piano chordLearning how to harmonize a major scale is a valuable skill. By doing so you’ll learn which chords you can use. The other way is to play by ear, but having a more solid foundation behind you is a stronger basis to learn how to play the piano. The concept of harmonizing a major scale requires you know a few simple rules. A great deal of music has been composed using just a few of the relationships I will divulge here, even though the concept is simple. Like all great rules, they can be broken, but we urge you to learn to stick with them for now. You can feel free to break them later as you gain more skill.

Many variations of chords can be created by altering a one or a couple of notes. You no doubt already know that to form a major chord, you take it’s root (C for instance), add the third note of the C-Major scale (E) and add the fifth note of the scale (E), to give you a three-note triad. By the way the definition of a chord, requires you play at least three notes. Next you repeat this pattern for each note of the scale and you have a group of chords built note by note going up the scale. The result of this is the “harmonized major scale” of whatever key you started with.

For C-Major this is then:

  • C-Major
  • D-Minor
  • E-Minor
  • F-Major
  • G-Major
  • A-Minor
  • B-Diminished
  • C-Major (next octave)

Note: Check out our basic chord chart or our extended chord chart if you’d like to practice playing this sequence of chords.

Now you can play any combination of these chords and it should sound good. Needless to say this can be a great exercise when writing new music of your own, in whatever key you would like.

So the basic rules are then:

  • Locate the root note of a key and play up the scale, but with chord shapes instead of individual notes.
  • Don’t forget to keep the same step pattern intervals. They will be the same regardless of key

A more advanced exercise is to experiment with harmonizing a major scale to four notes rather than just three. You can also repeat the same exercise on different types of scales to see what kinds of interesting combinations you come up with. This can be a lot of fun if you are willing to experiment!

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