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Thread: What chords would you use for this melody?

  1. #1
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    What chords would you use for this melody?

    What chords would you use for this melody and why those chords? BPM is 128
    Melody1.PNG

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    Bar 1: F or Dm7 - because all 3 melody notes are contained in both those chords

    Bar 2: More debatable. The chord tones are all contained in an Fmaj9 chord (or Dm11), but it may better to havea new chord in this bar, or perhaps two chords. All the following choices could work in this bar:
    (i) Am7
    (ii) Fmaj7
    (iii) Am - C
    (iv) Dm - Am
    ...various permutations of those. With most of those, the F on beat 3 would be a non-chord tone, resolving to chord tone E.

    Bar 3: Am.

    Bar 4: G.

    Those last two bars are easy, because the melody is arpeggios of those triads. You could make it more interesting by adding a different bass note. E.g., Fmaj7 (Am/F) in bar 3, and/or Em7 (G/E) in bar 4. The advantage of Em7 in bar 4 is that the melody of bar 4 is the same as bar 1 a whole step up. So if the chord is also a whole step up, that's a little boring (if the sequnce repeats, as I guess it would). You'd get G dropping to F, the same as the melody does, which is dull.

    The next thing to to consider is how the chord choices work as a 4-bar sequence. So although bars 1-2-3 could all take the same chord (Fmaj7 or Dm7), and bars 2-3 could both take Am, it would probably work best as a different chord in each bar.
    In that case, to keep it simple, I'd probably go for F-Dm-Am-G. Everything is then chord tones, apart from the G and E in bar 2.
    But bar 2 still suggests two chords to me, and for me it would then be a choice between the following options:
    (i) |F - |Dm C |Am - |G - |
    (ii) |Dm7 - |F C |Am - |Em7 - |
    (iii) |F - |Am C |Am Dm7 |G - |
    (or some combination)

    The decision process amounts to:
    1. Do I want all my main melody notes (if possible) to be triad chord tones? They will sound more "inside", more "fitting" that way. (Passing notes on weak beats don't have to be chord tones, btw, although that will normally sound OK only if they move by scale step.) Or:
    2. Do I want some to be 7ths or chord extensions, which are more expressive?
    3. Do I want to keep the harmony simple, with minimal changes, or do I want something richer, more jazzy?
    Of course, these are intellectual questions, which are only answered in the end by hearing how they sound. I might think simple is best, but then find it sounds to boring. I might think fancy/complex is best, but then find it sounds too busy.
    Lastly - although I think a melody should rule - I might consider changing a melody if the chords started started suggesting something better.
    Last edited by Jon68; 10-15-2017 at 02:03 PM.

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    You explained your answer very well. I got this melody from Calvin Harris - Outside but I transposed it to C major. I was curious to see what chords someone else would of used, you selected the same chords the song uses. Bar 2 they use Dm.

    When you said "Passing notes on weak beats don't have to be chord tones" what do you mean by that? Is this a note not belonging to the harmony but interposed to secure a smooth transition from one chord to another placed on the second or 4th beat?

    You said you might consider changing a melody if the chords suggest something better, can you provide an example with this melody and these chords?

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    Thanks! I like the first version you presented better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by IIIVIP View Post
    When you said "Passing notes on weak beats don't have to be chord tones" what do you mean by that? Is this a note not belonging to the harmony but interposed to secure a smooth transition from one chord to another placed on the second or 4th beat?
    From one chord tone to another. So (with given chords and a flexible melody) - in your example - instead of the first two C's you could have C-B going down to the A. B is a non-chord tone passing note. No need to harmonize it because (a) it's between the beats and (b) it's quick.

    But looking at it the other way - starting with a fixed melody and adding chords - you can disregard the G in the second bar as a "neighbour tone": the A notes either side are obviously the significant ones. So the chord you choose needs to have an A in it, but not necessarily a G.
    The issue of the F and E in that bar is more interesting. The F is a short note, but it's on a strong beat. The E is on a weak beat, but it is the final note of the phrase. Final notes of phrases are more important than the strong beats when choosing a chord.
    In this case, you could get round the issue by choosing either Fmaj7 or Dm9, which each contain both notes. But you could also choose Am (based on the initial A notes and the E), leaving the F as a dissonant non-chord tone resolving down to the E chord tone. It's often a useful effect to accent a non-chord tone in this way, but it does usually have to resolve to the nearest chord tone.
    Quote Originally Posted by IIIVIP View Post
    You said you might consider changing a melody if the chords suggest something better, can you provide an example with this melody and these chords?
    Well, that all depends on what chords you like the sound of.
    I don't particularly like this tune myself - its stiff arpeggios and the clunky repetitive rhythm. IOW, I wouldn't write a tune like this in the first place! So the issue of changing it to fit the chords wouldn't arise. And if I was given this melody to harmonize, I would consider it fixed, whether I liked it or not, and - if I thought it dull - I would try to use the harmony to make it more interesting.

    So, that opening F major arpeggio, could be harmonized by Dm7, Bbmaj9 or G9sus4 - so the melody becomes more chord extensions than chord tones, which makes it more expressive, less pedestrian. From Bbmaj9, the second bar could be split Gm9-C7, the F note being a sus4 resolving to the 3rd of C7. This harmony is now implying key of F major, and bar 3 happens to fit Fmaj7 perfectly (although the E is maybe a little low). Bar 4 - with its B natural - is obviously upsetting this F major scenario, but I could get round that by using Cmaj9 (so the melody is 9-7-5-7), and that will then descend neatly to the Bbmaj9 I started with. Chords don't always have to belong to the same key!

    If I was permitted to alter the melody ... I wouldn't start from chords. I'd take the melody alone and try and make it more singable. Those jumps down an octave from E to E and then back up to A feel clumsy and pointless, as well as tricky to sing. Easily solved by just keeping the 2nd E at the same octave - nice to hold the same note across a barline as a chord changes. I also find that repeated rhythm on beat "3-and" in every bar annoying (too cute), so I'd get rid of those - except for the F-E one in bar 2, which is OK, especially after the jump up from A - that's a distinctive hook, so I might keep that.
    IOW, there are two rules about melody (IMO): singability, and memorable hooks. And absence of irritation! (Repetitive rhythms count as hooks, but they can become earworms, which are bad hooks.)
    Last edited by Jon68; 10-17-2017 at 09:35 AM.

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    But looking at it the other way - starting with a fixed melody and adding chords - you can disregard the G in the second bar as a "neighbour tone": the A notes either side are obviously the significant ones. So the chord you choose needs to have an A in it, but not necessarily a G.
    The issue of the F and E in that bar is more interesting. The F is a short note, but it's on a strong beat. The E is on a weak beat, but it is the final note of the phrase. Final notes of phrases are more important than the strong beats when choosing a chord.
    In this case, you could get round the issue by choosing either Fmaj7 or Dm9, which each contain both notes. But you could also choose Am (based on the initial A notes and the E), leaving the F as a dissonant non-chord tone resolving down to the E chord tone. It's often a useful effect to accent a non-chord tone in this way, but it does usually have to resolve to the nearest chord tone.
    Well, that all depends on what chords you like the sound of.
    I don't particularly like this tune myself - its stiff arpeggios and the clunky repetitive rhythm. IOW, I wouldn't write a tune like this in the first place! So the issue of changing it to fit the chords wouldn't arise. And if I was given this melody to harmonize, I would consider it fixed, whether I liked it or not, and - if I thought it dull - I would try to use the harmony to make it more interesting.

    So, that opening F major arpeggio, could be harmonized by Dm7, Bbmaj9 or G9sus4 - so the melody becomes more chord extensions than chord tones, which makes it more expressive, less pedestrian. From Bbmaj9, the second bar could be split Gm9-C7, the F note being a sus4 resolving to the 3rd of C7. This harmony is now implying key of F major, and bar 3 happens to fit Fmaj7 perfectly (although the E is maybe a little low). Bar 4 - with its B natural - is obviously upsetting this F major scenario, but I could get round that by using Cmaj9 (so the melody is 9-7-5-7), and that will then descend neatly to the Bbmaj9 I started with. Chords don't always have to belong to the same key!

    If I was permitted to alter the melody ... I wouldn't start from chords. I'd take the melody alone and try and make it more singable. Those jumps down an octave from E to E and then back up to A feel clumsy and pointless, as well as tricky to sing. Easily solved by just keeping the 2nd E at the same octave - nice to hold the same note across a barline as a chord changes. I also find that repeated rhythm on beat "3-and" in every bar annoying (too cute), so I'd get rid of those - except for the F-E one in bar 2, which is OK, especially after the jump up from A - that's a distinctive hook, so I might keep that.
    IOW, there are two rules about melody (IMO): singability, and memorable hooks. And absence of irritation! (Repetitive rhythms count as hooks, but they can become earworms, which are bad hooks.)[/QUOTE]

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon68 View Post
    From one chord tone to another. So (with given chords and a flexible melody) - in your example - instead of the first two C's you could have C-B going down to the A. B is a non-chord tone passing note. No need to harmonize it because (a) it's between the beats and (b) it's quick.

    But looking at it the other way - starting with a fixed melody and adding chords - you can disregard the G in the second bar as a "neighbour tone": the A notes either side are obviously the significant ones. So the chord you choose needs to have an A in it, but not necessarily a G.
    The issue of the F and E in that bar is more interesting. The F is a short note, but it's on a strong beat. The E is on a weak beat, but it is the final note of the phrase. Final notes of phrases are more important than the strong beats when choosing a chord.
    In this case, you could get round the issue by choosing either Fmaj7 or Dm9, which each contain both notes. But you could also choose Am (based on the initial A notes and the E), leaving the F as a dissonant non-chord tone resolving down to the E chord tone. It's often a useful effect to accent a non-chord tone in this way, but it does usually have to resolve to the nearest chord tone.
    Well, that all depends on what chords you like the sound of.
    I don't particularly like this tune myself - its stiff arpeggios and the clunky repetitive rhythm. IOW, I wouldn't write a tune like this in the first place! So the issue of changing it to fit the chords wouldn't arise. And if I was given this melody to harmonize, I would consider it fixed, whether I liked it or not, and - if I thought it dull - I would try to use the harmony to make it more interesting.

    So, that opening F major arpeggio, could be harmonized by Dm7, Bbmaj9 or G9sus4 - so the melody becomes more chord extensions than chord tones, which makes it more expressive, less pedestrian. From Bbmaj9, the second bar could be split Gm9-C7, the F note being a sus4 resolving to the 3rd of C7. This harmony is now implying key of F major, and bar 3 happens to fit Fmaj7 perfectly (although the E is maybe a little low). Bar 4 - with its B natural - is obviously upsetting this F major scenario, but I could get round that by using Cmaj9 (so the melody is 9-7-5-7), and that will then descend neatly to the Bbmaj9 I started with. Chords don't always have to belong to the same key!

    If I was permitted to alter the melody ... I wouldn't start from chords. I'd take the melody alone and try and make it more singable. Those jumps down an octave from E to E and then back up to A feel clumsy and pointless, as well as tricky to sing. Easily solved by just keeping the 2nd E at the same octave - nice to hold the same note across a barline as a chord changes. I also find that repeated rhythm on beat "3-and" in every bar annoying (too cute), so I'd get rid of those - except for the F-E one in bar 2, which is OK, especially after the jump up from A - that's a distinctive hook, so I might keep that.
    IOW, there are two rules about melody (IMO): singability, and memorable hooks. And absence of irritation! (Repetitive rhythms count as hooks, but they can become earworms, which are bad hooks.)
    Great explanation, you demonstrated other chords that fit this melody, the original composer chose the simpler obvious choice you initially suggested.

    You suggested we can use a Bbmaj9 for the first bar, you said "Chords don't always have to belong to the same key!" So in this case the note (A#/Bb) is not in the key of C Major, does this mean you can use all the other notes of the chord except the root note? (DFAC bot not A#) I believe this is called a "Borrowed Chord". With borrowed chords you can use only the notes that fit your scale?

    On the fourth bar, you suggest Cmaj9 and it will descend neatly to the Bbmaj9 you started with. You state it descends neatly because the notes are close to each other? Change in smaller intervals = better descending?

    In my opinion the ,melody would be hard to sing since it has large leaps, if you listen to the song you will notice this melody is not sung, it is played by a guitar sounding instrument at the beginning. If I would of created this melody I wouldn't of liked it, however since I have heard it many times in an actual song I now like it, this was a top ten biggest hits song when it was released. It comes to show you sometimes you have to let a melody grow on you so you can like it.

    A few things you showed me I did not know

    1. Final notes of phrases are more important than the strong beats when choosing a chord.
    2. Chords don't always have to belong to the same key!

    Any more tips or tricks you would like to share?

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    Quote Originally Posted by IIIVIP View Post
    Great explanation, you demonstrated other chords that fit this melody, the original composer chose the simpler obvious choice you initially suggested.

    You suggested we can use a Bbmaj9 for the first bar, you said "Chords don't always have to belong to the same key!" So in this case the note (A#/Bb) is not in the key of C Major
    No, but at that point there are only 3 notes, C A F -the key hasn't been established yet - and those three can belong to the keys of F and Bb as well as C major.
    IOW - for the sake of argument or exploration! - I'm ignoring the rest of the tune, and thinking about what chords might contain those 3 notes. Other than the obvious F major of course. (The F major chord also belongs to all those three keys.)
    Quote Originally Posted by IIIVIP View Post
    , does this mean you can use all the other notes of the chord except the root note? (DFAC bot not A#) I believe this is called a "Borrowed Chord". With borrowed chords you can use only the notes that fit your scale?
    That seems confusingly worded.
    The idea of borrowed chords is that you can use chords from any scale or mode with the same keynote as yours. So - if we say the key is C major - we can also use chords from any other C-root mode. Bb is a common choice, coming from C mixolydian, dorian and aeolian.
    The limitation is: will it harmonize your melody at that point (if you have a melody)? In this case, yes it does.
    Quote Originally Posted by IIIVIP View Post
    On the fourth bar, you suggest Cmaj9 and it will descend neatly to the Bbmaj9 you started with. You state it descends neatly because the notes are close to each other? Change in smaller intervals = better descending?
    There's a handy jazz theory which states that any chord may be followed by any other of the same type. E.g., a maj7 chord can be followed by any other maj7 chord.
    In this case, it helps that many of the chord tones are shared by one scale (F major), and the chords are a tone apart. We often hear plain major chords a tone apart (IV and V in a major key), so the ear accepts this move, even though the B natural in Cmaj7 subverts it a little.

    When you have two 7th chords (or 9ths, even better) descending by whole step, remember not everything has to descend by whole step! (This would be against classical harmony rules anyway!) So while C goes down to Bb, you could have the E in the C chord going up to F, or the G going up to the A in Bbmaj7. The D in Cmaj9 could hang on as the 3rd of Bbmaj9. There's all kinds of interesting "voice-leading" possibilities with such changes.
    Quote Originally Posted by IIIVIP View Post
    In my opinion the ,melody would be hard to sing since it has large leaps, if you listen to the song you will notice this melody is not sung, it is played by a guitar sounding instrument at the beginning. If I would of created this melody I wouldn't of liked it, however since I have heard it many times in an actual song I now like it, this was a top ten biggest hits song when it was released. It comes to show you sometimes you have to let a melody grow on you so you can like it.
    Sure. It does sound like a melody composed on an instrument, perhaps even a synth arpeggiator.
    I just follow the old rule that a melody should be "singable", even when played by an instrument. Mozart said that (his word was "cantabile"), and - while I'm no fan of Mozart - he knew a thing or two about melody .
    I believe that all melody relates back to the human voice. That's how we relate to melody, by singing it in our heads as we listen.
    I would like to hear the original though, if you can post a youtube link. (If it was a big hit, I must have heard it, but I don't recognise it.)
    Quote Originally Posted by IIIVIP View Post
    1. Final notes of phrases are more important than the strong beats when choosing a chord.
    2. Chords don't always have to belong to the same key!

    Any more tips or tricks you would like to share?
    Other than making a melody singable? ...

    The main mechanism governing chord changes is "voice-leading".

    Treat a chord sequence as if it's sung by a choir, one person for each note. Then imagine the choir is very lazy - or maybe not very skilled - and they really don't want to move up and down the scale too much. Ideally they want to sing the same note as one chord moves to the next. Second choice would be to move up or down a half-step (and down is preferable, if there's a choice). 3rd choice is to move up or down a whole step. Whatever chords you have, there is never any need for a voice to move any further than that.
    The bass voice is the least lazy of all - he is OK with jumping up or down now and then, even if he really likes to just descend a scale when he can - this will mean using chord "inversions". (The melody too can obviously be freer to move in all kinds of ways - it's only those two (or maybe three) middle voices that are really lazy.)

    That doesn't mean you can't move by bigger steps when you want. But it's worth trying to follow this "lazy choir" rule when stringing chords together. It easily allows chords from outside the key, especially where you want to break a whole step move into two half-steps, or perhaps insert an extra note where the chord tones seem to need to jump a 3rd up or down (they never really need to do that, but it may help with moves before or after if they do).

    In short the voice-leading rule is:
    1. keep notes the same where you can (shared tones between chords);
    2. Move other chord tones by scale step only (up or down);
    3. Use chromatics freely (ignore diatonic scale "rules")

    There are other rules about classical counterpoint you can freely ignore, such as "avoid parallel octaves or 5ths". Nobody cares these days, and sometimes you want that effect. (Heavy rock is basically built on parallel 5ths!)
    Last edited by Jon68; 10-22-2017 at 02:56 PM.

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