11.2 Harmonizing a Melody with Root Position Triads: Tutorial

Harmonizing a Melody with Root Position Chords

In this chapter, we apply the process of harmonizing a melody to harmonize melodies in root position. Limiting our harmonies to root position chords offers several advantages. It offers a controlled environment in which to learn the process of harmonizing a melody before opening up an overwhelming number of chord choices. It teaches us how to better include and eliminate chord choice. Having fewer choices allows us to focus on phrasing, cadences, and harmonic rhythm in a more fundamental way. It is also easier to focus on functional harmony and the reasons for selecting one chord over another when starting with more simple progressions. Limited options also allow us to recognize and learn to predict any part writing mistakes more easily. There are also disadvantages to working solely with root position chords. The progressions can be overly simple and not as interesting or satisfying, and the bass line will be disjunct.

We looked at the knowledge needed and the basic process for harmonizing a melody in the last chapter. Now, we will fully harmonize a melody using root position chords using the steps below. It is important to realize that multiple answers for melody harmonizations usually exit. One key elements of music analysis is having the ability to justify why your choice is better than the options that you rejected.

Steps to Harmonizing a Melody in Root Position

  1. Identify the key.
  2. Write down the chords contained in the key in root position.
  3. Write in the scale degrees in the soprano voice.
  4. List chord possibilities under each note in the soprano.
  5. Identify the melodic phrase structure/cadence points and determine harmonic rhythm.
  6. Eliminate any chords that cannot be used (either from motion in the soprano, connections between chords, or from choices made in phrasing/harmonic rhythm/cadences). For root position chords, we are not using iii and vi to focus on the more structural chords. We will also focus on Progression, Repetition, and Tonic motions between chords.
  7. Choose a progression.
  8. Write in the bass voice and check for it for errors against the soprano voice before writing the inner voices.
  9. Part-write the inner voices (make good choices in connecting chords melodically). Check your answers for errors.

Proceed to the theory tutorial for a guided example of the full process of harmonizing a melody with root position chords.


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Comprehensive Musicianship, A Practical Resource Copyright © 2023 by Randall Harlow; Heather Peyton; Jonathan Schwabe; and Daniel Swilley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.