Skip to main content

The easy guide to music theory: how to find the right chords to fit a melody

Maybe you’ve just dreamt up a cool melody or been tasked with remixing a track that has an existing vocal line. You’re off to a good start, but how do you go about finding chords that fit? We’re going to use harmonisation theory to work out which of the 24 basic major and minor triads should fit behind the tune.

Although many current DAWs boast features designed to help out if you get stuck coming up with chord progressions (Cubase's Chord Assistant is a prime example of this), being able to work out for yourself what chords should fit with which notes is a skill worth having.

Once you’ve decided which notes you want to put chords behind, use the method outlined in the video above to provide you with a palette of basic chords that can go with each note. This in turn should help to narrow down the decision-making process and leave you with a progression that definitely works. From this point, you can always expand into the territory of extended chords such as 7ths and 9ths for a more advanced progression, but here we’ll stick to the basics.

When working with triads, there are 12 major and 12 minor chords to choose from. Of these 24, each note of your melody has six possible chords to which it can belong as either a root note, a third or a fifth. Once these are identified, it just remains to figure out which of the six candidates best suits the mood of the tune at any one point. When you consider that each chord has to sound pleasing when played in context with the chords before and after it, the number of options starts to decrease further, and it’s easier to arrive at a great combination.