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Thread: how to determine chords from a melody?

  1. #1
    dwest2419
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    how to determine chords from a melody?

    Hi guys back with another thread. From my previous thread called:"How to Memorize at Hearing Intervals" I learned a lot about how the intervals their names and how songs are created using intervals, and determine to if a interval is minor second or major second, minor third in a song. Now that I have accomplished that - the thing now is how do I determine where chords come into play. For instance, if you take the Happy Birthday tune I learned the melody to it but where do chords come in at? And that is what I'm asking how to determine chords from a melody? How to determine a chord in a song even when there is a major second in a melody or is it more to it than just having a major second interval in a song? And does it take more intervals to make a song. Its just what I'm asking.

  2. #2
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419 View Post
    Hi guys back with another thread. From my previous thread called:"How to Memorize at Hearing Intervals" I learned a lot about how the intervals their names and how songs are created using intervals, and determine to if a interval is minor second or major second, minor third in a song. Now that I have accomplished that - the thing now is how do I determine where chords come into play. For instance, if you take the Happy Birthday tune I learned the melody to it but where do chords come in at? And that is what I'm asking how to determine chords from a melody? How to determine a chord in a song even when there is a major second in a melody or is it more to it than just having a major second interval in a song? And does it take more intervals to make a song. Its just what I'm asking.
    Answered in the other thread, but not fully (and I mean no harm, but really?) Speaking of which, you read my reply in two seconds after I posted it? You are a fast learner!

    All kidding aside, again, study tunes, Chords can come in whenever they want to be honest. For instance, though the first chord could come in on the G in melody (most likely the chord will be a V7 (G7) or I could play a G7 at the very end where the melody note is C. It wouldn't make a lick of sense, but I'm allowed to do that. However, knowing how most sets of ears (not just mine) interpret and examine sounds, I know they like to be catered to; therefore, I will play the chords when and where it's appropriate.

    Without digressing, I will say to go with what sounds good! For you, it seems as if your tunes or ones you listen to should be mainly diatonic. (This means chords within the key).

    Practically every tune that's just I-IV-V though I'm sure that'll bore you quickly. How about ii-iii-vi? I-iv-ii-V? I-IV-V-I, etc. Strings of three or four chords in a progression is probably what you need to stick with, right now.

    As for yourquestion about determining chords when the melody note is a passing (neighboring) tone? Essentially, as a beginner, you would not change the chord's name.

    If I had this as my melody: E-D-C-B-C, I could play just a C major triad under the entire string; therefore, coming across to chord tones (C and E) and two passing tones (B and D; yes, I realize B and D are extensions M7/9, but they can be treated as passing tones, too)

    As for your last question, it is preferable, but you don't even need harmony of any kind of have a song - a single note melody will do just fine. Of course, knowing the many factors that arise when starting to write one. The least amount of harmony would consist of an interval though, yes.

  3. #3
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419 View Post
    Hi guys back with another thread. From my previous thread called:"How to Memorize at Hearing Intervals" I learned a lot about how the intervals their names and how songs are created using intervals, and determine to if a interval is minor second or major second, minor third in a song. Now that I have accomplished that - the thing now is how do I determine where chords come into play. For instance, if you take the Happy Birthday tune I learned the melody to it but where do chords come in at? And that is what I'm asking how to determine chords from a melody? How to determine a chord in a song even when there is a major second in a melody or is it more to it than just having a major second interval in a song? And does it take more intervals to make a song. Its just what I'm asking.
    It's not about the intervals as such, but the main notes in each phrase of the melody.
    Normally, the strong notes in the tune - those on the beats, and/or the longest notes, particularly the final notes of phrases - will be contained in the chords. Notes on weak beats, or shorter notes, may not be.

    It's possible to harmonise every single note in a tune with a different chord (this is how classical harmony works, although it begins with simple tunes). But for most tunes, certainly in popular music, this would sound far too busy (let alone harder to play!), so chords tend to last for a measure or so, and will contain most (but not all) the notes in the melody.

    Taking Happy Birthday (in C) as an example, we can start with the last note of each phrase:
    Happy birthday to YOU (B)
    Happy birthday to YOU (C)
    Happy birthday dear [d-WEST] (A)
    Happy birthday to YOU (C)

    "[d-WEST]" allows 2 syllables for the name; the last syllable is the significant one.

    So the question is, which chords (in key of C) contain those notes?
    B is in G and Em
    C is in C, Am and F
    A is in F, Am and Dm

    A good tip is to go with the prime chords to begin with - the majors I, IV and V. (Only bring the minors in when the majors don't seem to sound right.)
    For the two C's, we should probably go with a C chord as first choice. (We could try F if we don't like the sound of C.)

    So that leaves us with:
    Code:
                       |G
    Happy |birthday to |YOU
                       |C
    Happy |birthday to |YOU 
                        |F
    Happy birthday dear |[d-west]
                      |C
    Happy birthday to |YOU
    Now, how about the chords for the first parts of the lines?

    Here are the notes for the whole tune:

    Code:
     g  g  |  a    g  c  |b
    Hap-py |birth-day to |YOU
    
     g  g  |  a    g  d  |c
    Hap-py |birth-day to |YOU
    
     g  g  | g     e   c   | b  a
    Hap-py |birth-day dear |[d-west]
    
     f  f  |e     c   d  |c
    Hap-py |birth-day to |YOU
    You'll see that one of the first things you need to know (after the notes!) is what the time sig is, and where the barlines fall; where "beat 1" is. This is essential for deciding where to place your chords. This song is normally played in 3/4 time, and the syllable "birth-" is on beat 1.

    The first 2 Gs are a "pick-up", or "anacrusis", which means weak notes before the first downbeat. The chord here is not too important, and we could play either the key chord (C) or G. (Playing a G chord to start with can help people tune in with the first note they need to sing.)

    With the first full bar, the notes are A-G-C. These are not all contained in one single chord (remember we're working with plain triads to begin with). Of the 3 major chords, A and C are in F, and G and C are in C. So we could pick either. F might seem favourite because A is a strong note. (In 3/4 time, each of these notes is the same length, so there is no guide there. The tune can be played in 4/4 time, where the G would be longer, making it more important than A.)
    But an important tip is to always start with the key chord if it fits. In this case, you'll probably find it sounds better to begin with a C chord, even though the A note is not in it. Technically the A would be known as an "appoggiatura" or "leaning note", because it resolves down to a chord tone (G). This is a very common effect, so won't sound "wrong".

    Another important tip is: don't change chord until the melody really demands it. (Too many chords will be distracting, taking our attention away from the tune. With a lot of rock songs, you can hold one chord for several bars.)
    So, in this case, because the 2nd line starts the same way as the first, we could use the same chords. But we already have the 2nd line ending on C. The best (simplest) thing here is to keep the G chord from the end of the first line, all the way through until we go back to C at the end of the line.

    Likewise, the 3rd line starts with a C major arpeggio - so the obvious answer there is stay with the C chord, all the way to the name at the end.
    The name begins with a B note, which is not in the F chord. It's optional what you do here. The B note can be another "appoggiatura" - in this case it sounds dissonant against the F, but that can be an attractive sound, as it resolves down to A quickly. Or you can choose a quick chord to harmonise the B, which means G (unless we bring Em in). All these options are worth trying, and there is no one "correct" answer.

    For the 4th line, as before we can begin with the chord the 3rd line ended on (F), because the first notes are F. The notes E-C then indicate a C chord; the D note means a G chord; and finally we end on the key chord, C.

    So altogether we get this:

    Code:
    (G?)    C             G
     g  g  |a*     g   c  |b
    Hap-py |birth-day  to |YOU
    
    (G)     G              C
     g  g  |a*     g   d  |c
    Hap-py |birth-day  to |YOU
    
    (C)     C                F
     g  g  |g      e    c   | b* a
    Hap-py |birth-day  dear |[d-west]
    
    (F)     C          G   C 
     f  f  |e     c    d  |c
    Hap-py |birth-day  to |YOU
    * = accented non-chord tones.

    That's about the simplest solution, and will work fine.
    There are of course many other ways of doing it, making the chords more interesting. It just depends how "interesting" you want the chords to be. For the usual kind of performance of this tune, the simpler the better: people just want to wish someone a happy birthday, they don't want to listen to you showing off your fancy harmonising skills!
    Generally, the better the melody, or the more interesting the lyrics, the simpler and more direct the chords should be (IMO). Chords are like a suit of clothes: nobody looks good over-dressed, although they'll usually look better in some smart tailoring.

  4. #4
    dwest2419
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    I like how you broke the "happy birthday" tune down bit by bit. You cause me to think. About how songs are made up and that it starts with a time signature. But how to figure out a time signature for the song you will like to make?

  5. #5
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419 View Post
    I like how you broke the "happy birthday" tune down bit by bit. You cause me to think. About how songs are made up and that it starts with a time signature. But how to figure out a time signature for the song you will like to make?
    Then, we get into rhythm.

    Say some phrases and then line them up within time.

    Interesting, enough The Empire Carpet commercial sings numbers (the phone number)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwJQQux0TF0.

    Eight-hundred, five-eight-eight, two-three hundred: EMPIRE!

    The first phrase (three syllables) sound like eighth notes: Eight (Ab) Hun (G) dred (Gb)

    Same for the second phrase: Five (F) Eight (Ab) Eight (Db)

    The third phrase isn't so nice. Two (F) Three (F) Hun (F) dred (Eb). Here, the rhythm for "Hundred" is an eighth note in total, the value here is two sixteenths.

    Now, due to it being a syncopated rhythm, I can't quite line this up on paper; however, if it were straight beats, you get this: An eighth note would be beamed to two sixteenths. After this, you'd get a brief rest, before two eighth notes come back n on "EMPIRE!"

    (If JonR could "chart" this out (whether I'm right or wrong, I'd appreciate it)

    Anyway, that is how you determine the TS. You must determine the rhythm. To do this: get a feel for the pulse.

  6. #6
    dwest2419
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    For a 4/4 time signature So for each beat, does or should the melody have to fall on each beat and or should the melody always equal up to every four beats?

  7. #7
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419 View Post
    For a 4/4 time signature So for each beat, does or should the melody have to fall on each beat and or should the melody always equal up to every four beats?
    No. The rule for a TS is (in terms of how a measure is filled):

    No matter what you put in it, all of it must add up to what is in the numerator.

    Now, having said this, there are exceptions:

    Take the TS, 5/4. Most music, fills in a measure with four beats, but there's one extra beat in 5/4. When this is seen (as in Desmond's "Take Five" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBkH4aydwhY (Start @ 1:53.)

    You'll hear the ride do a "One-Two-Three / Four-Five" pattern (so, will everyone else, but varied) {Three Quarter notes in measure one; two quarter notes in measure two)

    As you can hear, it's much more stylized and harmonized, but the rhythm is there. (Gets more complex and different during the breaks, but when the 5/4 comes back you'll know)

    Of course, if you'd like the much lesser styling where the 5/4 is quite apparent http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmDDOFXSgAs

    The are more complicated TSs (which you find in heavy metal/rock), but I doubt you wanna venture into extremely odd meters just yet.

    Just a note regarding 5/4 and other complex Time sigs: You may see the numerator like this:

    Using 5/4 as an example: 3 + 2/4 = One bar if three beats and one bar of two beats. Take Five has this exactly rhythm.
    Last edited by Color of Music; 01-29-2013 at 05:15 AM.

  8. #8
    dwest2419
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    Thank you for your response for I understand. And I know this like the same question, but Could or should a melody note start on the one beat? And for that melody note can a chord be played? That's all I'm asking here!

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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419 View Post
    And I know this like the same question, but Could or should a melody note start on the one beat?
    These sorts of questions are why we're always emphasizing you need to make actually listening to and internalizing some SONGS a higher priority!

    Can a melody start on the one? Should a melody start on the one? Why don't you turn on the radio, listen to some songs for a while and see what you observe?
    Last edited by walternewton; 01-11-2013 at 03:30 AM.

  10. #10
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419 View Post
    Thank you for your response for I understand. And I know this like the same question, but Could or should a melody note start on the one beat? And for that melody note can a chord be played? That's all I'm asking here!
    No. Remember, Happy Birthday and America the Beautiful? There is a pickup bar before the harmony starts.

    The first chord in Happy Birthday isn't played until the "birth" syllable on Birthday (although you can play a chord on "Happy")

    Likewise, the first chord in America The Beautiful isn't played until the first syllable of "Beautiful." As above, you can however, play a chord on the pick up measure. (In this case, it would be on the lyric "O")

    For both songs, if it is desired to play a chord, the chord will most likely be a V7 or functioning substitute preceeding the I chord which starts the tune:

    [O (G7)] Beau - ti -ful (C chord on "Beau")

    [Hap - py (C7)] birth- day (F). Actually, when heard, two chords will probably be played over Birth-day: Bb and F. If so, you then have a V7-IV-I "lead-in."

    [Hap -py (C7)] Birth (Bb) - day (F)

    EDIT: I'm also with Walter on this one!!
    Last edited by Color of Music; 01-11-2013 at 03:06 AM.

  11. #11
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419 View Post
    Thank you for your response for I understand. And I know this like the same question, but Could or should a melody note start on the one beat? And for that melody note can a chord be played? That's all I'm asking here!
    Like walter says: you will get the answer to this question (and to most of the others you ask) by (a) listening to songs (lots of them), and (b) looking at songbooks.

  12. #12
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Take a look at this: (I hope you can read music well enough. If you can't: LEARN! )

    The point here is not that Happy Birthday has to be arranged like this (notice the arranger is credited top left).
    The point is:
    You know how this tune sounds. And this is how it looks notated.

    The more tunes you can study in this way - listening first, looking at music second (or vice versa) - the more you will understand about:
    (a) how musical sounds are written down (metre and rhythm as well as pitch);
    (b) the common ways in which songs are put together. Not only in composition (melody, chords, line lengths, verse/chorus structure, etc), but in arrangement, if included in the sheet music (how a specific accompaniment is written, is there an intro, how are the chords voiced?)

    Eg, in the above song, the melody - top line - is the only fixed thing. This piano arrangement happens to use the same chords I listed - plus a couple of 7ths - but (although these are the standard, most common chords) other chords would be possible.
    He has done other things: added a 4-bar introduction which uses the last line of the melody (so that we know what tune is coming and what key it's in); and done something different with the chords second time through (bottom line) - breaking them into arpeggios, for variety; he's not changing the chords, just making the bass part more interesting. (He didn't have to; he just thought it would be a good idea.)
    (This is only the first page btw. Hopefully you get the idea...)
    Last edited by JonR; 01-11-2013 at 07:10 PM.

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    First of all try to figure out the key of the piece. Usually the last note will be the tonic. For example if the song is in C the last note will be C. Once you figure that out, try and work out what are the notes on the first and third beats of the bar, These are usually chordal notes. That is, notes that belong to the chord of the bar. So, say the song is in C major. In bar 2 on betas one and three you have a G and a note B. One possible chord to play in that bar is chord G as chord G contains notes G and B. This is very simplified but I hope it helps to explain.

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