Songwriting In Any Style. Part 3

Now that you've written and developed the melodies for your song, you can use these methods to create chord progressions or contrapuntal songs.

Ultimate Guitar

Part 1: Structure

This is something I should have explained in lesson 2, but it slipped my mind. Basically, make sure you have the lead melodic lines for your ENTIRE song. Whatever kind of structure you plan to use, be it verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, a repeating 12 bar blues, or something unheard of, don't leave any bit of it unwritten. Once you've completed the lead part to your song, you can add the other "voices" (parts/instruments).

Part 2: Texture

Decide on the type of texture you're going for. You can use counterpoint to create polyphony, harmony to create homophony, or just leave it monophonic and be done with it. Counterpoint: Method of composing/analyzing multiple, independent, simultaneous melodies Polyphony: Texture of composition in which voices move melodically independent from each other Harmony: Composition/analysis involving chords (groups of 3 or more simultaneous notes) Homophony: Texture of composition in which voices move together in harmony Monophony: One voice giving one melody and nothing else Decide on the texture. Do you want vocals, guitars, keyboards, and bass all interacting melodically (polyphony), or do you want chords backing up the main melody (homophony), or some sort of combination?

Part 3: Major Harmony

This is best taught through example, so let's take a look at the melody G, C, G, A, G, C, G, A, Bb, A, B, C. Here's our rhythm (each "-" or note is an 8th note): GCGA----GCGABbABC We can tell we're in the key of C because the note C feels most "resolved." But is it Cmajor or Cminor? The other notes played are the tonic (C), the perfect 5th (G), the major 6th (A),the minor 7th (Bb) and the major 7th or leading tone (B). There is no major or minor third (E or Eb), so really, you could go either way, but for simplicity I'm going to use major (all the notes fit perfectly into the major scale except for Bb. Later I'll come back to it with a minor example.) This means our chords are going to resolve at the Cmajor chord. Let's look at all triads diatonic to the Cmajor scale: I Cmajor: C, E, G ii Dminor: D, F, A iii Eminor: E, G, B IV Fmajor: F, A, C V Gmajor: G, B, D vi Aminor: A, C, E vii0 Bdiminished: B, D, F The first four notes are G, C, G, A. These are all in the Aminor7 chord. The second bunch of notes are G, C, G, A, Bb, A, B, C. The C and G outline our tonic, Cmajor, pretty well, which is the chord your ear would expect at the end of the melody anyway. The A could be considered a non-harmonic tone (a "neighboring tone" to G, to be exact ); the Bb is an "outside" tone (a note outside of the diatonic scale) and the next A brings the melody back "inside," but is still a non-harmonic tone. That A, however, starts the ascension back up to our tonic (C). Between the A and the C is B, the leading tone, which seals the deal, so to speak, between A and C. A leading tone is a half step below the tonic note and is used to bring a satisfactory resolution to that tonic. That B doesn't have to be a non-harmonic tone; we could make the Cmajor a Cmajor7, which includes the note B, but that Cmajor7 would likely create a muddy tension between the harmonic B and non-harmonic Bb we dealt with earlier, so the best way to handle this is to just use a Cmajor triad. The result: (Chord:Melody) Aminor7: GCGA ----(rest) Cmajor: GCGABbABC But this wasn't the only way we could've handled the harmony, so let's try another chord progression. The note G is also the minor 3rd in iii chord, Eminor. C is E's b6, a non-harmonic tone (an appogiatura I think, and comes back down to G again. The G then ascends by step to A, which would be a non-harmonic tone to Eminor. It can sound a bit gross to end a melody on a non-harmonic tone, especially the perfect 4th of the root note of the chord (A is the 4th of E), so let's end this melody with a chord change to Aminor. This is followed by the rest, and then the second bunch of notes (GCGABbABC). The C and A are both in an Fmajor chord, but the G isn't. The first G moves up a 4th to C, a very common motion, and the C moves down a 5th back to G, a less common but not rare motion, and then that G can be considered a lower neighbor to A, the major 3rd in the Fmajor chord. The G doesn't sound bad, but if we add it to the harmony (turning the Fmajor into an Fmajor add9) it just might sound a bit better. The Bb (which gives the Fmajor add9 an "Ionian" feel to it, being the perfect 4th of F) is an upper-neighbor to A (some may mistake it for a suspension, but the A is there in the harmony the whole time) and the A ascends a step to B (which gives the Fmajor add9 a "Lydian" feel to it, being an augmented 4th to F). That B leads us to C, the tonic to the entire piece, so let's end on a Cmajor chord. Here's our result: (Chord:Melody) Eminor: GCG Aminor: A ---- (rest) Fmajor add9: GCGABbB Cmajor: C Now we have two different results, after harmonizing the melody two different ways. Which one you choose depends on your inspiration, purpose, style, and personal taste. Now let's see what could happen if we used a minor key instead.

Part 4: Minor Harmony

We're still using the same melody as in part 3. So let's take a look at the chords diatonic to the C natural minor scale: i Cminor: C, Eb, G ii0 Ddiminished: D, F, Ab III Ebmajor: Eb, G, Bb iv Fminor: F, Ab, C v Gminor: G, Bb, D VI Abmajor: Ab, C, Eb VII Bb major: Bb, D, F But wait...There's a major 7th (B) in this melody! So let's take a look at the harmonic minor scale (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7): i Cminor: C, Eb, G ii0 Ddiminished: D, F, Ab III+ Ebaugmented: Eb, G, B iv Fminor: F, Ab, C V Gmajor: G, B, D VI Abmajor: Ab, C, Eb vii0 Bdiminished: B, D, F But wait again...There's also a major 6th (A) in the melody! Melodic minor time! (1-2-b3-4-5-6-7) i Cminor: C, Eb, G ii Dminor: D, F, A III+ Ebaugmented: Eb, G, B IV Fmajor: F, A, C V Gmajor: G, B, D vi0 Adiminished: A, C, Eb vii0 Bdiminished: B, D, F So what do we use? Really, in minor key music, all the chords in the above three lists are available. In fact, ultimately, there's no such thing as a chord that is completely "off limits" in any key, any song, with any melody, there's a time and a place for everything. I even like to end major key chord progressions on "iv major13" chords (Fminor [major13] in the key of Cmajor) during verses because it leaves things feeling "up in the air" for the chorus to pick up. I also have a love for "chromatic mediants" ( So the point is, any chord can be used at any time and there's always some sort of theory to explain it, and in minor keys, the chords diatonic to the natural minor scale, harmonic minor scale, and melodic minor scale don't feel like "borrowed" or "chromatic" chords at all, they feel completely natural to the key. Now, back to our song. The first chunk of melody is GCGA. G is in Ebmajor (III), and C is the major6th. Let's use an Ebmajor6 for the first three notes, and a Gminor add9 for the last note. Now for the second bunch of notes, let's just ascend in chords from the chord just above Gminor, Adiminished, up to our tonic, Cmajor. The result: Ebmajor6: GCG Gminor add9: A ---- Adiminished: GCG Bdiminished: ABbA Cminor: BC The way the melody interacts with those diminished chords is really weird...But it all comes together at that Cminor chord. If you just played the GCGABbA part over an Admiminished-Bdiminished vamp, you'd get a really weird piece of music, but at a faster tempo, all is forgiven once it reaches the tonic.

Part 5: Basslines

Let's look at what we've got so far. We wrote a nice lead melody, which will probably be done by a vocalist, and three different options for chord accompaniment, which would probably be played by a rhythm guitarist or a pianist or both. Now we need to fill out the lower end of the sound: the bass. Basslines really shouldn't be discussed as just a little section of a series of songwriting lessons. They deserve an entire series--even an entire website, really, dedicated to them. So I'm just gonna dump some videos and other people's lessons on you instead:

    Part 6: Counterpoint

    Here's a completely different way of filling out your song. Rather than having a rhythm section play chords and basslines which outline those chords, you could write independent melodies for each instrument which interact with each other. Counterpoint would take even more to learn than basslines, so I'm just going to give you a list of books and a youtube series I like:
  • Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint (
  • Study of Counterpoint: From Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus Ad Parnassum (
  • Counterpoint: The Polyphonic Vocal Style of the Sixteenth Century (
  • The Principles and Practice of Modal Counterpoint (
  • The Craft of Modal Counterpoint (
  • Modal and Tonal Counterpoint: From Josquin to Stravinsky (
  • A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice ( Of course, I'm not saying you really have to buy and read all of those books. That would take a ridiculous amount of time and money that only an orchestral composer should really dedicate to this sort of thing. But if you can get as many of those as you can, I promise you they'll be helpful. Next lesson will be on adding fun little decorations to your song.
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