Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Harmonizing a melody

Hi guys. There is something I am not grasping on this. I was recently trying to harmonize a phrase from an old Irving Berlin jazz standard called Isn’t This a Lovely Day (I recognize that this is not the Banjo Ben sweet spot!) in F major. I’ve attached a photo of the sheet music from the section, which starts from the lyric “Let the rain pitter patter …” on C. I counted three whole steps up from each note, using the F major scale, so my harmony started E F | G F F E E etc. But when I got to the E there was something wrong. The harmony wanted to go to Eb. I don’t understand why. Can someone help? Hope this kinda complicated explanation is clear. Ty


I would love to see a “how to” lesson on harmony.


I can’t read music, so this may not apply here, but in F, an Eb would be used to create the F7 chord, which is often used as a transition to the 4 chord (Bb in this case.) The E would be a major 7th, so is it possible that major tone doesn’t fit with the overall tone of the song?



It’s kind of tough to read sideways, but I think I know what you’re looking for. btw, I’m looking at Line 1 in the treble or G clef. (Also, note it appears that all the E’s are flatted in this melody),

If you’re trying to harmonize using thirds, I would count two whole steps from your melody note. So, if you’re referring to the word “rain”, the melody note is an Eb, and the harmony would be a G.

So, if you want to sing, or play a third to go along with the Eb, I would try a G. (Two whole steps from Eb).

E is a third of C.
F# is a third of D.
G is a third of Eb.

Am I getting what you’re looking for? Please let me know if it works.



I THINK that is done by adding a third, a fifth, or both to any melody note, when playing in a major key. It may be different in a minor key…not sure.


Just to clarify @Treblemaker

The 3rd of a triad (1,3,5) typically defines a Major or Minor chord - assuming the 5 is consistently 7 semi-tones from the root note… as is in a Major chord.

Major 3rd are 4 semi-tones or 2 whole steps from root…

E is the Major 3rd of C Major
F# is the Major 3rd of D Major

Minor 3rd is at 3 semi-tone intervals or 1 1/2 steps from root…

So… G is the Minor 3rd in Eb major

To illustrate 4 types of triad (3 tone) chord definitions using C as the root:

Major Triad is: C, E, G
Root + major 3rd (4 semi-tones from root) + major 5th (3 semi-tones from 3rd) = (7 semi-tone interval from root to major 5th)

Minor Triad is: C, Eb, G
Root + minor 3rd (3 semi-tones from root) + major 5th (4 semi-tones from 3rd) = (Also 7 semi-tone interval from root to Major 5th)

Diminished Triad is: C, Eb, Gb
Root + minor 3rd (3 semi-tones from root) + minor 5th (3 semi-tones from 3rd) = (6 semi-tone interval from root to minor 5th)

Augmented Triad is: C, E, G#
root + major 3rd (4 semi-tones from root) + augmented 5th (4 semi-tones from 3rd) = (8 semi-tone interval from root to augmented 5th)

I hope this helps…


Good point Will, and thank you. Would minors not make a song like “Isn’t it a Lovely Day” sound a bit sad though?

It would be like Schleprock from Pebbles and Bam-Bam singing it. Wowsy Wowsy Woo Woo. :rofl:


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Helpful Will, yes…But I think you caused my brain to have a mini-stroke…Joking Will. :crazy_face:


It would take too long lay this out for you guys… but in a MAJOR KEY, there ARE 3 MAJOR chords, 3 Minor chords and 1 Diminished Chord

Major is written in Roman Numeral CAPS
Minor is written in Roman Numeral lower case
Diminished Chords use a degree “⁰” symbol
Augmented Chords use a plus “+” symbol

Key of F Major has 1 flat (Bb) & uses these notes:
F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E (F is Root because it is #1)

Major Chords in key of F Major:
I (F,A,C) because F is the Root of F Major scale
IV (Bb, D, F) as Bb is the 4th of F Major scale
V (C,E,G) as C is the 5th of F Major scale
Minor Chords in key of F Major:
ii (G,Bb,D) as G is the 2nd of F Major scale
iii (A,C,E) as A is the 3rd of F Major scale
vi (D,F,A) as D is the 6th of F Major scale
Diminished Chord in key of F Major:
vii⁰ (E,G,Bb) as E is the 7th of F Major scale

So… what makes something sound “sad” isn’t necessarily a minor chord per se (because Major Keys have Minor chords) but where the chord progression leads or ends will make it sound that way.

If the key is minor, the root (1 chord) is minor and the positions and Major chords and Minor chords shift.

To make it easier on myself, the Key of F Major has a relative Minor key which is always 3 semi-tones lower than the Major key: D minor - because the notes are the exact same but shifted: D,E,F,G,A,Bb,C (D is Root as it is #1)

Major Chords in key of D minor:
III (F,A,C) as F is 3rd tone of D minor scale
VI (Bb, D, F) as Bb is 6th tone of D minor scale
VII (C,E,G) as C is 7th tone of D minor scale
Minor Chords in key of D minor:
iv (G,Bb,D) as G is 4th tone of D minor scale
v (A,C,E) as C is 7th tone of D minor scale
i (D,F,A) because D is Root of D minor scale
Diminished Chord in key of D minor:
ii⁰ (E,G,Bb) because E is 2nd tone of D minor scale

So… The “sad” sound is due to the shift as most minor keys would resolve to their root chord - which in this structure is minor.



I will give this a try… to explain what you may be “hearing” as to Eb being the harmony that is more pleasing to the ear.

In F Major, an Eb note is the flat 7th of the root chord: F,A,C,Eb - which sound very nice to the ear.

It sounds better because it is a whole step down from the F root tone of the key.

tones that are 1/2 step away (1 semi-tone away from each other) - when played together as tension.

Go to any piano and hit 2 keys that are right next to each other (like a white and black keys that are next to each other)… Yuk.

If you have access to a piano, you will hear what I mean by playing F,A,C,E (natural). The E and F are 1/2 step away and will not sound too good when played in this chord… even though E is the correct 7th note of an F scale.

This is a quick answer.

As to this specific example, I will study the notation tomorrow and add to this…

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Hi Jack. Thanks. The note that seems odd is actually “pat-ter,” which is a C. So you would think E. But what works is Eb. I wonder if what’s happened here is that this phrase has effectively modulated to Bb major, so – as you say – in that key three up from C becomes Eb. I don’t know a lot about, jazz but I think that this happens, even thought the key signature doesn’t formally change. It also explains why the all the chords in the phrase are Bb, Eb and F (the I-IV and V tones of Bb major). I don’t know; this stuff makes my head spin. Speaking of which, sorry for sideways! See below. Thanks for trying to puzzle this out.


Yeah. That’s really interesting. It’s like we’re playing a F dominant scale with a flat 7. That’s why most of the E notes in the score are flatted, like Jack says. The song could just as easily be in Bb major (which would explain Eb as the third of C) even though the actual signature is F major. I’m sure there’s a reason for that, but it’s beyond me. Anyway, I’m going back to practicing Over the Waterfall!


One more thought: the piece is really in F mixolydian mode (F G A Bb C D Eb), which explains why most of the E are all flatted, why C harmonizes as Eb and why the key signature is F major. I have a very shaky understand modes, and how they work musically, but I think that’s the answer.


Ya know something Timmy, I think you’re right on. Great job of figuring it out. I have a very limited understanding of modes, but when you view it from a perspective of Bb major, playing three half steps up to harmonize with the C, D and Eb, fit quite nicely. (I messed with it a bit on my keyboard to see what it would sound like).

I think Ben and Mike aka Dr Guitar, could provide some great insight here.

By the way, I had never heard the song before, but I just listened to Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s version to get an idea of what it sounds like. It’s a pretty song.

Thanks to you and Will for your perspectives. I gained some valuable knowledge with this thread.


It looks like the tune is indeed in the key of F major. However, it is common that these types of tunes will freely move between keys. In fact, the tune, at that point analyzes as the key of Bb major with the F(7) being the V chord, the Eb being the IV chord and Bb major chord on the word “matter” being the I chord. Bb major has the note Eb in it.

There is a “simple method” I use for harmonizing a melody but it would take too long to teach it here (I’m in the middle of other work right now). More later if you like.


yes please


Exactly. As I mentioned above, the song uses Bb as an almost alternate tonic note throughout (as opposed to F), so it’s effectively changing keys regularly between Bb and F. Which is what happens when you’re playing F mixolydian, right (F G A Bb C D Eb)?


Yeah, it’s a beautiful song written by some guy named Irving Berlin :smile:

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Here is a link for what a friend and I did with this song – we had the idea of doing some “chase-your-confinement-blues” tunes, and picked mostly jazz standards because he sends them out in a Deacon’s Newsletter to mostly older people in his church, some of whom grew up on this music. They love it. Barebones, but fun to play a different genre. And it certainly opened up some theory challenges!

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Sorry I couldn’t get back to you yesterday… but now that the music is oriented and your explanations…

Yeah… F7 is with the Eb… not to mention your explanation on the mixolydian.