How to Compose an Original Piece with Harmony: Advice from Kevin Ure

If you are interested in composing your own music, you might wonder how to create a coherent and pleasing harmony piece. Harmony combines different pitches that sound simultaneously, creating a sense of depth and richness in music. Harmony can also convey emotions, moods, and styles, depending on how you use it.

One of the best ways to learn how to compose with harmony is to get advice from an expert. Kevin Ure is a composer and music theorist who teaches music theory and ear training courses at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is also the instructor of The Composers Studio at, where he offers online lessons and resources for aspiring composers. He has composed several works for various ensembles and solo instruments, such as Soliloquy, The Beast of Gevaudan, and The Garden Tower.

In this blog post, we will share some tips from Kevin Ure on how to compose an original piece with harmony. These tips are based on his YouTube videos, where he explains various aspects of music composition in an accessible and engaging way.

Tip 1: Start with a melodic skeleton

A melodic skeleton is a simple outline of your melody that shows its basic shape and direction. It can be composed of single notes or chords representing your piece's main harmonic points. A melodic skeleton can help you establish your piece's structure, form, and tonality before adding more details.

To create a melodic skeleton, you can use one of these methods:

- Use a scale or mode as a basis for your melody. For example, you can use the major or minor scales to create melodies with a clear tonal center.

- Use intervals as building blocks for your melody. For example, you can use perfect fifths or minor thirds to create melodies that have a strong harmonic implication.

- Use motifs as units for your melody. A motif is a short musical idea that can be repeated or varied throughout your piece. For example, you can use rhythmic or melodic motifs to create coherent and contrast melodies.

Tip 2: Add harmonic layers

Once you have a melodic skeleton, you can add more harmonic layers to enrich your piece. Harmonic layers are additional voices or parts that accompany your main melody. They can be composed of chords, counterpoint lines (independent melodies), or textures (background sounds).

To add harmonic layers, you can use one of these methods:

- Use chord progressions as frameworks for your harmony. A chord progression is a sequence of chords that creates movement and tension-resolution in your piece. For example, you can use common chord progressions such as I-V-vi-IV (C-G-Am-F) or ii-V-I (Dm-G-C) to create harmonies that support your melody.

- Use counterpoint techniques as tools for creating harmony through melody. Counterpoint is the art of combining two or more melodies that are independent but harmonious with each other. For example, you can use species counterpoint (a method of learning counterpoint by following strict rules) or free counterpoint (a method of composing counterpoint by using your own creativity) to create harmonies that enhance your melody.

- Use textures as elements for creating harmony through sound quality. Texture is the way multiple sounds are combined in music, creating different effects such as density (how many sounds), timbre (what kind of sounds), dynamics (how loud or soft), and articulation (how smooth or detached). For example, you can use homophonic texture (one melody with chordal accompaniment), polyphonic texture (multiple independent melodies), or monophonic texture (one single melody) to create harmonies that vary your piece.

Tip 3: Add expressive details

After you have a melodic skeleton and harmonic layers, you can add more expressive details to make your piece more interesting and unique. Expressive details are elements that affect the mood, emotion, and character of your piece. They can be composed of dynamics (loudness), articulation (how notes are played), timbre (sound quality), or ornamentation (decorative notes).

To add expressive details, you can use one of these methods:

  • Use dynamics to create contrast and emphasis in your piece. Dynamics are symbols that indicate how loud or soft to play a note or a section. For example, you can use forte (f) to indicate loudness or piano (p) to indicate softness. You can also use crescendo (<) to indicate gradually increasing loudness or diminuendo (>) to indicate gradually decreasing loudness.

  • Use articulation to create variety and expression in your piece. Articulation is the way you play a note, such as smoothly or sharply. For example, you can use legato (a curved line) to indicate smooth and connected notes or staccato (a dot) to indicate short and detached notes. You can also use accents (^) to indicate strong emphasis or tenuto (-) to indicate sustained notes.

  • Use timbre to create color and texture in your piece. Timbre is the quality of sound that distinguishes different instruments or voices. For example, you can use different instruments such as piano, guitar, violin, or flute to create different timbres. You can also use different techniques such as plucking, bowing, blowing, or singing to create different timbres.

  • Use ornamentation to create embellishment and flair in your piece. Ornamentation is the addition of extra notes that decorate the main melody. For example, you can use trills (rapid alternation between two adjacent notes), turns (quick movement around a central note), mordents (quick single alternation with a lower or higher note), or grace notes (quick extra notes before the main note).

By following these tips, you can compose music that has melody, harmony, and expression.

Reviewed by Kevin Ure on March 20, 2023


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