If melody handles the horizontal construction of music, harmony handles the vertical.
Thus, harmony, in the context of music theory, is understood and explained within the sub-context of chord progressions. Harmony can also be understood and implemented within the study of chord construction.
Anytime you have a root note, you build harmony by adding intervals to that note.
This means that every chord is a harmonious compilation.
Some are more dissonant while most are pleasantly consonant, but they're all building some kind of vertical harmony.
In this lesson, I'm focusing specifically on adding harmonic variety to the D major chord shape. Thus, we'll start with a distinctly familiar chord and build on it vertically.
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An Easy Harmonic D Major Example
Before we jump into the more gritty details, let's get a simple example under our belts.
Start with a D major chord shape.
I'm using one measure of quarter notes, and walking up the interval on the first string underneath the consistent triadic pattern.
Tab sheets and notation were built with Guitar Pro 6.
The harmonic ascent gets somewhat shrouded in the chord's other notes, so let's isolate the shape with the root D so we can hear the harmonic progression.
I also removed the click track in the MP3.
This is what I mean by harmonic variety. We've used a run of intervals, consonant with the key of D, for adding color to what would otherwise be a straight D chord with no change between measures.
Continuing to dig into this idea will help you improve in a number of ways, but specifically in the following areas:
- Chord progressions
- Arpeggiated melody
- Melodic lead guitar and lead harmonizing
It's not just your chords that improve.
We'll look at this method using a number of different examples, but continuing to focus on the D major chord shape, since it's one of the easiest and most accommodating shapes in a standard tuning, by which to apply this technique.
Harmonic Voice Leading in the Open D Major Chord Shape
Let's move our chord to the most familiar D major pattern, using the open form anchored at the second and third fret.
We'll look at the base chord shape first, then use harmonic voice leading (like in the above example) to build harmony from the chord's root.
First, our open D major chord:
The open D major chord shape. | View Larger Image
To start, we'll use the root D to identify the three other intervals that already exist in the chord.
From the following diagram, we can see the perfect fifth and major third that make up the triadic base of the D major chord, with an additional octave placed at the third fret:
Diagram that outlines the intervals of the D major chord. | View Larger Image
Going back to the tab sheet, which I think is better for understanding harmonic intervals, we can move the intervals to add more harmonic variety.
Let's omit the third and move the octave note in a short melodic run.
Try the following tab:
Open D major voice leading example. | View Larger Image
Note that in this situation we have two different musical phenomenons occurring.
We have both...
- Horizontal melody
- Vertical harmony
The melody line occurs on the second string, running between the second and the fifth frets, while the harmony occurs within each chord.
If we draw out the notes on the second string, we can put them in one measure to hear the melody by itself.
Isolating the melody line. | View Larger Image
It's clearly discernible that we can add harmonic variety to the root D and are not limited to the notes that are outlined for us in an open D major chord.
We can continue to add harmonic intervals by either guessing at what notes might sound consonant or by consulting the list of notes in the D major scale, which would guarantee that our combinations would resolve to the key of D.
Just so we cover our theory, let's look at the D major scale, first on its own.
Included pitches consist of the following:
D, E, F♯, G, A, B and C♯
Now, let's plot those notes on our chord diagram, closest to our D major chord shape.
We get the following chart:
Notes from the D major scale near the D major chord shape. | View Larger Image
If you read through the notes on each string, left to right, you'll see that they follow the pattern set forth in the D major scale.
This gives us a grid that we can use for harmonic additives to our D major chord.
For example, we can choose a triadic shape, say the following:
A triadic chord in the key of D serves as our anchoring root. | View Larger Image
Then add our melodic line, on any of the strings.
Let's try the fourth string, for a lower melodic walk-down.
You get a visual from the video, but here's the tab sheet as well.
The harmonic variation now occurs on the fourth string, with a lower melodic run. | View Larger Image
If we anchor even one part of our triad, the two notes we've highlighted in red, additional notes from the D major scale can be added and experimented with almost at a whim.
Any of the notes can be used to create harmonic chord variations.
Take the following video, for example:
You can see that we've utilized a number of notes from the D major scale surrounding the original D major chord shape.
Here's the tab sheet the video is reflecting:
We can use a creative combination of intervals for each D chord. | View Larger Image
This opens up a lot of different lanes from just a single chord shape. What you should also note is that you can move the D major chord shape anywhere on the fretboard and apply the same structural principles.
The key will change, but the patterns and technique are going to remain the same.
Remember, our primary concern is the shape.
Once you learn the shape, it can be moved and reapplied as the key requires.
If you want to take a chord that has built harmonic variety in a vertical pattern and make it more horizontal (melodic) you can simply stretch the notes out by arpeggiating the chord shape.
Let's take the tab sheet we used in the previous example.
Instead of four measures with a whole note in each, we can break the measures up into quarter notes, with an arpeggio of each chord in each measure.
Here's the new tab that results:
Each harmonic chord variation can be broken up into an arpeggio. | View Larger Image
Where this gets even more functional and useful is when we move the D major chord shape to the higher frets.
For example, we can plant a part of our triad at the seventh fret, and start with an arpeggio like this one:
We move a triadic D major chord shape to the seventh fret. | View Larger Image
Once you've got a consonant shape, you can add variety the same way we did with the D major chord shape at the second fret.
Here's one possible example:
Our arpeggio can be built using some of the same intervals we used between the second and fifth frets in our earlier examples. | View Larger Image
Note that the intervals we're using are drawn from the same patterns we used in earlier examples.
Nothing has changed.
The only thing different is that we're now using the pattern anchored at a different position on the fretboard. The chord shape, scale sequence and corresponding intervals are all just being reused.
This is how understanding one chord shape and its corresponding scale can give us a ton of harmonic variety.
Not only do we benefit from the additional intervals, but we can migrate those intervals to any part of the fretboard.
It's structural knowledge instead of blank memorization.
Repeating the Process with Other Chord Shapes
What we've done here is not unique to the D major chord.
You can employ this tactic with any chord, assuming you're familiar with the methods and process.
For those who want to try some harmonic variance with, say, the C major chord shape, here's the process reviewed:
- Plot and memorize the most common triadic forms of the chord, preferably in a familiar, open form.
- Jot down the notes of the corresponding major scale.
- Plot where those notes occur near the chord pattern, until you start to see a few different ways to play the chord or to simply add intervals.
- Play through a few different patterns, taking the time to arpeggiate the shapes and play them as vertical chords.
- Once you're comfortable with a few different iterations of the chord, migrate what you've learned to another fret.
It reads a bit complex, but if you've understood the previous examples, this should all be pretty clear to you.
All we're doing is adding harmony to a familiar chord shape, then moving that shape.
And again, the purpose is to add variety.
Moreover, we're trying to add consonant variety, within the structure of a major scale.
Using a major scale in the same key of our chord insures that we'll be using consonant notes for creating our harmony and that the result will be musical, melodic and useful for songwriting.
Thus, the benefit is multi-faceted:
- Improved melody = better lead play
- Improved harmony = better chords and rhythm play
- Variation = improved dynamics and songwriting
- Structure = improved understanding of music theory
In other words, learning and apply harmonic variance benefits you in nearly every aspect.
Take the time to learn this in the context of the D major chord and, if you're comfortable with the process, throw a couple more chord shapes in their for good measure.
Here are a few suggestions:
- C major chord shape (triadic shape at the third fret position)
- Open E major
- B minor barre chord
Content-related questions and comments
Got questions about the content?
If you have questions directly related to the theory, methods or technique outlined in this article, please leave them in the comments section below, as opposed to emailing me direclty.
I'll respond to comments quickly, as they're the best way to expand on the ideas presented here, while also making Q&A available to other readers.
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Other Advanced Lead Guitar Resources
Jazz Guitar Harmony and the Basics of Shell Voicing: An advanced lesson on Jazz patterns and shell voicing from music professor Mark Whetzel.
Clean, Easy Moonlight Sonata Guitar Tab: The "Moonlight Sonata" parsed into seven different tabs that are easy to learn, one by one.
Exploring Guitar Arpeggios on the Higher Register: Using short, melodic patterns via arpeggios on the higher frets.
Write and Record Pentatonic Scale Guitar Solos: A lesson on writing and recording solos using the pentatonic scale shape.
How to Superimpose the Pentatonic Minor Scale Over Chords: An advanced lead guitar lesson on applying the pentatonic minor scale.
Diatonic Scale Guitar Theory: Explaining and applying the theory behind the diatonic guitar scale.
Lydian Mode Guitar Study: Understanding and applying the theory of the Lydian mode.
Simple Classical Guitar Tabs: Sampling and learning tabs from some of the most popular classical pieces.
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