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Recently I've started encountering a multitude of questions that ask for me to harmonize a melody. I've never really seen a question like that before, so I've been a bit lost as to where to start. I can identify and do the cadences pretty decently, but what about the notes in between? Do i need to form a chord out of each note? Are there any rules to ensure that I prevent consecutive 5ths and 8ves, and maintain a good bass line? And finally, do i need to understand passing/neighboring tones for these questions? They haven't appeared in the books so far, but every other online tutorial I've seen mentions them.

The pic above is a question from a practice exam for Australian Grade 4 Theory of Music


4 Answers 4


There are a thousand different ways to harmonize the passage you've shown. In the end, writing music is a lot like writing a persuasive essay: it's less about what you say and more about how you say it.

My advice: harmonize it several different ways and see if it makes sense; do a chord for every note - is the harmonic motion too fast? Do the opposite. Play it at the piano and see what happens, what you hear.

Are the notes in between important? Analyze the situation. Do you really need three separate chords in the first measure, or will a simple G major chord fill the whole measure just fine?

There are literally hundreds of rules for four-part voice leading (and yes, I have listed and categorized them all). If you don't know them, I highly recommend getting a workbook and learning them. It will do you no good for someone to try and teach you everything here.

Yes, you need to understand at least passing tones, neighboring tones, escape tones, and the three parts of suspensions. Understanding this terminology (in addition to many other terms) will help you determine which notes you should harmonize and which notes you should ignore.

For the time being: try treating each measure as one harmonic unit. Look to build triads; if you've got three notes and two of them can be part of a triad, use that triad as your harmony.

I am a little concerned that your Grade 4 Theory class didn't cover any of these things...after all, the test should be a reflection of things you already know, not something you need to learn new stuff just to pass.


The Way I Would Teach It,.

Step 1: Determine the key.

Step 2: Determine Cadence points.

Step 3: Start at the end and choose chords

Step 4: Write a melody for the Bass

Step 5: Add the middle voices.


  • The four note chords build on the Dominant and Super Tonic and there proper resolution.
  • Both the cadence and passing six four chord progressions.
  • The four main cadences,.
  • Basic chord progressions.
  • The proper doubling of chords.
  • The proper use of non chord notes.
  • The proper handling of the issue of form.
  • How to write a meaningful melody in response to the voice of notes they give.

The way I think of these beginner harmonizing exercises is like Sudoku.

You have to try out chords and see what fits. Start with the G major chord and then add another chord. If you see consecutive 5ths or 8ths, remove it and and another one. If you cannot find one that fits, that means the previous chord might need changing.1

Now, something more you need to consider is that these beginner exercises don't always care for musicality. So, in the shown example you might need to harmonize every single note of the melody. In a normal song/composition this might not be the case, but this is a beginner exercise, so try to do that.

If you haven't seen passing notes on your book yet, don't use them. You might know what they are and how to use them but you've not been taught. So, refrain from using them, as well as the second inversion chords etc. Since you've only been taught about root position and first inversion chords, only use them.

1 How do you find which chord to use? First you start by finding the scale. It has a F#, so it has to be G major or E minor. Since the melody starts with G and ends with B, it's got to be G major.

Now, look at the notes. Each note points to one or two (or three) chords. Usually, these exercises start with the tonic chord, so the first one is G major.

The second note is B. The chords in the G major scale that contain B are: G, Bm, E. So you can pick one of those and see what fits! You can try to inverse one of them if you like.

  1. Mark scale degrees for the soprano part.
  2. Find out the cadence points
  3. Finish the last cadence with a perfect cadence
  4. Finish other cadences first
  5. Based on the soprano line, write the possibilities for the chord ( Only use chords one, two, two in first inversion, four, four in first inversion, five, six and one in first inversion.
  6. Write the melody from the end of the melody to the start.

(keep in mind this is only for fourth grade theory)

  • One in second inversion can come in useful too!
    – Laurence
    Dec 30, 2018 at 12:47
  • @LaurencePayne the exam question states only root position and first inversion chords are allowed
    – MeanGreen
    Sep 12, 2019 at 9:31

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