SMG Guitar Lesson #8: How to Harmonize a Scale

Traditionally, harmony is created by selecting one note to be our root note of the chord and, as we move up the scale, selecting every other note until anywhere from three to seven notes (max) have been selected. The most common and most essential types of harmony are three and four part harmony.

For example, in the key of C, comprised of the seven notes {C,D,E,F,G,A, and B}, a C Major chord is created by selecting the note C, moving up, skipping over D, selecting E, skipping F, and finally selecting G. These three notes {C,E, and G} played simultaneously form the chord C Major. Anywhere these three notes are found grouped together on the fret board, in any order, a C Major chord can be played.

This same pattern can be used to construct basic three-part harmony chords, called “triads,” upon each of the seven notes in the scale. In the key of C Major, these seven “skipping patterns” are as follows:

In traditional notation (just to give you an idea) this process would appear on the music staff as follows:

Notice how the notes in each chord are neatly stacked one on top of the other. These are “triads” in their most basic form.


Each of these chords can be constructed in the open range of the guitar (within the first four frets) by locating where the notes of each triad occur within the first four frets (their octaves included) and playing this grouping of notes. In fact, anywhere you can find the notes forming a chord, stacked in any order and any number of octaves, and as long as your fingers will let you do it, you can play the chord.

For example, a C Major chord is formed with the notes C, E, and G. In the open position, the note C can is found in two octaves, and the note E in three octaves, while the note G occurs only once. In other words, although all six strings are sounded out, in essence, only three notes are played.

All the chords in the key can be broken down this way. The numerals below simply refer to the degrees of the key.

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