Harmonizing the Major Scale Using Basic Tonic and Dominant Harmony

There are various ways to harmonize a major scale.  Here is one way which is uses mostly alternating D, G and A chords.  You’ll notice that there are multiple voicings for each chord, but there are only three unique chord “shapes” in the whole thing.  All chord voicings, except the first one, are on string-set 1 (strings 1-3), and I’ve labeled the scale degrees of the chord tones under the names of each chord.


I’ve adopted a naming convention which I think will work for a shorthand in upcoming lesson videos.  You’ll notice that the first chord is labeled “D”, with “3-5-1” underneath.  This label tells you that the 3rd is the bottom note, with a 5th above, and finally, the root (1) in the melody or top voice.  It distinguishes this voicing of the D triad from the others on the page.  It seems to work for simplicity’s sake.  Conventional chord inversion names don’t really seem to work for this for a couple of reasons:

  1.  Names like “1st inversion” aren’t really specific enough, in terms of indicating omitted chord tones etc.
  2. Also, inversion names or figured bass symbols relate primarily to the bass voice, which is kind of backwards for thinking of chord voicings in terms of chord solos (or chord-melody playing).

The chord degree numbers I’ve indicated are still listed from the bottom-up, but at least they do indicate something about the melody, in relation to the harmony.  There may be something which already exists and is more straightforward.  If so, please note it in the comments section.  I’m open to ideas on this.

For the time being, there seems to be a great deal of clarity in naming something a 5-1-3 voicing.  The melody is the 3rd.  If you want to voice the 2nd or the 4th in the melody of that same chord, it could become a 5-1-2 or 5-1-4 voicing.  The theoretical reality – that the 2nd or 4th is actually replacing the 3rd – is clearly seen and easily understood, even without any other kind of notation or symbol.

Anyway, print the pdf.  Check this scale out, and experiment with playing simple folk songs, children songs (like “Twinkle, Twinkle”), or even tunes like the opening phrases of “Joy to the World” (start at the top) with it.  When you run into situations which don’t work with this simple set, you’re discovering musical ideas which require other harmonic/melodic applications.  We’ll talk about some of those in future posts.  Meanwhile, these are a good start.  Have fun and experiment.  I’ll do a video on this article in an upcoming post.