#1
I've never learned much music theory before and I've been trying to figure this out for a while. I'm writing songs and the chords in, for example, one of my songs fits into a neat and tidy key/scale (eg the key of G major or the G major scale)

The problem is writing riffs over it. Shouldn't any notes on the G major scale on the fretboard sound good being played over any chord as long as that chord fits into the G major scale? How come some of my notes sound terrible going with some of my chords even if everything is still in the G major key/scale?

I used to write riffs by using the the notes of a chord amongst various formations on the fretboard, eg if the chord in the song is a G I'd play notes from the G major chord being played anywhere on the guitar. That worked fine but I know I can be more flexible when writing riffs, but I don't know why some notes work and some don't.

Any help would be much appreciated, thanks!
#2
Chord tones always work. But if you spend a lot of time on a non-chord tone, it will sound dissonant. Non-chord tones are good, but you should emphasize chord tones (or do whatever you want, there's nothing you must do - if it sounds good, it is good, but chord tones will always work).

I would just use my ears and write what I hear. It's hard to come up with something that sounds good by accident.

Maybe come up with the rhythm first and then add some notes to it.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#3
Quote by MaggaraMarine

I would just use my ears and write what I hear. It's hard to come up with something that sounds good by accident.

This. Most of the good stuff I've composed has been written this way.

For example in the piano piece in my signature, I basically just played notes by ear. I didn't consider harmony or anything, I just played notes that sounded good to me and wrote them down.

Then again it all depends what kind of a piece you're writing. If you're writing a full orchestral score, of course it's more important to be aware of the harmony so that all the instruments go together well (and the voice leading is good).

But usually I write my melodies completely by ear and mostly only use theory for the harmonization.

But like Maggara said, chord tones will generally work in the melody. Other tones like neighbour/passing tones, etc, add interest.
#4
Thanks! I'm guessing chord tones are basically using notes that match up with the chord being played? (Eg if I'm playing a G major during one part of the song I'd play notes for the melody from G major chord formations up and down the fretboard)

I'm assuming as well from what I understand, I can use notes from the entire scale for the lead melodies regardless of the chord (as long as it fits the key), but that it won't always sound good?

I guess I'll try more to use my ears and come up with what I think sounds good regardless. Thank you!
Last edited by athght33 at Apr 27, 2015,
#5
Quote by athght33
Thanks! I'm guessing chord tones are basically using notes that match up with the chord being played? (Eg if I'm playing a G major during one part of the song I'd play notes for the melody from G major chord formations up and down the fretboard)

I'm assuming as well from what I understand, I can use notes from the entire scale for the lead melodies regardless of the chord (as long as it fits the key), but that it won't always sound good?

I guess I'll try more to use my ears and come up with what I think sounds good regardless. Thank you!

Yeah, chord tones for Gmaj would be G, B and D. For Gmaj7 you would add F#.

And yes you can, but your melody will be more or less limited by the chords. This is one of the reasons it is often better to write the melody first and then harmonize it with chords.
#6
Ah okay thanks!

I'll try improvising some more and coming up with some melodies first rather than the other way around. Thank you!
Last edited by athght33 at Apr 28, 2015,
#7
^ I would say do what works for you. Some people get inspired by the way a chord progression sounds like and start singing a melody over the chords. Other people come up with the melody first. Some people come up with the lyrics first. It's about what works for you.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#8
In a major key, you've got the 7 scale pitches, and hence 5 chromatic pitches (12 pitches in an octave).

If you stick with the scale pitches, then you'll get clashing happening when a scale pitch is a semitone above a pitch in a chord you're using. E.g. in G major, C played against B. This effect can be reduced by placing the clash (C) on the off-beat, or playing it for less duration. It can be made more clashy by holdinhg the note (C), or playing it on the on-beat, or jumping to it from more than a tone away.

Increasing the clash increases the expectation that the next pitch will be a pitch in the chord of the moment. Up to you if you satisfy the expectation ("resolve (C) to the expected pitch (B here)). Or play the clash early (C) then change the chord (from G to C) to also remove the clash.

cheers, Jerry
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Apr 28, 2015,
#9
Quote by athght33
I've never learned much music theory before and I've been trying to figure this out for a while. I'm writing songs and the chords in, for example, one of my songs fits into a neat and tidy key/scale (eg the key of G major or the G major scale)

The problem is writing riffs over it. Shouldn't any notes on the G major scale on the fretboard sound good being played over any chord as long as that chord fits into the G major scale? How come some of my notes sound terrible going with some of my chords even if everything is still in the G major key/scale?

I used to write riffs by using the the notes of a chord amongst various formations on the fretboard, eg if the chord in the song is a G I'd play notes from the G major chord being played anywhere on the guitar. That worked fine but I know I can be more flexible when writing riffs, but I don't know why some notes work and some don't.

Any help would be much appreciated, thanks!


You have to decide what sounds you want to hear based on the sound itself. Then, you use your knowledge of what every degree of the key sounds like, and what chord it is, whether it is diatonic or not, etcetera, to be able to know where those sounds you are thinking of are.

Any note can sound good with the right context. Music isn't about finding the notes that "work", any more than poetry is about finding words that can make grammatically correct sentences.

The specific thing you say matters, the phrasing you are using matters. Theory doesn't teach you how to write stuff. It teaches where what you want to write is.

That said, you can't go wrong with chord tones, and usually the key scale would be good, on a diatonic progression.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Apr 28, 2015,
#10
Quote by MaggaraMarine
^ I would say do what works for you. Some people get inspired by the way a chord progression sounds like and start singing a melody over the chords. Other people come up with the melody first. Some people come up with the lyrics first. It's about what works for you.

Yeah, this is true. I didn't mean starting with the melody is the only or "correct" way. Experiment and do whatever works the best for you.
#11
You have to be mindful of intervals. For example, if in a measure the rhythm guitar is playing the root note and the lead is playing a melody that uses a lot of the second scale degree, it's going to sound crappy. That's because you're playing an interval of a major second, which is an extremely dissonant sound, even though the two notes are technically both in the key.

As someone mentioned above, you can't go wrong with chord tones. Thirds and fifths almost always sound nice.
#12
I usually sing it first, then play it, then write it down.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#13
Learn to understand intervals. Some intervals, like tritones and minor seconds are always going to sound dissonant, and you probably want to use the sparingly. Others, like 5ths and Major 3rds are going to sound pleasing to the ear. If you were playing a G chord in G major for example:

G scale: G A B C D E F#
G Chord: G B D

The root(G), third (B) and fifth(D) are all going to sound good because they're part of the chord. The fourth(C) might sound odd because it creates a minor second with the B note in the chord. The seventh(F#) would also sound dissonant because it creates a minor secind with the G. The A and E would probably sound fine, but the G B and D will always be the least dissonant.

Remember that dissonance is okay, and is necessary to keep a song interesting, as is straying out of the key.