How to Harmonize

Harmonizing can be an extremely challenging thing to do well. You need to take key, number of parts, pitch and piece into account. But this article is designed to give you a good starting point.


  1. 1
    Know what harmony is. Harmony - Noun: the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect. The term harmony is used to refer to notes that, basically, sound good together! The melody consists of the essential notes that form the basic structure of any tune. Harmony requires at least 2 tones or voices and can be done with any number of additional tones or voices. Most harmony is written for 3 to 6 voice parts. Some arrangements go to as many as 8 or more parts, but these are uncommon.
    • A good step to harmonizing is to fully know the melody, and then sing to it in a slightly lower pitch not an octave low. If you have another person with you, it also helps to sing with a piano first, and then move on to singing and harmonizing more independently.
    • Once you have some sense of the basic 1,3,5 major chord -- or 1,3,5,7 major 7th chord -- you can harmonize by singing any of the notes. The 1 is the soprano or lead (Lead is singing soprano an octave low for a male or female with a lower alto voice.). The more people you have the more of the notes you can sing. Once you have a sense of the basics of harmony in some key, you can experiment with other notes in other, such chords.
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    Form a chord with the melody. A chord is when 3 or more notes are played or sung at once (in tones, or voices). These notes are often referred to as triads with 3 tones (1,3,5 intervals) the most basic chord for harmonizing, the 1,3,5 chord.
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    Try the most basic chords (1-3-5) like "C-E-G." The 1 represents the 'root' note, then skip one up to note 3 that represents the 3rd (the note 2 places up from the first one). Then skip from the 3rd to place 5 which represents the 5th (or the note 4 places up from the root and 2 places up from the 3rd). You can also have 1-3-5-7 by adding the 7th and/or the 1st (root) note up or down the octave.
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    Practice singing harmony, by trying harmony with a keyboard or a piano. When you play a piano, a good note to harmonize is: Assuming a C major scale, strike the C note and, then strike 2 together with your harmonizing note (two) which is found by skipping the next note, and singing the next one in the same direction, from the original note. But that's rather crude.
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    Sing along with a recorded song the way you're supposed to. Slower songs like hymns are easier.
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    Try to sing a little bit higher or lower in pitch. Try to sing along at this higher or lower pitch and have it sound good.
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    Realize this might sound awful when you first try it. Just continually try to sing a little higher or lower than the original and have it sound good. If it sounds bad, then you're not harmonizing. If it sounds good, then you probably are.
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    Harmonizing to a great degree is intuitive. You learn what sounds right and wrong, and that proves that you know the right/wrong notes. Just loosen up and try to sing at the slightly higher (or lower) pitch... If you play an instrument like a guitar or piano you can find the harmony by first playing the note you are singing then move that note up to the 3rd on the scale (in the key) of the song you are playing like C (C-E-G) or G (G-B-D); notice they skip a letter, but of course sharps and/or flats are found in many keys which is usually the black keys on a piano type of keyboard.


  • If you are harmonizing, don't overpower the singer doing the main melody, either by volume or power. Soften the notes, even for a rock song, even if the roles somehow got confused.
  • Singing an entire octave above or below the note is not harmonizing; that is unison.
  • You must practice to get this right. It may take a while, but you will get it with practice, and you will have a ton of fun!
  • Don't over think this. Don't think of the exact notes that you are supposed to sing, if you are knowledgeable of scale theory. This is all by ear. Ear first, thoughts second.
  • It will help if you or a friend can play notes on a piano. You can hear how different note combinations (chords) sound together. It's much easier to learn the basics of harmony by hearing the notes played on a piano and matching one of them. Then start to sing along to the piano, and then move on to singing harmony with another singer.
  • A key point here is that harmonizing is intuitive. If you were to sing karaoke to a song, you might actually be singing at a slightly different pitch (in the same key) than the written vocal melody. You are in effect harmonizing to the original note without realizing it. Also, the phrasing of music, chord and/or lyric progression also dictates you may not stick maintain the gap between notes and 'phrases'. Sometimes, you may match the lead note to make transitions or to finish the verse or chorus.
  • Try singing to a karaoke song at a slightly higher or lower pitch. Vocals in a song may confuse your attempt at harmonizing because you will want to make your pitch identical to the lead singing voice. But the leading voice can change, even for a duet, which is a great way to hear how harmonizing is done. Karaoke removes that distraction.
  • Try to harmonize with every song in the car. Guys can match some of the range using falsetto (ie., their girly voice). But if you have a low range, don't force it and lower your voice. Imagine: Telling Johnny Cash to sing Christina Aguilera's 'Hurt' in full voice and not changing key is WAY too far-fetched.
  • Besides the major chords, there are also minor chords, diminished and augmented chords, but that's not for introductions to music or harmony.
  • Traditional two-part harmony is a third or fourth above and below the lead vocal melody. To those of you not familiar with that terminology, that means just a LITTLE bit higher than the original. Or as Julie Andrews taught us: If I am singing 'do', your harmonizing note is 'mi', or 'la' or 'so'.
  • Match up the notes before trying to harmonize. For example, if you match up 'doh' and 'soh' it will sound nice. Find out what notes will sound nice with what notes, then find out what are the notes you have in your song and match them up!
  • Have fun the pressures of performing are hard enough. If you are well practiced and have performed your notes well at practices you will do fine. If you find your self struggling with the same note you might need to make adjustments to your harmony or wait longer before a performance.
  • Do not use the earphones, if it is a slightly damaged cable, because you may be able to manipulate it, but only that harmony and the back round music of the song will be listened to the plays.
  • If you want to sing with your partner, just say "aah" either slightly higher or lower and then make someone sing in the middle of both pitches. Eventually they will balance each other out and will sound awesome!


  • Be prepared to accept constructive criticism from your various 'singing instructors' without taking it personally. Anyone who genuinely wants to help you become a better singer is not interested in making fun of your abilities.
  • Not all songs harmonize easily or well. But you can still 'harmonize' by echoing or layering lyrics.
  • Practice a lot before trying this in public.
  • Before you do any kind of singing, it's a must that you warm up your voice to avoid harming your vocal chords. Singing without having warmed up first can result in long-term damage that can cause you to lose your ability to sing altogether. The vocal chords are muscles, just like any other muscles in the body. So, like a jogger does some stretches before a run to prevent pain and damage, singers warm up their voices. There are thousands of vocal warmups and tips for how to properly warm up available online that can be easily accessed by doing a search.
  • Be patient with yourself. Learning how to harmonize may be frustrating for you. But anyone can learn how to do it with patience and perseverance!
  • Record yourself and listen to the recordings often. You will be surprised at how you sound. Don't be discouraged. No one sounds the way we think we do. The sounds we hear in our head are much different to what other people hear. A recorder will help you adjust and learn to make your voice sound more pleasant.
  • Don't cross over. It is a general musical rule that if you are lower than your partner, to never go higher than his/her notes. It becomes even more strictly reinforced the more people are involved in harmonizing. The only exception is when all are singing the same notes. In a four-part harmony, the two people singing the middle range can sing the same notes, the one in the lowest and highest range may not.
  • The logical downward ending isn't always correct. If you are the higher singer in a two-part a harmony, while a musical phrase from C ('do') to A (lower 'la') or E ('mi') to C ('do') sounds logical in a solo, it is incorrect in a duet or harmony. The one singing lower B ('ti') should move up to C to end the song. You have to stay in E so you won't lose the harmony.

More info

  • Once you have some comfort with singing harmony you can try to move up to singing acapella (without accompaniment). If you are a decent singer you should consider joining an acapella singing group. There are several nationwide acapella singing organizations and most areas have several choruses to choose from. Joining such a chorus will really help.
  • For men there is the Barbershop Harmony Society. For women there are two organizations, Harmony International and the Sweet Adelines. Though these sound like they are only for older folks they actively seek younger members and have very active youth programs. These groups are an excellent way to learn how to sing better, as singing techniques are taught in regular rehearsals and are the focus of year-round workshops, coaching sessions and retreats.

Things You'll Need

  • A piano
  • A tape recorder or recording MP3 player

Article Info

Categories: Singing