“Wow, that lead sounds pretty good,” you say to yourself.
Then, the other guitar comes in with the harmony. Your knees go weak, your jaw falls off and you pass out in aural bliss.
This week, we’re going to show you three easy ways to harmonise a lead line when you have two (or more) guitarists available, using examples from some Hybrid Nightmares tracks. All of these concepts can be applied to vocals, keys and bass too.
#1: Parallel Minor 3rds
If you’re after something creepy, or the lead you’re playing is hard to define in terms of keys and scales, here’s an easy one to try – move the entire lick up 3 frets.
This means that every harmony note will be exactly a minor 3rd above the original note, which will give a good mix of consonant (safe, happy) and dissonant (dangerous, weird) notes.
Here’s an example from an upcoming Hybrid Nightmares song, “Ultor”:
It’s pretty quick, but it definitely feels evil!
#2: Diatonic 3rds
If you want a nicer sounding harmony with a lot more consonance, you can instead move up a third through the scale for each note.
For example, if I was in the key of C Major, playing the notes C D E, I could harmonise this by moving a third along the scale and playing E F G.
In other words, move two notes along the scale from the original note, for every note in your harmony.
Notice I’m not saying two frets, but two notes, which means you’ll need to know your scales well to be able to effectively utilise this approach.
What happens s you’ll get a mix of minor 3rd and major 3rd intervals, which will sound a lot more musical than our first approach.
Here’s an example from “Emperor” (note that the rhythm section remains the same across both parts):
The end result is that you harmony is actually making diatonic chords (chords from within the root key) all by simply jumping up the scale a couple of notes.
How easy is that?
#3: Contrary Motion
Sometimes, a straight harmony sounds too basic (or too cheesy).
In these situations, it’s better to actually craft a second guitar part to go with the original.
Try mixing up the motion, so if one melody goes up, have the harmony go down. You can go through note by note and make sure each one underlines the original melody in the way you want it to.
Here’s an example from “The Obelisk” that uses different types of harmonies in each lead break:
For all of these approaches, it’s a lot easier to work out harmonies with another guitarist in the room than it is to do so with recordings or GuitarPro.
Remember to go slow, so you can check each note is harmonising the way you want it to, as once you speed it up it may start to blur a little to your ears.
You can also try singing harmonies before picking up the guitar if you’ve got good ideas in your head – but you may need to do a bit of re-arranging on the fretboard to make it possible to play.
Finally, these three steps are just the beginning. You could try other harmonies (4ths, 5ths and 6ths are worth experimenting with), mixing up the rhythms or even adding additional guitar harmonies to a lead (many of the tracks off our upcoming album had 6-8 leads at any one time, which had to be selectively culled, modified and then expertly mixed to get the right end result, so there’s no limits in harmony land!).
As always, feel free to share any harmonies or questions in the comments, and remember, if you’d like more tips (or just a jam buddy to test out your ideas with), book yourself in for a free evaluation guitar lesson in our Ringwood studio.