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Music Theory – Chords, Harmony and Melody Tips

Music Theory, Chords, Harmony and Melody

The importance of rhythm in melody-writing should not be overlooked. Add syncopation to make tunes less predictable, and remember, you don’t have to have melody notes landing right on the first beat of the bar. You could even bring your melody in an eighth-note ahead of the bar for a ‘pushing’ feel (you may want to move the chords/bass forward too). Of course, sometimes a super-simple rhythm is exactly right for the song, so use your judgment!

Having trouble writing a melody? Here’s a trick to bust your writer’s block. Forget about notes for a moment and instead program or record a one-note rhythm that complements the music you’ve already got. Now go through and move each note up or down to create a melody. Repetitive rhythms can work well here – repeating a rhythm using different notes is a classic melody-writing trick.

Inverted chords sound scary, but they’re very easy to use. Inverting a chord just means the order of the notes in the chord is changed. For instance, a ‘normal’ A minor triad chord uses the notes A C E, in that order; the first inversion of A minor would be C, E, A. Same notes, different order! Do this in MIDI by simply moving notes up/down an octave. You can really change the feel of the progression, as well as restrict chords to a certain note range for production purposes.

If you’ve got a neat chord sequence but you’re struggling to find a melody that fits over it, copy your chords to the melody track then ‘solo’ one note for each chord by muting the others with your DAW’s mute tool. Solo different notes and shift them to different octaves until you find a solid basis for a tune.

To jazz up your melodies, decorate them with musical ornaments. Add super-short grace notes at the start of, just before or even in the middle of a longer note. Try trills: quickly alternating pairs of notes. Brief runs at the ends of notes can help to smooth transitions. Pitchbend and vibrato are also useful forms of ornamentation.

So you’ve come up with a killer tune, but you’re not sure where to begin with putting chords to it, or even what key it’s in. No problem! So long as you know how to construct major and minor triads, you can try out all the chords that contain the same main notes as your melody and figure out which work best, then slot them together to create a flowing sequence.

Want to give a section of your song a ‘lift’ or boost in energy? Transpose the whole part up a few semitones – a classic trick that never fails to add excitement and renew the vigour of a tune!

If your knowledge of chords goes no further than basic major and minor triads, you’re really only a small step away from turning them into seventh chords, which can add a cool, sophisticated air to your progressions. Basic minor chords can be turned into minor sevenths by adding a note 10 semitones (that is, a minor seventh interval) above the root note. For major chords, your options for the extra note are 10 semitones above the root (making a dominant seventh chord) and 11 semitones above the root, (making a major seventh chord).

A great way to build atmosphere and tension is to use a pedal tone. This means having one note sustained or repeated while the chords above it change. In this context, you can get away with some quite extreme dissonances that might sound pretty harsh on their own! Pedal notes are usually in the bass, but they don’t have to be. And you could even have a pedal riff, repeating a musical motif under a changing chord sequence.

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