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The guitar and Harmony/Melody Assistant

Laurier Nappert


This article is mainly about the use of guitar accompaniment, chords and the modification of chords on the guitar. It is based on Harmony Assistant (HA), so some aspects will not be possible in Melody Assistant (MA). This article is not about the guitar as a solo instrument, nor about electric guitar. It is mainly about classical and folk guitar. However, this doesn't mean that some of the principles explained here can't be used with other types of guitar. This article is not intended to be the definitive guide to guitar writing in HA. It was made with only this thought in mind: to make it easier for you to add some colour to your music.

Don't hesitate to download all the examples on this page so that you can open them, try them and study how they were made. The 2 pieces at the end are protected. You can open them and study them but you won't be able to save any modifications that you make to them. All the examples given here use the nylon stringed guitar or classical guitar, except "Just a closer walk with Thee" where a 12 stringed guitar is used.

Don't forget that many ideas contained in this text can also be used for other instruments and applied in a variety of ways to enhance your music.

Finally, this document presumes that you have at least some basic knowledge of musical theory and that you have read through the software documentation at least once.



A chord is made up of two or more notes played simultaneously or almost simultaneously.


Playing a chord

If the strings are played simultaneously by all the fingers or strummed very rapidly with a plectrum, we will say that the chord is "plucked". If the notes are played rapidly but not quite simultaneously we will say that the chord is "strummed". The chord can be strummed down from the bass string to the treble string, or up where the strings will be struck in reverse order. If the notes are strummed more slowly we will say that the chord is "arpeggiated" (called "finger picking" in modern music). Arpeggios can take many different forms, the most common being the one used in the example below. The form you will use depends on the effect that you wish to achieve.


Plucked chord


Downward strummed chord


Upward strummed chord


Upward and downward arpeggiated chord





It is relatively easy to play a chord, but it can become boring if it is always the same. It is therefore advantageous to add some colour and variety by using some ornamentation and some variation in the way that the chord is played. One note can be played louder than the rest, some notes can be added to transform the chord into a variation of the original, we can vary the number of strums per bar or vary the length of the notes once they are played (called "pressure time" in HA), strum downward or upward, vary the volume of some notes or of some strums (volume means "velocity" in computer music), etc. All these things are possible with HA. Here is how to do it.


Initial set up for the instrument "guitar" for a staff


If we were to write guitar scores as they are supposed to sound, they would be written somewhere in between the treble and bass clef. But, to make them easier to read, all guitar scores are written on the treble clef. In order to obtain the proper sound for the guitar in HA/MA, we must transpose the instrument one octave lower. Click on the instrument editing icon to the left of the staff. In the window, write "-12" in the "transposition" field (12 semi-tones lower - that is one full octave). Now, when you start writing notes, the pitch will sound correct. The pitch range for a 6 stringed classical guitar is 3 octaves. Some good guitarists can get a few more notes at the top of the pitch range. If going downward, we can only get 1 tone more by tuning the bass E string down to D, but this is only done for those pieces that specifically require it.


Sound of a guitar that is not configured properly, one octave too high


Sound of a guitar that is configured properly, lowered one octave


Note: notes haven't moved in the 2 examples, only the configuration is different



Pitch range for the guitar


How to easily create guitar accompaniments


Above, what we want to create first.

Next, we will modify it to get what follows:




Above, the tools we will use most



If you are going to use a basic pattern that will apply to the whole score with only a few changes here and there, it is best to use the accompaniments grid and to automatically create your chords there, and that is just what we are going to do.  

  1. Create a new C major, 4/4 staff. Keep only the first 5 bars. In the first measure, place a whole note on C, in the next measure another one on F, next on G, then come back to C in the 4th measure and another C in the last one. You should have the same thing as can be seen in the first illustration of this section.
  2. In the "Options" menu, select "Display accompaniments" so you can see the grid.
  3. In the "Play tools" palette, activate the "Accompaniments" button so you can hear them once they have been created.
  4. In the "Options" menu, select "Display chord grid".
  5. Chord names will appear in the grid. It may be that not all the chords' names are right. Make sure they are. In our case, the names are all right since we are only using one note, but it is better to make sure that they stay that way by freezing them as they are. It is better to freeze them because if we add notes to a bar or new staves, the chord name could change and we don't want this to happen.
  6. To freeze a chord name, double click on the chord name. In this window, you can configure the chord if you want.
  7. Tick the checkbox called "User-defined" and close the window. The name will now appear on the chord grid in bold lettering and will be frozen at it's present setting. Do the same for all the other chord names.
  8. Double click in the accompaniment grid to open it's editor panel.
  9. If there is no accompaniment pattern already created, you will have to create one by clicking "New", and that's what we'll do. In the window, give a name to your new pattern and click "OK".
  10. This takes you back to the previous window. Make sure the new pattern name is there, highlight it and then click on "Edit".
  11. Under the "Source" tab, make sure that "The chord grid" is selected. The one-measure-long pattern you will now create will use the chord grid names, that you froze earlier, to automatically generate all the chords for the whole score.
  12. Click on the "Signs" tab. In this window, click on "Based on the model:". You will then have the possibility of choosing from the existing patterns to the right. You can modify them ("Modify" button), or create your own pattern if you find none to suit your needs ("New" button).
  13. We will create our own by clicking "New". In this window, we give the pattern a name. Closing this window will make another one appear, and it will look very similar to your score window. Configure the guitar as we did before (transposition = -12).
  14. Now, let's create an accompaniment pattern that will suit our needs by placing the notes that make up a C major chord. C major is always the reference chord regardless of what key your score may be in. Use the number of notes that you want: 2, 3 4, 5 or 6. Usually, 4 notes gives good results and that's what we will use here. You can test the result straight away, as you normally do in your score window, by playing the selection and modifying it if necessary.
  15. The pattern to be created is as follows: 4/4 time signature in the key of C major. In the measure, write your C chords (C-E-G-C). The notes to use are the following: the first chord is made up of quarter notes, the next 6 chords are of eighth notes, which will fill our 4 beat bar.
  16. Make sure there is only one bar in this page if your pattern is a simple one bar pattern. If there are 2 (or more) bars but only one with notes in, the empty bar will be played too and your pattern will only be played every other measure. Later you might experiment with more complex patterns that consist of 2 or more measures.
  17. Close all the windows to get back to the first one called "Select accompaniment". In this one, indicate from which bar to which bar the pattern will apply, in our case from 1 to 5.

There you are, you have just created an automatic guitar accompaniment for your score. Close all the windows to get back to the score window. Play your new music and enjoy. Listen to the example below, yours should sound identical.






How to add colour to the accompaniment you just created


The accompaniment sounds very mechanical and uniform, made of plucked chords. We will "humanize" them a bit. We will convert them to upward and downward strummed chords. They will also be louder going down and quieter going up to reproduce the way that they would be played on a real guitar. We will also reduce the length of time that the first chord sounds (pressure time), as if we were damping down the sound soon after having produced it, as we might when playing a real guitar.

  1. Come back to the window in which you created your pattern (double click in the accompaniment line, edit, modify).
  2. We will only keep the chord of quarter notes and the first 2 chords of eighth notes, so you can delete all the other notes.
  3. We will now apply the desired effects to the 2 sets of eighth notes. Afterwards, we will copy and paste them into the bar to fill it. By doing so we won't have to repeat all the steps for every chord and it will make sure that all the notes will have the same effects applied to them.
  4. Double click on the E in the first chord of eighth notes. In this window make sure that you are working under the "General" tab. Two red lines cross like a target over the E note. To the right there is a slider called "note delay (256th of a whole)". Slide it to the right till it reaches "3". This means that even though this note is right above the C and would be played at the same time, it will now be played 3/256 of a whole note later, just as a plectrum would do as it strums the strings one after another.
  5. Don't close this window yet, we will repeat this on the other notes of the same chord.
  6. Click on the G, the red cross moves to it. Move the same slider to the right again, but this time up to 6. This note will be played 6/256th of a whole note after the C and 3/256th after the E.
  7. Do the same to the high C, this time by giving it a delay of 9.
  8. We will now apply the same effect on the second chord of eighth notes, so don't close that window yet. Click on the high C in the second short chord.
  9. This time, we will apply 2 effects on this chord: the notes will be strummed as before but in the opposite direction, as if the plectrum was returning back across the strings. But as it usually doesn't sound as loud as when going down, we will apply a setting to reproduce that effect too.
  10. This time the high C is the first note to be played, so there won't be any delay applied to it. But since it is not played as loud as when going down, we must adjust the volume setting of the note. Under the slider that you just used, there is another one called "Velocity", which means the volume at which the note is played. The norm is 64. We will reduce this by moving the slider to the left till it reaches 40.
  11. Now click on the G note below to move the red cross to it. This is the second note to be played while going up. This time we will adjust both delay and velocity. Give it a delay of 3 and a velocity of 40.
  12. Continue on down to the E with a delay of 6 and a velocity of 40, and next on to the low C to which you will give a delay of 9 and a velocity of 40.
  13. All of our eighth notes are now configured as we want them to sound: the notes will be played slightly detached from one another to give the effect of a plectrum moving across the strings. The volume will be louder going down to mark the beat. Now we will select the 2 eighth note chords which we just modified, we will copy them and paste them next to the original chords enough times to fill the rest of the bar. You can check what you just did by playing your sequence. Doesn't it sound more realistic than before?
  14. We will now make 2 modifications to our quarter note chord. We will muffle the sound by shortening the total duration that we will hear the notes played without shortening the length of the note itself, it will remain a quarter note but it won't sound for as long as a quarter note. We will also add a delay to these notes as we did before.
  15. Double click on the low C in the quarter note chord. In the same window that you used before, we will leave the delay as it is, at 0, since it is the first note to be played, but we will use the slider called "Pressure time" (duration of the sound) to muffle the note. Move the slider to the left from 100 to 50. 100 means 100% of the duration of the note. At 50, the sound will only last 50% of the length of the note.
  16. Go to the E as you did previously setting the pressure time to 50 and the delay at 3. On to the G with a pressure time of 50 and a delay of 6. Finally set the high C with a pressure time of 50 and a delay of 9. Check you work by playing the sequence.

Sometimes, you must make a modification to a pattern because it doesn't apply to a particular bar. Such is the case here with our last measure. We don't want to hear all the beats as in the previous measures. If you play your score you will undoubtedly agree that it is not very appropriate, so we will modify it.

  1. To the left of the accompaniment grid, there is a small green triangle pointing to the right. Click on it to open the menu and choose "Transfer accompaniments". This will create a new staff on which you will find all the chords that were generated automatically as you created them.
  2. If you think you won't need to return to editing the accompaniments you could choose "empty array" in the same menu. Whatever you do, you will at least have to turn off the speaker of the grid to avoid having the chords of the grid being played at the same time as those on the staff you just created.
  3. All that is left to do is to modify the one bar that causes trouble. We will transform the 5th measure into one containing only whole notes strumming downward.
  4. In the 5th measure select all the eighth note chords and remove them keeping only the quarter note chord. These notes are already set to strum down, the only problem with them is that they don't last long enough. We will correct this.
  5. Select the quarter note chord in the 5th measure.
  6. Click on the note duration tool in the action palette.
  7. In this window, make sure that "Set all durations to:" is selected.
  8. In the right frame, you will find a list of all the possible note durations. Click on the downward-pointing arrow until you find the whole note symbol and click OK. Your measure now contains one whole note chord.

There you are, you can now listen to the final result. Nice, right? If you followed every step, you should hear the following.

This may seem a long process, but it is much easier and faster to do than it is to explain! Now it's up to you to experiment with your own settings. If the settings that we used are not to your taste, the delays too short or too long for instance, just apply your own.





Breaking up the monotony in an automatically generated sequence


First, you'll have to transfer your accompaniment to a staff, as we did earlier, so that you can modify the bars individually. Then you can make some modifications here and there to break up the monotony of a mechanical sounding accompaniment. In order not to loose the effects that you applied before, I suggest that you copy and paste since the addition of new notes may require setting them up again.

For example, you can transform a quarter note chord into an eighth note chord using the note duration tool as you did before. First, change your quarter note chord into an eighth note chord. Then copy the chord and paste it until you have a bar containing 8 chords of eighth notes with all the effects added.




This is a flamenco technique that consists of gliding the nail of each finger over the strings one after the other in a very fast movement. What we learned about the delay is used here once again to obtain this effect, the only difference being that the notes will have a shorter duration, usually sixteenth notes played in 3:2 tuplets for example. The notes are usually played down, very rarely up. In fact, rasguedo is a variation of what we have already seen. In the following example, the only effect used is the delay applied to notes of short duration to simulate the very fast strumming of the nail of each finger gliding over the strings.



Example of a rasguedo pattern


Emphasizing a note in an arpeggio


Again, this is done by using something that we have already learned. The notes of an arpeggio, being played one after another, all have the same intensity or volume or, as we say, the same velocity. Arpeggio are often used as an accompaniment and, very often, one of these notes will form part of the melody. This one note must be emphasized in order for the melody to be recognized as such, otherwise it will be just one note lost among the others. Double click on the note to bring up the editing window. What we need to do is increase the velocity of that note; for instance going from the normal velocity of 64 to, let's say, 80. In the piece that follows, I used 3 staves: one for the note of the arpeggio that plays the role of the melody, one for the notes that play the bass and a third one for the "fill in notes". I globally increased the velocity of the melody staff rather than doing it note by note (heard slightly to the right), and since the bass is also important in this piece, though a little less important than the melody, I also globally increased the velocity of this staff to a lesser degree than the melody (heard slightly to the left), and I left the fill in notes as they were (heard in the centre). Then I merged the staves. The melody is emphasized, the bass is slightly emphasized and the fill in notes do just that, fill in the gap that would otherwise exist between the other 2.



Example of a piece written in arpeggios with
emphasis on the notes playing the role of the melody.


Adding notes in a chord


If we add a note to a chord, the chord will then take another name being a variation of the original chord. This can add colour to a piece. See the examples in the piece below.




A very brief note about harmonics in classical guitar playing. Harmonics are a way to add a very characteristic colour to a piece. A whole piece could be played in this fashion, but it is usually used very sparingly, only a few notes here and there, sometimes as an ending to a piece. The harmonics are produced by touching the string very lightly just above a fret while plucking that string lightly as well. This can be done more or less anywhere along the neck, but in very precise places. The effect that we get is a very high note, but weak in volume (velocity). It is a little like having a 4th octave available on the neck. Below is an example, the last 2 bars taken from a study in arpeggios by Tarrega. The piece is played twice, and the second time it ends with harmonics.



One more trick


I am a great fan of the 12 stringed guitar, but this sound is hard to replicate in HA/MA. Here is what I do to get a good 12 stringed guitar sound. The idea behind such a guitar is as follows: we take a regular 6 stringed guitar but we double all the strings. These strings are tuned to the same note as the one it sits beside but one octave higher except for the first 2 strings which are tuned at the same pitch. I use the folk guitar for which I write the notes. I create a new staff and paste to it a copy of what I wrote on the first staff and configure it the same way I did for the other one except that I transpose the whole staff one octave higher and then I merge the 2 staves. In this way the sound I get is exactly what a real 12 stringed guitar would sound like.




In the piece that follows, the guitar and the banjo have been created as explained above with the addition of ornamentations that we discussed earlier in this article. Since the banjo and the guitar share the same musical line, all I did to create it was to copy and paste the original guitar score and configure it as a banjo. The 12 stringed guitar was created as explained before.

I would like to draw your attention to the following bars in order to study the particular ornamentation they contain. The measures made up of quarter notes are strummed downward with a delay applied to the notes. The measures containing eighth notes were created on a second accompaniment grid by copying the quarter notes pattern with the proper modifications already contained in them and then transformed into eighth notes. The last 3 quarter notes of measure 8 are made up into a kind of "downward chord march". Measure 15 of the banjo contains a tuplet "stepping down" set of notes instead of the 4th quarter note chord. This could also have been done in the guitar part. Measures 25, 26 and 27 contain added notes which modify the name of the base chord, notes which bring in a subtle but different colour. This is also used elsewhere in the piece and helps, in a subtle way, to avoid the accompaniment sounding mechanical. This is particularly useful when the global volume of the tune is a little lower or for parts that are less "lively". They are not so useful when the other instrument are playing loudly as it is likely that they will not be heard. Measures 53, 54 and 56 contain another example of adding notes to a chord.

Pressure time used for the banjo is 33%. This is because the notes were sounding much longer than they would on a real banjo.

Finally, please note that the beginning, with quarter note chords changing slowly to eighth note chords, helps to create a sort of crescendo. The use of a mixture of quarter and eighth notes also helps to avoid the monotony that might otherwise occur.


Here is a piece representative of all that we have seen




Here is a bar that could be used as the last bar. You can't see the staff, but just by listening to it, could you recreate it? It hasn't been generated automatically and only contains stuff that we have seen in this article. One clue: it is an "A" based chord. If you can't do it, save the document to your disk, open it and see how it was done. Good luck!



As a complement


I invite you to read the documentation that comes with your program, in particular the parts that deals with tablatures and chord diagrams. There are other places in the documentation that deals with them as well, that is why it is good to read it all at least once.

You can also save the following document to your disk which contains some 70 guitar accompaniment models that I prepared. They can be adapted, modified, do whatever you want to with them. The archive is about 180Ko.

Click here to download the Macintosh version to your disk.

Click here to download the PC version to your disk.


The author


The author has a classical guitar training. He has different types of guitars: 12 stringed guitar, folk guitar and classical guitar, but no electric guitar.


By Laurier Nappert
Québec, November 2001
English translation: February 2002

A very special thank you goes to the proof readers Earl Wuchter of Pennsylvania USA and Esmeralda Weatherwax of the United Kingdom. Esmeralda also supplied the English version of the screen capture of the tools used.

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