#1
I've been writing melodies and matching up chords to accompany them in an attempt to actually get something close to a song written (writing a melody to one of my chord progressions proves to be impossible at this point). I started by matching up diatonic chords to the melody, and moving on to other diatonic chords where the melody note isn't the root of the chord. I learned how to apply secondary dominants which really helped spice everything up, but you can only use them so much before they wear thin on the ears. I've tried borrowing from the relative major/minor but this feels very random and devoid of any meaning, like I don't yet understand how to effectively use this device. The same goes for 7th and extended chords (except the V7 chord, but you could probably guess that from the fact that I was using secondary dominants). I've also been practicing couterpoint, but am not yet good enough to use this to any great effect. So I guess my question, or questions rather...
1. How do you effectively use things like 7th (outside of the very basic uses) and borrowed chords?
2. When deciding on a chord, how do you deal with melody notes that are outside the key and on stressed beats? And lastly,
3. What are some other musical devices I could use to spice up the chord progressions underneath my melodies?
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#2
Look, I've never believed that there was a 'correct' way to write music, but there's definitely something funky going on here.

In terms of extensions there are multiple ways you can think about them:
1. Functionally; a very small part of CST, but basically avoid notes exist sometimes to remove a b9, and to preserve the function of a chord. So that a minor sound doesn't get confused for dominant sound etc.

2. You can think of them as embellishments to triads or to 7ths especially when it's part of the melody.

3. Or you can think of them as colour, or as 'one object'.

For question 2, I can't answer that because I don't arbitrarily pick chords. For question 3, go analyse a lot of songs and you'll know.
#3
it seems your doing it the hardest way possible...at least in my experience..

yes you can "hunt and peck" as some would do with typing and form a chord that MAY sound like it fits because your following "diatonic rules" .. in reality many songs are made from several keys or parts thereof..so doing a V of V type device while "diatonically" correct may not be the best choice at all..

study some of the masters in chord melody to see how they developed harmony to align with melodic lines..Joe Pass,, Ted Greene and others..start with standards that you know or even simple tunes..Greene has some Christmas carols that are easy to harmonize..and you can see how he develops a simple melody using basic triads and then extends it using four note triad chords and then into seventh chords.. I think he does this with "greensleeves" anyway check his site..

a study of harmony is not that difficult if you really want to develop your song writing skills..more than likely spending one year in this type of study will move you many miles from where you are now
play well

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Last edited by wolflen at Dec 25, 2015,
#4
Usually when I write chords for a melody, I just listen. What chords do I want to hear behind it?

It's good to know certain common practices like "this chord is usually followed by this chord". But you'll learn those by listening to music. Look at what your favorite artists do. Following some rules in a book is not going to work, unless you know how it works in practice. So yeah, listen to music and analyze it. How do other people use chords? If you find a cool chord progression, figure out what's happening in it.

Voice leading may also help.
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#5
I'm of the opinion that if you write music like it's an exercise in music theory, it's not likely to be very interesting.

Given that the focus of songwriting is to express an emotion and cause an emotional response from listeners, that's a very hard thing to quantify and capture in a forumulaic way. It's best done by feel where you let the symbiotic relationships between melody, chord structure, phrasing, dynamics, theme and song structure lead you through the composition process. It's done as much by intuition as it is by knowledge.
#6
1. Do you know how extending chords works, like understanding 7ths chords of the major scale? Do you know which ones extend to major 7s, minor 7s and dominant 7s.

Also like dunedindragon suggests dont be afraid to go off instinct. If it sounds good use it.

2. This would generally lead to the need to make the chromatic note come to resolution to a chord tone, like making the sus2 or 4 resolve to major or minor. Or keep it outside the key, might be far more interesting.

3. Have you tried functional harmony, which substitutes Root, Fourth and Fifth chord of the scale for ones that perform the same "function". You will find two of the notes in each of the chords you can swap in are the same as the chord you are taking out.

Root Chord - try substituting the 3rd or 6th chord in the scale.
Four Chord - try substituting it for the 2nd chord in the scale
Five Chord - try substitute it for the 7th chord in the scale.

In G major for example:

Root Chord (G) = try substitute B minor or E minor
Four Chord (C) = try substitute for A minor
Five Chord (D) = try substitute for F# half dim (F# minor 7 b5)
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#7
Just dick around with it. Eventually you'll start seeing how its done. If you want to try to think of things in numerals as you write, go ahead. Who's gonna stop you, the music police?
#8
Quote by FlavorOfSound
I've been writing melodies and matching up chords to accompany them in an attempt to actually get something close to a song written (writing a melody to one of my chord progressions proves to be impossible at this point).
You should be able to do that by just humming or singing along to the chords - whatever notes seem to fit. Plenty of choices that would all work.
Quote by FlavorOfSound

I started by matching up diatonic chords to the melody, and moving on to other diatonic chords where the melody note isn't the root of the chord.
??? You do know that melody notes don't have to be the root of the chord??
The root is actually the least interesting chord tone. The 3rd and 5th have more character, and you can (and should) use non-chord tones in melodies too.
Quote by FlavorOfSound

I learned how to apply secondary dominants which really helped spice everything up, but you can only use them so much before they wear thin on the ears.
Right. Too many secondary dominants and it ends up sounding like.... jazz!!!
Quote by FlavorOfSound

I've tried borrowing from the relative major/minor but this feels very random and devoid of any meaning, like I don't yet understand how to effectively use this device.
Well, if you don't like it, don't do it. Sometimes those chords are just the sound you want. That's when you would choose them.
Quote by FlavorOfSound

The same goes for 7th and extended chords (except the V7 chord, but you could probably guess that from the fact that I was using secondary dominants). I've also been practicing couterpoint, but am not yet good enough to use this to any great effect.
I wouldn't worry about that. You think the great pop/rock songwriters cared about counterpoint (or even knew what it is)?
Quote by FlavorOfSound

So I guess my question, or questions rather...
1. How do you effectively use things like 7th (outside of the very basic uses) and borrowed chords?
Define "effectively". (What "works" is only what "sounds right" - and only you can decide that, according to what sound it is you're looking for.)

I think of 7ths as "oiling the wheels" of a chord sequence - at least when it's moving in the traditional "circle progression", i.e., roots moving up in 4ths or down in 5ths. Then each 7th will lead down to the 3rd of the next chord, and vice versa. This is why 3rds and 7ths are known as "guide tones" in jazz.
Compare the following sequences:
Em-A-Dm-G-C
Em7-A7-Dm7-G7-C
- the second has more "forward momentum", because of the added tensions and the extra voice-leading from chord to chord.
This has nothing (or very little) to do with MELODY, however - except it might inspire a few more melodic ideas, IF you have that kind of sequence.
Quote by FlavorOfSound

2. When deciding on a chord, how do you deal with melody notes that are outside the key and on stressed beats?
If you like the way they sound, no need to "deal with" anything. Don't change anything. Melodies which stress non-chord tones can often sound good - they have more intensity, more "emotional" impact than chord tones.
But if you don't want that sound, you "deal with it" by either changing the chord or changing the melody (whichever one you like least).
Quote by FlavorOfSound

And lastly,
3. What are some other musical devices I could use to spice up the chord progressions underneath my melodies?
You know plenty already. It's a mistake to bury yourself in fancy chord progressions. The most effective songs can often have very simple chord sequences. The important thing is that the melody is strong and singable (and hopefully memorable), and you have some interesting rhythmic content - a good groove, maybe some syncopations here and there, etc. - and some good lyrics too, of course, if it's a song. Interesting harmonic moves come way down the list.
But if you understand all that and still feel that the harmony is where your song is lacking - then I'd suggest the following (aside from the secondary dominants and borrowed chords you might have tried):
1. Chord extensions - eg added 9ths or 6ths - or suspensions (which could come back to those non-chord tones...)
2. Chord alterations, when moving from one chord to the next (to create chromatic half-step moves). This is what secondary dominants do, but there are one or two other ways you can do it too, eg raising or lowering the 5th of the chord.
3. Modulation. Change key for a chorus or bridge. Think about switching to a parallel key or mode (eg major to minor on the same tonic).

But still - don't overdo any of this. K.I.S.S. is a good policy to keep in mind.
Analyse your favourite songs, or any songs you hear which have effects you like. You can steal chord ideas, or arrangement ideas - they're not copyright.
Don't EVER work from theoretical principles when composing (unless you're working in some archaic genre you're not familiar with). Always work by ear. Your ear knows more theory than you (the rest of the your brain) ever will. When you find a good sound, there's no need to explain it, or even identify it.
Last edited by jongtr at Dec 31, 2015,
#9
Quote by jongtr

Don't EVER work from theoretical principles when composing (unless you're working in some archaic genre you're not familiar with). Always work by ear. Your ear knows more theory than you (the rest of the your brain) ever will. When you find a good sound, there's no need to explain it, or even identify it.


I can't let this slide. It's completely wrong. Working from theory is just a different strategy, and can yield great results. Many great composers use theory and the twisting of it to give their ears new parameters to work with.

Theory does not hinder your concept of music, it expands it

It would take an incredible.amount of ego and ignorance to suggest otherwise, as common practice theory is the result of the efforts of hundreds of thousands of musicians, composers, and historians work and observations over centuries. To disregard that...well, you are free if you so choose.

But the ear and brain work together to make music. It's not as if your ear is the angel on one shoulder, and theory is the devil on the other


Also, op and all other ops should keep in mind...there are only a few posters on this board with a really good working concept of music theory. Most posters have never written a choral, never done sight singing studies, etc. They know, "guitar theory," so it's no wonder why they are against theory in general
Last edited by bassalloverthe at Jan 8, 2016,
#10
Quote by bassalloverthe
I can't let this slide. It's completely wrong. Working from theory is just a different strategy,
Not completely wrong then. Just half wrong!
Quote by bassalloverthe
and can yield great results. Many great composers use theory and the twisting of it to give their ears new parameters to work with.
My emphasis. New parameters is the point.
Quote by bassalloverthe

Theory does not hinder your concept of music, it expands it
Agreed.
Quote by bassalloverthe

It would take an incredible.amount of ego and ignorance to suggest otherwise, as common practice theory is the result of the efforts of hundreds of thousands of musicians, composers, and historians work and observations over centuries. To disregard that...well, you are free if you so choose.

But the ear and brain work together to make music. It's not as if your ear is the angel on one shoulder, and theory is the devil on the other
Right. I'd say ear is the driver and theory is the satnav.
Quote by bassalloverthe

Also, op and all other ops should keep in mind...there are only a few posters on this board with a really good working concept of music theory. Most posters have never written a choral, never done sight singing studies, etc. They know, "guitar theory," so it's no wonder why they are against theory in general
How does writing a chorale help you write a rock song?

I'm not against theory, I love it. I'm just trying to kick the habit....
#11
Quote by jongtr
Not completely wrong then. Just half wrong!
My emphasis. New parameters is the point.
Agreed.
Right. I'd say ear is the driver and theory is the satnav.
How does writing a chorale help you write a rock song?

I'm not against theory, I love it. I'm just trying to kick the habit....


I don't agree with the driving vs sat nav analogy, I think it fails in all the ways most analogies do.

How does writing Chorales not help write rock songs. Why do.guitarists have to play rock. Etc
#12
Quote by jongtr

How does writing a chorale help you write a rock song?

It helps you understand harmony better and how the voices interact in a chord progression.

Writing chorales is in my opinion great practice for writing chord progressions with a smooth voice leading. (or just parts of song that are based on a 2, 3, 4 or 5 part texture in general)

I think this is useful for ALL genres, not just "classical".
Last edited by Elintasokas at Jan 8, 2016,