Creating Context for a Melody

  • Key Signature – for our harps right now, we can either work in C major or A minor
  • Time Signature – 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, or 9/8
  • Form – compose the “A” section of a 2 part song form (A-B)
  • Number of measures – we often work in sections of 8 or 16 measures. This is not a requirement but could be a useful place to start.
  • Harmony – triads! Suggested review of Lesson 1 in the “Harp Composition Toolbox”

Common Time Signatures in Irish Lever Harp Music

Listening examples can be found in the Listening Resources section for this unit.

  • Air: 4/4 or 3/4 Example: Londonderry Aire, Star of the County Down
  • Jig: 6/8 Example: The Road to Lisdoonvarna
  • Slip Jig: 9/8 Example: The Butterfly
  • Reel: 4/4 Example: Planxty George Brabazon

Harmonizing a Melody

We can create a harmonic foundation for a melody by identifying important melody notes that could be supported by a chord. These notes might be places of rest in the melody or perhaps the highest note of a melodic passage going upwards (or the lowest note of a melodic passage going down). To harmonize a given note of a melody, think of it as being part of a triad. It could be the root of the triad, the 3rd, or the 5th creating three possible options for chords to go with the melody note.

For example, if your melody note is C, you could use a C major chord where the melody note is the root of the chord. You could also use an A minor chord where the melody note is the 3rd of the chord. Or you could use an F major chord where the melody note is the 5th of the chord.


Create a longer melodic contour drawing for the melody of an “A” section. If you plan to record your melody, you can make this drawing on a blank sheet of paper. If you plan to transcribe your melody, you can make your melodic contour drawing above the staff on music staff paper. If you would like to continue with one of the melodies you composed from the last assignment, you can start with that melodic contour shape and then expand from there.

Once you have created your drawing, compose a melody that follows the contour. Begin by selecting which tonality you would like to work with: C Major or A minor. Include different types of melodic motion; stepwise motion, leaps, and places with repeated notes. If you would like to place your melody in a time signature, be sure that it is between 8-16 measures long. You may also compose your melody without a time signature in which case aim for your melody having about four phrases. One phrase would be a similar length to the short melodic phrases you composed for the last assignment.