How to find the chords for a melody

If you know the melody to a tune, then how do you find the chords to accompany that melody?

My best advice: join Piano Magic :-)

(Really, I mean it!)

In the mean time, here’s a quick summary of how to harmonize melodies:

  1. Find out what key the melody is in
  2. Learn the I, IV and V7 chords of that key. In the key of C these would be C, F and G7.
  3. Press the I chord and play the first notes of the melody.
  4. When the melody and the chord no longer seem to fit together, switch to one of the other two chords. This usually happens at the beginning of a new measure.
  5. Repeat until you reach the end of the song. Usually the song will end on the I chord.

If the I, IV or V7 chords match but aren’t completely satisfactory, then try the minor chords from the key (vi, ii, or iii). In the key of C these would be Am, Dm or Em.

If the I, IV or V7 chords don’t match at all, then try an accidental chord such as II7 or III7. In the key of C these would be D7 or E7.

In case you didn’t notice yet, there is a close relationship between the melody and the current chord: melody tones are chord tones.

That means the tones that make up the melody are the same tones that make up the chord. Consequently, if the melody switches to the tones from another chord, it is time to change chords.

For example, if you’re currently playing C chord, then the melody will focus on the tones C, E and G. The melody may still include other tones, but they will be quick passing tones.

If the melody lingers on a tone that is not in any of the chords from the key, you should find another chord that does have this tone.

For example, if you encounter an long F# tone in the key of C, then a likely candidate for the chord is D7 (which is: D-F#-A-C) but it could also be B7 (which is B-D#-F#-A).

That’s about it. :-)

Read more articles on Piano Clues:

Basic Theory

Chords and Harmony

The Circle of Fifths

Arrangement, Improvisation and Composition

Reading Music and Sheet Music

How to Record Piano

Software and Virtual Instruments

Scales and Exercises

Digital Pianos

Links and Other Stuff


  1. benquebec says:

    Your web site is very good.
    It has very good information.
    If I had more time, I would ask you the permission and would make a french translatation to be published for the benefit of french speaking people.

    By the way, in the 10th paragraph, I think there is a small mistake.
    ”try the minor chords from the key (iv, ii, or iii)” should be corrected for
    “try the minor chords from the key (vi, ii, or iii).

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