Natural Harmonization (Part II)

Harmonizing a Melody in a Natural Way

by Dr. Sócrates García

A question I get frequently asked at my clinics is “I created a great melody, how can I come up with chords for it?” The fact that there are many ways to harmonize a melody depending on the style of music is a blessing and a curse. Harmonizing melodies is an art in itself and although, in the end, it is an ear decision based on personal taste and style, there are ways to simplify the process.

In this article I would like to continue where we left off last month by applying the concepts we studied to create progressions. The following examples will show how to harmonize the same definitive melody in several ways, following a step-by-step approach that uses the process of Natural Harmonization in a jazz-related setting.

This is the way I apply a concept learned from the late Dick Grove (


The process of NATURAL harmonization

The process uses the most basic chords (I IV V or ii iii vi) as the starting point.

Let’s look at the following melody. At a glance, the first four measures are in the key of C and then the melody modulates to the key of Bb.

Example 8


Let’s use the approach to harmonize the first four measures up to the downbeat of measure 5.

Step 1– Find the basic triads of the strong measures.

The first measure repeats the tone “E” on beats 1 and 3. This combined with the skip in the melody (E to C) implies a basic I triad in C. The same rationale can be applied to measure 3, implying a IV in the key of C. Measure 5 is the beginning of the second phrase in the new key of Bb.


Example 9


Step 2– Place the chords that will naturally lead to the basic triads.


Depending on the style and harmonic rhythm, we will have different options, but usually the most common choice is the dominant chord a fifth above, which in essence makes the resolution chord a momentary tonic (I chord in a new momentary key).


Example 10


Step 3– Place chords that reinforce the newly created momentary key centers.

Let’s do a faster harmonic rhythm, placing two chords per measure.

The most logical choice would be the II of the key, giving us a complete II V, which reinforces the tonic function of the I chord that follows. Also, notice the larger chords on the strong measures.


Example 11


Now, let’s start the process again but using another option, changing the roots of the strong measures (lowering a descending 3rd), creating a new set of key centers and resolutions

(Cmaj9 à Amin9; Fmaj9 à Dmin9; Bbmaj9 à Gmin9).


Example 12


In this case the tonic chords are in a minor key. Let’s add the II V before the tonic.


Example 13


Example 14 utilizes the next descending third for the tonic chords (Amin9 à Fmaj9; Dmin9 à Bbmaj9(#11); Gmi7 à Ebmaj9).


Example 14


Now, let’s add the chords that reinforce these new key centers.


Example 15


Any of these progressions can be enhanced with the addition of other harmonic devices such as common tone substitutions, tritone substitutions or secondary dominants. Always take into consideration the function of the melody notes against the chord to be used.


Example E


The advantage of this kind of process is that it allows you to harmonize a melody in a highly sophisticated way, including all the different alterations that are part of the jazz language. By using the same rationale, the process can be simplified to the point of keeping the chords in a more commercial harmonic style. Furthermore, this approach helps to avoid the guessing element behind the art of harmonizing melodies, offering us a precise way to do it.

I hope these ideas will help you in your musical journey!


Socrates Garcia

Dr. Garcia is a composer, arranger, producer, recording engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and educator from the Dominican Republic. He currently is the Director of Music Technology at the University of Northern Colorado.

Among Garcia’s recording and/or performing credits are the album Yo Por Ti by Puerto Rican artist Olga Tañon, Grammy Award winner as Merengue Album of the Year 2001; Milly Quezada’s Tesoros de mi Tierra, which reached number 14 on Billboard’s Tropical Song charts; and national and international performances with the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra.

He has presented clinics at regional and national conferences and has conducted his music nationally and internationally.

His latest album, Back Home (MAMA Records), performed by the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra, is a symbiotic combination of Afro-Dominican and Afro-Caribbean genres within the aesthetic of contemporary orchestral jazz. An award winning album, it has received numerous accolades by critics and jazz fans alike, nationally and internationally.