Music Theory—Putting Chords to a Melody

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   Dynamics 101




      The first bar of the riff starts off with the notes E and G for basically the first half of the measure. G and E are both in the key of G and if we chose a G chord to start off with, the overall tone of the piece will be major. I am opting for the minor route since the riff has a bit of a darkness to it. So based on that, the first chord needs to be an E minor chord of some type. I played around with it a bit and decided to stick with a plain jane E minor.


The second half of the first measure contains the notes D and G. The added D is one of the notes in Em7 but I felt the chord change needed to be a bit outside so I decided to turn things in the direction of a Dsus2 chord. Sus2 chords tend to have neither a major or minor quality to them and the G works on top of it so I was pretty satisfied with that.


The 2nd measure is where we run into trouble. F# and A are the alternating notes during the first half of the bar and this part gave me the most trouble. F# is the second note in the Em scale and as such should be major chord. However, the A following it throws it into minor territory and none of the F#m variations really worked with the feel so I decided to try some sort of A-based chord. Anything major didn't work so I decided to go minor and include the F# as the 6th so the resulting chord was Am6.


The last half of the second measure is decending and has F#, G, D and A in it. As I soon found out, finding a chord that would work with all those notes is practically impossible. What I settled on was to use the last 3 notes to outline a A7sus4. It provides a bit of a turnaround with the 7th added and the D leads nicely back to the E minor chord.



After playing around with the progression a bit, something just didn't sound or feel right so I decided to try something I've  always told my guitar students. The easiest chord to play is usually the right one so after the D2, I decided to add the F# on the D string letting the B string ring and continuing to fret the A on the G string. What I ended up with is a B7sus4. It's in the key (B's the 5th of E) and it will give the base line the opportunity to walk down to the E for the beginning of the next repetition.


The progression ended up being Em, Dsus2, B7sus4, A7sus4. It has a really open sound to it and still feels minor at the same time. Next step is to come up with an arrangement. I think I'm pretty comfortable with an electric piano playing the riff with some chords underneath it and building to a crescendo at the end with guitar, bass and drums. The working title is "Trying Too Hard" and I'm hoping the lyrics will come out of that.


Next month - building the arrangement, part one - drums




    This month's music theory lesson is about how to harmonize a melody. It's something you can do by trial and error but it's much easier and less aggravating if you understand how chords and melody work together.


For this example, I'm going to use a riff that I've been playing around with for a while. I finally decided to use it as the verse in a song and  wrote a chorus to go with it. The chords for the chorus came to me quite easily but the verse chords didn't jump out at me so I decided to use my mad theory skills to see what I could come up with. I may write a bridge to go with it but that will have to wait for the lyrics


Listen to the riff by clicking here


The sample you're listening to here is 4 bars long and is 2 repetitions of the riff. Each verse will contain 4 repetitions but that's irrelevant since the chords will all be the same for each 2 bar section.