G and Bb, a distance of only three frets, which makes it a minor third and, therefore, a minor chord.

So the tune harmonized in thirds will be:

In the major scale the only major thirds are the first, fourth and fifth notes of the scale (C, F and G in the C major scale).

Harmonizing with Thirds and Fifths

You can combine the thirds and fifths to create a harmonized melody like this:

 
MP3

Using this idea, you can start to build up chord solos from the melody of the tune. And don’t feel restricted to just thirds and fifths. You can throw in any number of other notes.

If you want to learn more about harmony and harmonizing, check out my ebook How to Play Ukulele Chords Progressions.

View Comments

11 Comments

  1. phi November 19th, 2008 8:04 pm

    Technically the interval between B and F is a diminished fifth (aka Tritone aka diabolus in musica), a perfect fifth is always 7 frets up.

    For more info see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_(music)#Interval_number_and_quality

  2. Paulyus November 20th, 2008 1:51 pm

    Great to know. Now i shall spice up a few of the simpler tunes I know, thx again

  3. Woodshed November 20th, 2008 11:05 pm

    Good luck with it, Paulyus.

  4. Woodshed November 21st, 2008 8:05 pm

    phi: Thanks.

  5. Hwyone March 7th, 2012 3:05 am

    This is a great little site. Just got myself a ukelele for the first time and having lots of fun with it – stumbled across this site – lot’s of great info here. Think i better take this little instrument a bit more seriously! cheers!

  6. Woodshed March 8th, 2012 12:39 pm

    Hwyone: Thanks very much!

  7. Tricia June 26th, 2012 4:05 pm

    Any advice on how to harmonize with a guitar player? Or do I just play 4 steps/intervals above?

  8. Woodshed July 2nd, 2012 4:45 pm

    Tricia: The principles are the same. It’s just takes a bit more working out since the fretting is different.

  9. Molly September 14th, 2012 2:00 am

    I’m working on tabbing Wouldn’t it Be Loverly from My Fair Lady. How do I harmonize when the notes are on the A string? Will I have to retab the melody so that it is on the higher frets of the E string?

  10. Woodshed September 14th, 2012 1:41 pm

    Molly: Seems like the best solution if you’re set on harmonizing.

  11. tom nelson October 11th, 2012 10:24 pm

    When 2 notes are played at the same time our ears hear the the highest note. When harmonizing a melody why don’t we go down a 3rd instead of up so we will hear the melody note ? I’m not making chords, I’m just trying to fill out the melody a bit

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