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Thread: How do I use a second guitar to harmonize the chords I play?

  1. #1
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    Jul 2009

    How do I use a second guitar to harmonize the chords I play?

    If I am playing chords on one guitar, like, for example, a progressions of Am11 Em Gmaj-- in the overall key of G, what's the best way to harmonize these chords with a second guitar? And how many different ways can you harmonize these chords?

  2. #2
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    May 2006
    Quote Originally Posted by AGreatPair
    If I am playing chords on one guitar, like, for example, a progressions of Am11 Em Gmaj-- in the overall key of G, what's the best way to harmonize these chords with a second guitar? And how many different ways can you harmonize these chords?
    There are many, many ways to handle it, I'm sure.

    I'll take what I've learned from listening to Umphrey's McGee as an example. They tend to split up the chord between the two guitars. A song that comes to mind is "Words". Here's the tab:


    You don't need to go through it in massive detail, just look at the two guitar parts to see what I mean.

    If you want to hear what it sounds like, you can find "Words" in this live recording (it's free and legal). Check track # 10 on the embedded player:


    I'm sure there are tons of such examples from them. They're a really amazing and skilled two guitar band (ya know, in my opinion anyways). Possibly one of my all time favorite bands. You might hate them, who knows. But they're a truly excellent example of how to harmonize two guitars together, so I figure you might learn something from them.

    Otherwise, I suggest you just find a band you like that harmonizes two guitars and study what they are doing.
    "Whaddya mean DYNAMICS?! I'm playing as loud as I can!"

  3. #3
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Feb 2004
    Deep East Texas Piney Woods
    Just two guitars playing the same progression at the same time - and nothing else happening - boring. Now if you get some melody into the picture (instrumental or vocal melody) then two guitars could play the same progression at the same time and it can sound OK. Three guitars playing the same progression at the same time - even if you've got the melody helping - tends to get muddy. What to do.

    One guitar needs to play in another voice. Play the progression in 6ths, or capo and play in another voice, if you capo high enough (above the 5th) you began to sound like a mandolin and this adds the other voice.

    One guitar could finger pick the chords - as such providing melody and the other could play a basic chord progression backing up the finger picking - that would be another way.

    Anything that adds another voice, i.e. think two/three part harmony - same song, same key, different voices.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 09-04-2009 at 04:17 AM.

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    Twickenham, UK
    Quote Originally Posted by AGreatPair
    If I am playing chords on one guitar, like, for example, a progressions of Am11 Em Gmaj-- in the overall key of G, what's the best way to harmonize these chords with a second guitar? And how many different ways can you harmonize these chords?
    As the guys say, there are many ways, probably countless. Your ear is always the best guide for harmonisation - just experiment with any notes until you hit ones that sound good.

    If you have chords to start with, you only need a single melody line on the 2nd guitar. Just play notes from the scale (on each chord) till you hit one that sounds right. Working from chord to chord, try to create a line that moves forward melodically - ie, that doesn't jump around too much, just moves in scale degrees with occasional bigger skips or jumps for variety.
    And you can sometimes hold the same note across a group of chords - as a "suspension". (Eg, on your 3 chords, the notes G, D, E and B will all sound good held across all 3. A and F# might also work. Only C will sound bad, on the Em and G; but even that might work as a suspension if you resolve it down to the B in each chord.)

    If you want to create extra harmonies on the 2nd guitar (another 2 or 3 simultaneous notes per chord) theoretically there's a couple of guidelines you could follow, if you think your ear is going to get lost among all the options :

    1. Add 3rds
    2. Add notes from the pentatonic (major or minor depending on chord type).

    Taking your 3 chords in G:

    Am11 - if a complete voicing, already has a whole pile of notes (A-C-E-G-B-D), which leaves only 1 more possible note in the scale: F# (the 13th). Doesn't make a lot of sense to add that. (Good harmonies rarely need any more than 4 notes, 5 at most. 6 at absolute most...)
    If you start with an Am triad (A-C-E), the above rules suggest adding:
    1: G, B, and/or D as stacked 3rds (7, 9, 11). Don't go on to 13 (F#) in this case. So you could look at that as superimposing a G triad on top of the Am triad.
    2: G or D as additional notes from the minor pent.

    Em. E-G-B (1-3-5).
    1. stacking 3rds: D, F#, A (7-9-11). Again, don't go on to the 13, which is a b13 (C). That's a D major triad superimposed. (Spot the rule here? You can superimpose a triad based on the scale degree below the root. This won't always result in a pleasing sound, but is worth trying.)
    2. Other 2 notes from the pent = A, D.

    G. G-B-D (1-3-5).
    1. stacking 3rds: F#, A, E (maj7, 9, 13). In this case, avoid the 11th, C. A perfect 11th clashes with the 3rd (B), and also the maj7 (F#). (This is an example of where a triad on the scale degree below doesn't work: it creates an oppositional chord type - F#dim - not a complementary one.)
    If you want to think of a superimposed triad in this case, go for a D major, which creates a Gmaj9 chord (G-B-D-F#-A).
    2. Other 2 notes from the pent: A, E.

    Here's a full list of the suitable 3rds (ones that will complement the chord function rather than upset it) that you can stack on each chord in the key of G major:

    I: G = G-B-D. F# (maj7), A (9), E (6/13)
    ii: Am = A-C-E. G (7), B (9), D (11).
    iii: Bm = B-D-F#. A (7), E (11). (Avoid the b9, C, and b13, G.)
    IV: C = C-E-G. B (maj7), D (9), F# (#11), A (6/13). (Don't add all these at once! The lydian F# works best alongside the maj7 and 9, rather than on its own. IOW, a Bm chord on top of the C.)
    V: D = D-F#-A. C (7), E(9), B (13). (If you drop the F# from the chord, you can add the 11th, G, to create 7sus4, 9sus4 or 13sus4.)
    vi: Em = E-G-B. D(7), F#(9), A(11). Avoid the b13, C.
    vii: F#dim = F#-A-C. E(7) - creates "F#m7b5" (not "F#dim7"). The 11th (B) sounds good on top. (The 11th is common in melodies in jazz on a m7b5 chord, but you never see it as a chord extension. Makes a good harmony though.)

    Generally speaking a good way to think about harmonies is not to start with a set of fixed chords anyway.

    1. Start with a MELODY. Treat this as the top line. The melody IS your song, and the rest is merely there to support and enhance it, to help it deliver its message.

    2. Then add a BASS (bottom line) - any notes that "sing" nicely beneath the melody - just use your ear (working with the scale of the key in the first instance). These should be at least a 7th or octave below the melody, to give you room for other harmony notes in between (assuming you want them ).
    Bass notes can sometimes be the same note as the melody (exact octave - or even 2 octaves - below), if you want the melody to come out especially strong at that point; otherwise make the bass line a different note.
    Typically a bass line will be chord roots, but it needn't be. Good bass lines usually have their own melodic movement, ending up creating inversions or slash chords. OTOH, you can sometimes sit on one bass note across several bars of a melody; this is known as a "pedal" bass. IOW, the bass doesn't always have to be constantly moving; points of rest or stasis can be effective.

    3. Then add a MIDDLE harmony line between these two lines. Try to get a different note from either the melody or bass note at each point. Mostly you will find you create triads this way, but don't worry or think about that. Just listen and find notes that work. Don't force them into a chord "straitjacket", unless you find the implied chords helpful and inspiring.
    As with the bass line, this middle line doesn't have to move all the time. It also doesn't have to follow the same direction as the melody (neither does the bass). It could go down when the melody goes up, or vice versa.
    Don't worry if there's the occasional clashing note (with top or bottom lines), just get the line to work in its own right: can you sing it, or imagine someone singing it?

    4. You can get probably the highest level of complexity you'll ever need by adding a 4th line - between melody and middle, or between middle and bass.
    Altogether, this 4-line harmonic system is known as SATB (Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass), and you can spend years at college learning how the rules work! (Look up "SATB" or "counterpoint" if you want to scare yourself with how tough it can get...)

    But it still comes down to your ear in the end: it doesn't matter how fancy or "correct" the theory is, if you don't like the sound, it's wrong. And if it breaks the rules but you like the sound, then it's "right".
    So the lesson from that is: ALWAYS trust your ear. But make sure you listen REALLY CLOSELY to what you're playing. Your ear can play tricks, and you can miss notes in the middle of chords sometimes.

  5. #5
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    Oct 2008
    basically any notes in the same key will harmonize. you can other ones, sometimes its nice to build up from one chord to the next by kind of foreshadowing it with one note that slides up a semi tone, that would normally need to move up a whole tone to be where it needs to be for the next chord. stuff like that. i find it's also nice to do stuf like if backing sounds like it is going up you harmonize going down, stuff like that.

    but really it's all up to you. what you think sounds good. first you need to imagine it, then you need to find how to play what you imagine, and for that you need to get used to the major scale.

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