Adding notes of standard chords

• Jul 5, 2019 - 22:27

Is there a way to take a simple melody and have Musescore add the notes of standard chords for each note of the melody?
I know nothing of music composition theory, but, by ear, have created a tune to be sung as a lullaby to a children's poem I like.
I started to try to do this manually, adding each note one at a time, but that is very tedious. It would seem that, if Musecore can add the names of the appropriate chords (say for guitar), that it would be able to add chords that match each note of a melody. I could then work withe result to add or delete notes to arrive at a suitable accompaniment for my tune.


There is no "correct chord" for a note in a melody, or "correct chord sequence" for a melody. Many, many possible chords include a given note, even in one key. Even in the same "song", the same melody pattern may be harmonized more than one way. "What chords are appropriate and how do they relate to each other" is the study of "harmony". I would suggest you try to figure out what chords you like with a piano, guitar, or chording instrument, not MuseScore, and when done, try transcribing it with MuseScore and perhaps post it and ask for comment.

Here are five different harmonizations (choices of chords) of the same (very famous) tune:

Programs that attempt to harmonize melodies are certainly not unheard of, but they are usually parts of artificial intelligence research projects, not notation programs, and their quality is highly variable. Last Bach's Birthday (Mar 21), Google posted one as a "doodle" whose output was, in my informed opinion, terrible. Harmonizing a melody is the composer's domain, not the notation program's.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

That is a problem as I do not play any chording instruments, nor do I have any MIDI instruments. What I am looking for is a tool that would add a D chord for each D in the melody, an F# chord for each F#, etc. This would create a score that simply plays the tune in a fuller fashion. From that, I would then edit each individual chord create a sound I am satisfied with.

In reply to by Hexad Tom

In no way is "D major for a D, E major for an E, F# major for an F#" anything like reasonable, common, expectable, or good-sounding harmony. You have to learn about the study of harmony in order to harmonize melodies. Here's an excellent YouTube course by Music Professor (at Eastman) Seth Monahan, cost zero. Start with lesson 1. . There are other YouTube courses, too, and there are books and libraries. The choice and interaction of chords is an art and a science (harmony), not a pushbutton.

I would recommend spending the $50 or $100 it takes to acquire a simple, limited electronic keyboard, you could probably find one second hand for half that or free. It is not reasonable to expect to compose music if you do not play an instrument (yes, even if you are a skilled singer).

You know, there are programs that write entire compositions, too, very complex ones, with no help at all. But if you want to compose your own music, you must learn the tools of composition.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

I did not intend to say it was good harmony. As I said, it simply presents the tune in a fuller sounding manner. It would be in the editing that the harmony would emerge. I know how to do research and tutorials and did some of that to create my tune, but there was a lot of trial & error involved as well.
I had the tune in my mind; I had sung it to my children many years ago. In order to get this mental image translated to a score I needed to add notes and then repeatedly adjust the pitches until it sounded the way I had it in my mind. Doing this on a keyboard and then transferring it to Musescore does not strike me as having a great advantage over doing the same thing directly in Musescore by editing notes and replaying the current line.

In reply to by Hexad Tom

I have more than a little experience (a lifetime) with constructive harmony and counterpoint. If I heard a program that added the chords you suggest in the manner you suggest, I would delete the program and advise others against its use. If you do not (yet) know the difference between good harmony and bad harmony, you are not (yet) in a position to suggest the design of features that automatically supply harmony, any more than I would be in a position to suggest new rules for a sport I do not play or even understand.

I would like to hear other people's answers to this poster.

@Hexad Tom...
You wrote...
I did not intend to say it was good harmony.

You are correct about that ;-)
Have a listen: Chord_add1.mscz
While building a chord (named) for each note will, as you wrote, "present the tune in a fuller sounding manner", it makes little sense regarding chord (harmonic) progression.

Here's a suggestion for a better approach:
Triads can be built on any scale degree then used as a basis for harmonizing. The I - IV -V chord progression depicted is very simple and may be suitable for your lullaby.


In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Sure, but you still must know what chords you want. If you don't know what a minor 7th chord is, or why you might want one, having this feature to realize it for you, even voice it correctly or reasonably in context, isn't going to help you much. And if you do, chances are you don't need this feature (although I suppose it could be useful for the backup of a jazz/pop lead line on a lead sheet).

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

+1 to BSGs approach and attitude to this issue. Please do not think that I mean in any way to denigrate/belittle the OP. However, I am opposed to the concept of software becoming a crutch that keeps one from developing fundamental skills of composition, or keeps one from learning basic music theory.
It would be easy (I would think) to create a software tool that identifies issues like parallel octaves or fifths, but many great composers have figured out how to include such forbidden practices anyway, and in the process expanded the art.

FWIW, while I agree that merely making each melody note into a chord, with the melody as the root, is a terrible idea (the results would be far worse than the melody alone), there are some reasonable heuristics an algorithm could follow to harmonize a melody:

1) start by asking user for the base chord duration (default to one measure)
2) analyze the melody in each duration to determine the "key" note (e.g., assume first note unless there is a long note later)
3) assign diatonic chords assuming scale degrees 1 & 3 get I chord, 2 & 7 get V, 6 gets IV
4) for scale degrees 4 & 5, check the context to decide between IV and V7 for 4, I & V for 5
5) (optional) look at phrase endings (e.g., bars 4, 8, 12, etc), and if you don't end up with any V-I cadences, try splitting a the base duration in half and reapply the above steps to see if that helps

Step 4 is the only part that requires any real musical knowledge, but it need not be anything fancy - could be as simple as looking at the next chord; if it's I, choose V, otherwise don't.

Next level of sophistication could be to do another pass looking for opportunities to substitute iii or vi for I, or ii for IV, if it provides circle-of-fifths resolution to the next chord.

Probably would need additional refinement, but I've done some of this sort of thing before and results can be surprisingly "OK" for simple melodies.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

It is absolutely possible to write algorithms that analyze melodies as deeply as necessary, and try to invent credible harmonies. I remember seeing one such by Kemal Ebcioglu 30+ years ago that did a decent job inventing 4-part harmonies for Bach chorale melodies. He and others have gotten theses out of such things; the purpose of them is to understand and explore learning processes and models and the topology of the subject domain ("neural network"/stochastic learning models have changed some of that). But what on earth would be the point of adding such a feature to a music editor? Emacs many years ago had a feature "Dissociated Press", maybe it still exists, that could compose meaningful-sounding text by patching together pieces of input with compatible ends, but it is a joke -- most people would rather read "real content". What would be the point of adding automatic composition features to a score editor? People who do not know to compose are advised to acquire recordings of works by Beethoven, Duke Ellington, and the Beatles and appreciate their well-composed music. What is the artistic point of sharing credit with a machine composer (disclaimer - I have written and posted compositions on machine-generated bases (e.g., ) as a hypothesis-test of the generation algorithm, but that's the opposite order, the machine getting my help, not vice-versa)). The minute you say "I don't like what it did", its usefulness is ended. There is no avoiding learning about a domain in which you expect results.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

What happens when A, who knows little about harmony, uses the system to "add harmony" to his melody, and says "sounds ok to me!" and then plays "his melody" for B, who is knowledgeable and says "what crazy harmony. That doesn't sound right." and A says, "oh I didn't choose those chords, music editor did.". In what sense is it still A's piece? This is why lead sheets have and require chord specifications. Harmony is not a coat of varnish that you add to a musical painting, but its background content.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

To be clear: I wouldn't propose adding this functionality to MuseScore. But it could be an interesting & useful plugin for some. I have also tried my hand at algorithmic chorale harmonization; that's actually a considerably more complex problem than adding basic diatonic harmony to simple melodies in the manner I describe. Define the problem to be as simple as "choose a diatonic triad to use for each measure" (something Bach of course would never normally have done, but it is very common in the folk/pop guitar world), and it's possible to have useful solutions. Not great, to be sure, and nowhere near as good as what can be done with study, but better than nothing for a certain type of user.

@Hexad Tom... you wrote:
Is there a way to take a simple melody and have Musescore add the notes of standard chords for each note of the melody?

The simple answer is "not yet". ;-)
As you can see, whenever this topic arises, there is always much discussion about how to implement such a feature.

In the meantime...
Check out the "Made with MuseScore" forum where you can post your lullaby and get some pointers/advice to help you along:


In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

The OP wrote:
Is there a way to take a simple melody and have Musescore add the notes of standard chords...?

For a 'simple' melody (children's lullaby) I imagine the OP thinking 'standard' chords to be major, minor, seventh -- i.e. the basic chords of the capo-wielding coffee house troubadour.
A song like "Happy Birthday to You" came to mind, and so I used it as an example: simple melody, simple (standard) chords.
(Simpler, even, than your five different harmonizations of the Bach chorale. Yikes!)

The OP also wrote:
... if Musecore can add the names of the appropriate chords (say for guitar)...

Here's an example of a "lullaby" with a tad more complexity:
Definitely not a 'simple' children's lullaby!

...I advised the OP to post on "Made with MuseScore" - if he dares. ;-)


In reply to by Jm6stringer

What a great campfire song to scare kids! Yeah, Schubert chose his chords pretty well, because the melody and chords were written together. Yes, I'd like to see the OP's melody. (Remember, that melody Bach set in 5 ways was a German "pop song" (Hans Leo Hassler's Mein G'müth ist dir verwirret) before it became Herzlich thut mich Verlangen....)

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

...the melody and chords were written together.

Today, people hear a melody (which they did not themselves compose), notate it, and then wish to add chords. Some quick and simple suggestions to consider are what they desire.

(Hmm.... I don't recall earlier seeing that last sentence regarding Hassler.
Anyhow, it reminds me of Vassily the Balladeer.)
Additional posting to follow... :-)

If you know which key you are currently in, and there is no modulation, some basic chords can be created. But instead of the software (or plugin) doing this for you, you can learn a few basic chord functions and do better yourself.

A harmony can be created for the melody using only basic chords, but without secondary, substitute and alternating chords (in addition: extensions, alterations, etc.) Music does not taste good.

PS: The file I added contains some alternative chord versions (with chord symbols) that I wrote on the first four measurements of a jazz piece. I think this is a good example about the last paragraph. (It would be better to write these chord symbols as musical notes and attach as an mscz file. But right now I could only do that.)

Attachment Size
Night_n_Day_Chords.png 382.14 KB

In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

While I, as a classics-guy with inadequate jazz knowledge find this example extremely interesting and useful (and I love that song and Porter), I think this is a perfect example of what is not meant by "standard chords" for a simple folk-like melody (as I suspect the OP has). At any rate, you, too, suggest learning basic chords and functions as a better way than pressing a button.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

Why does there need to be a purpose "other than amusement"?

Someone with little musical training writes a melody and wants to hear it with some sort of harmony but doesn't necessarily have the time and resources to invest in a study of music theory. What is so wrong about that? And if they are dissatisfied with the results, it gives them impetus - and a starting point - for further study.

Really, it's not much different from saying, what's the point of MuseScore having playback features at all, we should all just learn to play all instruments well enough, hire real orchestras, etc. And indeed, I recall similar complaints when synthesizers and sequencers first came on the scene. While there might be valid reasons for concern about "misuse" of the tool, it doesn't diminish the value of the tool itself.

No one would force you or anyone else to use such a plugin, but I honestly can't understand why someone would be so opposed to its mere existence.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

That is a "straw-person" argument. MuseScore is an instrument, and orchestras (and organs) are "synthesizers". Composing music is something else. I don't think there's such a thing as "misuse", but it evades me why anyone who had composed a tune would settle for an automatically-composed accompaniment, especially if they show the result to someone else. I am not opposed to plugins that produce amusement, but I sure wish the effort were spent giving plugins the ability to access playback features instead.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Actually, I'm not against it, but I have reservations.

Drawbacks on the "automatic chord creation" feature, which is intended to be implemented by plug-in or software:

  1. For the given melody; user may assumes that only these chords are valid.
  2. For the given melody, user may assumes that these chords are correct and created in accordance with the rules.
  3. False predicted chords that may occur on transient tonal changes.
  4. Musical scores with poor quality and wrong chords increases.
  5. Limitation of creativity and mental process.

Why software can't be adept at guessing chords:

a. Although the chords are formed vertically, the harmony works horizontally.
b. Harmony is in an interaction with the previous and subsequent chords.
c. An analysis is needed to determine the interaction. Sometimes this analysis can go up to seven or eight chords (or measures).
d. What is called harmonic-rhythm sometimes occurs regularly and sometimes irregularly; It is not possible for the software (or plug-in) to see this (except for some default patterns that can be placed in the software).
e. The melody sentences (phrases) and cadence periods (points) need to be determined. They can generally to be some basic patterns (such as 2 + 2; 4 + 4, 8 + 8 measures), but they may also occur in many different ways.

These are my thoughts on the subject.

Maybe someone says: "For each note, there are only three chords that it can contain. And we can choose one of them." *1

  1. The given note is the first degree of a chord (root).
  2. The given note is the third degree of a chord (3rd).
  3. The given note is the fifth degree of a chord (5th).

For example:
Suppose we are in "C Major key" and "g" is given:
Possible chords (based on the previous argument) :
1. G Major chord ("g" on the root)
2. E minor chord ("g" on the third)
3. C Major chord ("g" on the fifth)

Of course, someone can create a simple harmony plug-in that uses one of these options randomly*2
But I don't know how successful it is.

*1 (This argument is not entirely true)
*2 (If you don't want this selection to be random, you need to analyze it to create it in accordance with the rules).

In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

Anyone sufficiently informed to know what the issues are with the use of this "for novelty use only" medicament would be sufficiently informed not to drink it. This is a concession to those who believe that understanding of a problem can be short-circuited. This "all-too human" (-FN) failing has grave implications in politics and governance.

Hans Hassler's pop song, "Mein G'müth ist mir verwirret" was a big hit in Germany at the turn of the century - i.e., the late 1500's. The song is a lament over unrequited love.

I believe it launched the career of Vassily the Balladeer when the busker performed it on his first road tour. The itinerant Vassily, traveling from village to village, never had time for formal music training and so relied on his drum and tambourine for accompaniment:

Once, while at a fair, Vassily purchased a second-hand lute to spice up his accompaniment.
"Now, if only someone could suggest a few simple chords to get me started with this song" he muttered.
(BSG rolls eyes, shakes head)

EDIT: Had to re-name attached file

I can see both sides of this. Could we solve the problem by having the system work as follows?

  1. When the user clicks on "generate simple chord accompaniment" a popup appears, and to continue the user has to check a box next to the sentence, "The user of this feature recognizes that there are other solutions, and that excessive uncritical use of this feature will contribute to the narrowing of his/her mind."

  2. The feature will always generate at least two different solutions.

In reply to by MikeN

Thinking on this, I could see there being some value in a stand-alone piece of software that automatically generates harmony as per MikeNs recommendations, for someone whose harmonic skill set lags behind their melodic. But I would not want resources allocated from MSs primary goals to do this. If MS were to concern itself with the knowledge limitations of composers and arrangers, a tool that identifies impossible double-stops for the string section would be more useful to me! (Admittedly the door is already open on this with red note-heads for out-of-range notes.)
Re: BSGs concern about what entity would own the harmony, or at least be owed credit for it: from a copyright perspective my understanding is that while melodies can be copyrighted, harmonies/harmonic progressions and rhythms cannot.
Hopefully I’m not taking the thread too far sideways, if I am then apologies!

In reply to by marty strasinger

My concern about "who would own the harmony" is not a legal one, but a moral/ethical one. If I specify 10 parameters to an automatic composing jukebox, and it composes a totally new song, whose should get moral credit? Can I say, "look at this great song I composed with Johann Wolfgang Ludwig von Jukebachs!"? Doesn't "he" get the credit?

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

That’s an interesting question. My take (and I get that there are legitimate arguments to the contrary) is along the lines of if I turn a new table leg on a lathe, should I give credit to the lathe? I lack the skills to do a decent job without it. Or if I needed special woodworking tools (or a computer driven 3D laser cutter that came with built-in engraving patterns) should I give credit to the hardware store? Obviously not a perfect metaphor... But the concept is we give credit to the composer or carpenter, no matter how sophisticated the tools that were used to create the art.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

Excellent point. My response- have you ever bought a wood burning engraver with free patterns included? No copyright or licensing paperwork included or required. (Admittedly there are some tools that will explicitly require something along those lines, which demonstrates your point.) However if there is no legal grounds for any such, would you still feel an obligation to include a disclaimer that the pattern came from the ACME tool company, when you hang it on your wall? I would not, unless there was some form of licensing or legalities involved.
When I use MuseScore, and allow it to automatically position elements, there is no requirement to give MS any credit such as “melody and rhythm by me, collision avoidance provided by musescore”. I assume it’s the same with Sibelius, Finale, and Lilypond. Is a line crossed if a new feature in MS should automatically generate a harmony, whereby I need to start giving credit to the software? My feeling is no, it’s one of many features of the software that I took advantage of. As long as the MS licensing doesn’t require that I give credit, I don’t think there is a legal or ethical requirement to do it.
On the other hand, if I used a program that did have such a requirement, that would be a different matter.

In reply to by marty strasinger

This is, as I've said, not an issue of licensing, requirement, law or legalities, but conceptual authorship and pride. Musical content is not comparable to score-layout. Suppose it composed counter-melodies. Suppose you said, "I'd like a song in 3/4, in D minor, for soprano, flute, and bass, to these English lyrics, 32 measures" and it generated a totally new song. There is no question that such a program can be written. Probably already has. Are you, who merely pressed the button, or it, the composer? Or are you not open to the legitimacy of the concept of automatic composition or automatic-assisted composition and the blurriness of the boundaries?

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

Again you make some excellent points. But I think you’re moving the bar on me. My arguments have to do with a program that can do some limited harmonization. If you are from the perspective of “Hey Siri, write me an opera” that’s a different matter entirely, and my thoughts would be different. As the progression moves from an AI that can flag out-of-range notes and impossible double-stops to providing a harmony, then a melody, then writing an entire original piece, so our approach to how to properly give credit for the result should also shift. Credit should be given where credit is due, and also in the proportion due.
I hope this doesn’t seem confrontational, I have the utmost respect for your views and appreciate that they make me expand my own thinking.

In reply to by marty strasinger

Thanks. How about figured-bass realizations? Baroque composers didn't feel the need to write out chord notes, but just specify the inversion (and other gestural aspects) as numbers over a bass, yet, figured bass realization is an art and a discipline, not an algorithm. Serious "editions" include figured-bass realizations (the notes having been determined by competent "help"), and they are copyrighted. Who is the "real author" of a figured-bass realization? Some, like many of my own, are quite elaborate and qualify as simple composition (in fact, Bach introduced his students to composition via this path). Where does, or should, credit lie? Where is the boundary between "Siri, write me an opera" and "Siri, make some pretty harmonies to accompany my song!" on the near side of which Siri (or her designers) gets no credit?

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

Thanks for the acknowledgement. Your comments on figured bass make an excellent starting point for continued discussion.
Perhaps to start with, assume that the program writer uses a copyright along the lines of the copyrights that are available when one posts a score on Options range from no credit at all is required, to attribute only, to more restricted uses. As long as one abides by the copyright, you are in the clear both ethically and legally. If honest and reliable people can stay in that framework, lawyers and politicians need not get involved.

In reply to by mike320

I also want to mention songs whose harmonies are even more memorable than their melodies, in classical music, all the "Lamento bass" pieces (Dido's Lament, BWV 232 Crucifixus) or, in pop, Bobby Hebb's unforgettable 1963 Sunny. There are probably examples all over the spectrum of "just how much of the 'composition' is the harmony?", from the opening of the Largo of Dvorak's From the New World to "The blues", wherein (to some level of approximation) "all songs have the same harmony". Or the five settings of Herzlich thut mich Verlangen cited. What "% of the credit" belongs in the harmony of any particular song, whether the "harmony author" is Dvorak, Bach, Bobby Hebb, "D. Blues", MuseScore, or Siri (clearly, it varies)...?

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

First- Again, apologies to the OP for completely hijacking this thread.
Second- More apologies if I seem to be stuck in the Copyright box as the only possible solution. I’m sure there are other avenues, but it will take someone smarter than me to work it out. On the other hand- maybe there isn’t anyone smarter than me, seeing as how the issues that BSG raises are salient after several centuries of failure to resolve them completely.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

And also please take a look at this composition which is to some degree mine: Every single 4-note pattern in the bass (with 2 exceptions) was excerpted from one of 7 Bach compositions (including "scale up" and "scale down"), as were their independent (how likely each) and first-order "chain" probabilities (which should follow which), although a machine threw the dice in that space. I claim to have composed the two obbligati, but almost every riff and gesture I have learned from a lifetime of exposure to and study of repertoire, especially Bach. How exactly do we distribute credit here, or in any work deeply influenced by centuries past?

In reply to by marty strasinger

FWIW, similar issues come up all the time in the jazz/pop world, except, no one considers them issues, it's just how things are.

When someone writes a piece in these genres, it's almost never fully notated (if indeed it is notated at all). Often it's basically just a lead sheet - basic melody, lyrics if appropriate, and chord symbols. Virtually everything about the accompaniment, as well as many details of the melody, are provided by the player. It's like figured bass to the nth degree, where n = the number of instruments, and the players also consider it fair game to reharmonize as they go.

So really, any given performance in these genres is, in some sense, as much the creative work of the players as the nominal composer. And yet, it's completely established and taken for granted that the composer gets the full "credit" for the composition; the contribution of the players is either ignored (normally the case in pop, maybe it goes to the "producer") or acknowledged as kind of a separate entity (the norm in jazz, which is much more about the recognizing the roles of the players).

Not saying this defend or criticize any particular point anyone else is making, just making an observation.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

This is, as you must know, right on target, and bespeaks the extreme fluidity, genre-specificity, and subjectivity of these notions. How about fully-elaborated orchestral/choral movements in which a chorale appears as part of the texture (best example, opening movement of the St Matthew Passion -- there is nothing more complex in Baroque music, yet the contrastive simplicity (read, "innocence") of the chorale interwoven in it is, as it were, the crux of the theological point). One (now deceased, once renowned) visitor to my abode many years ago responded to my putatively original organ chorale preludes by saying "do you have anything fully original"?

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