A Guide to Harmony and Composition on the Piano

This page is a detailed guide to all of the harmony and composition videos I’ve created for PianoTV. Here, you’ll find topics ranging from pop music improvisation, to understanding key changes and transposing.

Harmony and composition are both huge topics, and I intend on expanding this page greatly in the future, as our piano studies become more complex. Be sure to check back for updates, but in the meantime, check out the current harmony and composition videos!

Harmony Basics

This video talks about two key concepts in music – harmony and melody. Melody is the main “tune” of the song, or the part you sing. The harmony is what gives depth to the melody, to give it texture and depth.

In this video, we’ll talk about some of the basics when it comes to adding harmony to your lovely melody. We mainly discuss intervals (like 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, etc.) as a means of adding harmony.

Even if you’re not a songwriter, it’s fun stuff to know!

The “Devil in Music”, or more properly known as the tritone, is a particularly harsh-sounding interval. This video was made as part of a Halloween series. It talks about the tone that was actually outlawed in the Middle Ages, and why.

The short answer: Cadences are the punctuation of music. They tell our ears when a section is over, and a new one is about to begin.

In this video, we talk about the most common types of cadences that you’ll come across in music. This is useful to know when you’re studying composition and harmony, whether or not you’re interested in songwriting yourself.

Composition Basics

If you’ve ever wondered why sometimes the note stems go up, and sometimes the note stems go down, this is the video for you. It’s a simple but important aspect of songwriting and music notation.

Appoggiaturas are one of many “melody tricks”. It’s a little turn at the end of a melodic phrase that adds a little suspense. For a musical example and tutorial, check out Mozart’s Minuet in F (Grade 1).

There are many, many more melody tweaks like appoggiaturas, and you’ll see them abundantly in Classical music (and even modern pop music). They’re good to know even if you’re just a music fan, not a music writer.

Pentatonic scales are a really important tool to have in your songwriting/jamming toolbox. In the video below this, we’ll apply your knowledge of pentatonic scales into a songwriting example, but first you’ve got to learn how they work.

Luckily, since “penta” means “5”, it’s an easy enough scale to learn, since it only has 5 notes.

Now that you’ve learned how to play a pentatonic scale (see above video), it’s time to translate that into songwriting.

In this video, we use the pentatonic scale as an easy basis for discussing key concepts involved in songwriting, such as chord choices and changes, and creating a compelling melody.

For this video, I wrote the piece used as the example, which you can download for study.

Harmony and Composition: Transposing and Key Changes

This is a fun video that details different types of key changes you might hear, and 12 examples of those key changes in pop music. In this video, I play the key changes on the keyboard so you can hear them in detail.

If you’re a composer who’s never used a key change, this video might inspire you to do so!

Transposing is the art of taking a piece, written in a particular key, and shifting the notes to a different key.

So say your piece is in C major, but you need to play it in G major. This video will show you how to do that.

I find transposing really useful as a singer. For example, if I’m learning a piece that’s out of my range, I just transpose the piece to a more singable range.

It’s also a useful skill if you play in bands or do any jamming. Sometimes, if your guitarist is playing with a capo, or if they use unusual tunings, you’ll need to be able to adjust to that.

Harmony and Composition Inspiration

In this rather silly (but completely true) video, we talk about cat-loving composers throughout history, and how exactly their cats inspired them. Some cats created melodies for their human friends, and others served as constant companions.

Mother Nature is a great pool of inspiration, and composers have been inspired by nature probably forever.

Some composers have written about nature, some have imitated the sounds of nature, and others have merely enjoyed time outdoors – which, in turn, fuels their writing process.

Conclusion

This discussion on harmony and composition is far from complete – there is much, much more to discuss. I’m very excited to do so in future videos, so stay tuned!