Chord Basics

Harmony Fundamentals

The two most common chords you will likely use, is the major and minor chords. The major chord is very happy and joyful, while the minor chord is more sad and darker sounding. Here you can listen to the two chords.

If you’re new to composing, you can start simple and focus on only utilizing this type of chords. While it may seem limiting, there is a wide range of chords to pick from.

Let’s look at the different minor and major chords in C major.

In the key of C major, we have 3 main chords. The C, the F, and the G. We’ve briefly talked about the dominant, the G earlier, as a chord that naturally leads to C. This one is called the Dominant chord and is located on the 5th step from C. The F is called the subdominant. These are the main triads. You will find that you can actually harmonize most melodies using only these 3 chords.

When picking the chords for your harmony, look at which notes your melody is playing. Look at which chord has that note in it, ad see if that particular chord might fit. But most of all, experiment, follow your gut feeling. After a little bit, this all becomes an automatic process. It's like a language, eventually you just know that it's she is, and not she are, while a first time learner will have to think about it every time.

Let’s take my main theme, and harmonize it using only these 3 chords! Below, I have pasted the chords I've used, as well as the melody - where I've highlighted the common pitches in the melody and the fitting chords.

Now, this certainly works, but it's not particularly interesting.

Let’s have a look at the other options. While you can harmonize most melodies using only these 3 main chords, there are a lot of ways to expand on this when you’ve got the basic knowledge down.

Here I have grouped two and two chords by color. We've tried to use the C, F and G chords already. However, if you go two steps below, you find chords that you can use as substitutes. If you look closer, you will see that the F and DM for example, are sharing 2/3 of the same notes.

A simple way to experiment with the effect of these chords is to simply substitute your existing chords with one of these. Here I have substituted some of my chords with alternative ones.

Take a look at my melody and see where any substitute chords might fit, and listen to the example below.

Listen to how it sounds now:

Alternative Chords

Sounds a bit more interesting now, doesn’t it?

However, I would like to spice it up just a little bit more. Therefore, I have introduced a few more chord changes using the same principles. This is to add some more movement to the harmonic section of the track. Listen to how it sounds now:

Chords: More Movement

It certainly sounds better now! But there are a lot more fun things you can do with your harmonies. As of now, the chords only consist of only three notes, but why stop there when you can have more, right?