Adding Color To Your Music

So you've got a chord progression and melody together for the first verse of your newest song, but something keeps nagging at you in the back of your head.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0

So you've got a chord progression and melody together for the first verse of your newest song, but something keeps nagging at you in the back of your head.

You've heard this combination used a hundred times before and it just seems bland! You're accompanying chord progression and vocal melody doesn't really seem to justify all the depth and work you put into writing the lyrics. It's almost as if the lyrics are a vibrant and colorful extension of yourself, but the accompanying music/melody is a separate beingfloating in a colorless world. Well, in this article I will discuss 1 of the many compositional techniques to help unify your lyrics, accompanying music, and melody all in a very unique and musically colorful way.

First let's introduce your chord progression and melody (just imagine some of your best lyrics there as well).

There is nothing wrong with this melody/progression, but like I mentioned earlierit's a bit bland and over used. So, to begin adding a little color in our music we must isolate each section and then decide how to best add color. Let's start with the Melody.

In the example above, you can see that as we change from the D Major chord to the E Minor chord, we sit on the root note (or 1) for quite a while. Well, if we want to make this more unique and add color, we should change this pitch to something other than the root. We have many different options, but for this example let's change the melody a bit by first adding in a 9 before we go to the root note in each chord. The example below will explain what I mean.

As you play/sing through this example, you'll hear that the 9 on the D Major chord adds a little bit of color/dissonance, but the 9 on the E Minor chord sounds very cool and adds quite a bit more color! This is because the 9 in an E Minor chord is F# and it rubs against the 3rd of the chord G, which are only a half-step (or 1 fret) away from each other.

Alright, so you like the sound of this, but want to take it one step further. Well, that means its now time to mess with the Chord Progression a little bit. So, we first will make the decision that our two chords should also contain a 9 in them. Not only that, but we should also choose a style we want this song to be in. This is because 9s in chords can be found in many different genres ranging from Rock to Classical. So for right now lets just say the lyrics would best be accompanied by a Latin Jazz Chord Progression.

If you are familiar with Latin Jazz then great! You will have a chord vocabulary to pull from; however, what if you are not familiar with Latin Jazz? Well then, I recommend consulting a book of chords (can be bought in any guitar shop or found online) that deal specifically with the genre of music you want to write your chord progression in. Fortunately for both you and I, I'm semi-experienced in Latin Jazz, so I've chosen the D 6/9 chord (D F# B E) and E Minor 9 chord (E G D F#) as the 2 chords we are going to alternate between in this verse. Here is our new Melody + Chord Progression together (played with a standard Latin rhythm feelwon't be whole notes ringing out).

If it's a bit difficult for you to play/sing this and really know what I'm talking about when I say so and so added color, then you can listen to me play and sing this example here. All you have to do is enter a valid e-mail address and you will instantly be sent a link where you can listen to this example.

I think it's safe to say that our new melody and chord progression are now much more colorful and unique than our original one. However, it's not so far removed that it's impossible to see how one evolved from the other.

This now ends the article, but I would like to invite all of you to take this new found knowledge and practically apply it in your music. In fact, I'm holding a Songwriting Contest right now (Ends April 3rd, 2009!) and you should enter in it here! It specifically deals with harmonizing a melody and you have absolutely nothing to loose (but many great prizes to win)!

So, I hope to see/hear all of your submissions soon! Like always, keep composing fellow artists.

Copyright 2009 Kole (Kyle Hicks). All rights reserved.

Kole just finished filming for the 2009 feature film FAME as the Lead Guitarist, has over 10 years of experience performing, teaching, and composing with credits from Indiana University & Musicians Institute, and is currently working on many new musical and instructional products.

If you have any questions for Kole or would just like to know more about him and his work, you can visit his main site @ KoleMusician.com. (I answer all e-mail!)

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Colohue
    It's fairly short and the images aren't particularly clear, but the subject matter is an important one. The links here are more for offering aid than anything else. I judge your article well Kole.
    Kole*
    Hello everyone, I just became aware of how hard the examples are to read (was displaying correctly earlier on my computer), so I've sent more legible examples in to the Site updaters. So the new examples should be up shortly. Sorry about that and thanks for your patience! -Kole P.S. Don't forget to check out the Songwriting Contest I'm holding as well! (Link near bottom of article)
    trypsin wrote: Avast tells me that this link http://www.kolemusician.com/damailinglis... is a Trojan.
    Hmm...not sure why your getting a message that it is a Trojan, but I can guarantee it is not. It simply links to a page where you can fill out your name/e-mail and receive a link to the audio example.
    bigbunny
    Good article for the most part, except for the pictures, but your already on that. Perhaps you could write a part two? Like substituting chords in common progressions (I ii V instead of I IV V)kinda stuff.
    decayingdave
    This is a bit too obvious to be credible on it's own, but when you get to the end you see it's little more than a way to advertise his songwriting contest. That's a good idea, no doubt - and even though this is a good article it isn't all that useful to me. Still, each to their own! Good Work.
    Kole*
    bigbunny wrote: Good article for the most part, except for the pictures, but your already on that. Perhaps you could write a part two? Like substituting chords in common progressions (I ii V instead of I IV V)kinda stuff.
    Sure, I'm working on some new articles that deal with this topic as I'm typing this. So I will greatly consider Chord Substitutions as my next topic. Thanks and glad you enjoyed the article.
    ZeGuitarist wrote: These images are a lot more readable, thanks...
    You're welcome and thanks to the U-G staff on fixing it so quickly! -Kole
    demoniacfashion
    Well what about mnemonic? I hardly think the m is necessary. The article is pretty good besides the concept being a little obvious.
    uduman
    MealsOnWheels7 wrote: Two chords in a progression...
    Bahahaha, I was just thinking that... but then again, the main verse riff of "About a Girl" by Nirvana is only an E open and a G open, fairly simple, but with Kurt's rhythm and voice, it sounds great, you know?