Once you have the melody and the bass lines in place, it’s time to figure out the harmonic voices that fill out your chords. This can be challenging, and depends as much on your music theory knowledge as it does on your ear. Rhythmically, the harmony often copies the melody voice or the bass line so most of that is work you have already done. You’re just filling in the chords. I’m not planning to explain chords to you today, because you should already have a working knowledge if you’re taking on this kind of project. (See this link to learn the basics)I just want to remind you of some key things to keep in mind. Like:
- Predictable chord progressions- don’t make this harder than it is. 80% of music follows one of only a handful of chord progressions. Standards, if you will. Start with one of these to make an educated guess and then modify it to fit your music.
- Inversions- just because it’s in the bass, doesn’t mean it’s the root of the chord. Consider a I6 or I6/4 inversion.
- Modulations happen- I like to think of these as temporary key changes. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself using a new accidental for a few measures. You will probably hear it in the music, so don’t let it confuse you on paper.
- Start simple- rhythm can be a distraction when it comes to melodic dictation. If the harmony is presenting a challenge, simplify the rhythm. Use whole notes (or half notes if the chords change that fast) until you’re sure that you have chosen the correct pitches. Then go back and adjust the rhythm accordingly.
By the time you have filled in your harmony parts, your song should sound nearly complete. Everything else is just the icing on the cake. Congratulations! Your arrangement is almost done!