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Melody Follows Chord Progression Too Much?

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Hey guys! This is my first post here!

I'm having a hard time coming up with melodies to go over or complement a chord progression I have. Every melody I think of pretty much just follows the chords progression too much and it doesn't sound very original or different. How do I think of a melody that counters the chord progression nicely but still fits into it (if that makes sense)?

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I have that problem too. All my songs sound the same! My professor introduced me to something called Albertti Bass. It utilizes the chord progression in 8th notes and with mostly chord tones. Your melody can have both chord tones and non-chord tones where certain intervals are supposed to give the melody a certain feel. For example, starting with a sixth interval gives the melody the feel of a love song, while the fourth interval is more open, honest, and inspirational.

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A melody can come from anywhere and there are several ways of approaching writing a melody to a chord progression. The greater part of writing a great melody has to do with rhythm.

First you have to get it out of your head that the thing must absolutely have a wide variance to stand out. and that Standing out is what you want it to do. But I'll save that for another time.

Lets start with rhythmic modes. All the parts of a song will have different rhythmic feels even though existing in the same tempo/meter. This is part and parcel of syncopation. A place for everything and everything in it's place.

What are rhythmic modes?

Stop right after he gives the example of rhythmic motet's. Then try it for yourself.

As you are trying out these ideas think of common every day expressions like someone speaking to you. Get the rhythmic pulse in your brain. Work out a few. When you are away from your instrument think about them for later and think about them in reflection. More will come if you give it a chance.

Next work out your expression. Expression is more then just how hard or soft you play the notes but that's a good starting point. Think about how you can accent the notes. Try to get inbetween soft and medium attacks and inbetween medium and hard attacks. It will help you develop a sense of nuance in your playing. Many a famous guitarist and quite a few not famous guitarists study a role model. They try to wrap their own playing identity around a specific artist. It's not a bad idea to single out someone you enjoy listening to and try to capture the nuances and flavors that they bring. It will help to shape the character of your "own style"

Work out legato/staccato approaches to the same rhythmic motet. Get inside the rhythm of the phrase. Don't concentrate on harmony. Try to get the simplest rhythmic device you can like a metronome (not a drum pattern) Better still set the metronome on 2 and 4. When you have as little background sounds as possible it helps to build your own self awareness about your rhythmic strength and helps to build it.

Time is fluid it's not digital. Same with timing.If you slave yourself to a drum machine you run the risk of sounding less then human when trying to lay down a melody. It can be very effective if you want to play heavy metal but other styles embrace a more natural/organic feel to them.

Remember the heart of Rock and Roll is the Beat. The heart of your melody is the beat/energy you give it. Do you want your melody to sound like a stamping machine? Clinical and dry? Do you want your melody to sound more like an extension of your persona or the idea you are trying to carry across?

There is a concept in classical music which is called Rubato. Literally it means to rob or steal time. Sometimes it is simply stated as "Freely" in some fake books. Rubato is an extreme example of taking things out of time and it takes awhile to get used to.


It can be really hard to pull off rubato against a big arrangement. Essentially everyone or everything in the band needs to be able to sway with you. But you can use it a little here or there to break the timing chain and help the melody stand out. Just don't over indulge if everyone or everything else is playing strict time.

So now we move on to "The Bounce" and the precision art of playing consistently ahead or behind the beat. Drummers have the best bounce. It's in the nature of the instrument. The stick hits the drum head and the head bounces the stick back up. Not as elastic as say jumping on a trampoline but the effect is the same. The bounce propels you. This next experiment requires you walk away from your computer. Don't just read about it get up walk away and do it. Then apply that feeling to your instrument. Be it guitar, keyboard or whatever.

Try jumping some rope. Or dribbling a basketball. Don't try em both at the same time. If you have neither simply stand in place and skip as you would if you had a jump rope. Feel the sensation of landing and lifing off to land again and lift off again or the sensation of trying to control the basketball. You don't slam the ball first you allow the ball to enter your hand slow it's return and then bounce it again. Now think like that as you play think about the spongy elastic quality of time.

For you guitarists eric johnson has a very bouncy style and he explains the concept of the bounce here -

The bounce as a concept can actually be applied to almost all styles of music. With my guitar playing I have a tendency to take it to extremes making what ever I do sound well,,,,cheesy. How you use it will determine more over how your melodies will sound. But once you are used to thinking / imagining the bounce in your melodies the more organic they will feel.

Just as with tuning/intonation there are qualities about playing in time and being slightly ahead or behind the beat. It's an art form unto itself like rubato where you force the notes slightly ahead or behind the beat.

Behind the beat.

Playing slightly behind some beats while on others gives a "swagger". Listen to some of Keith Richards work (especially exile on mainstreet and thereafter) He plays so far behind the beat he's almost on top of the next one. It's not really rubato because it's always a focused deliberate and consistent approach. You can use this in your melodic lines as well to imply arrogance or tipsy emotive qualities.

Ahead of the beat.

When you are playing ahead of the beat. It can imply energy even in a slow or medium tempo song. It can also imply nervousness.

I've met many gifted performers and many studied performers. A gifted performer maintains and expands the gift by study and practice while a studied performer develops their gifts through hard work and dedication. I've known more then a few gifted yet inexperienced musicians who could tackle one or two of the above approaches but not more unless they dedicated themselves to the study of it.

Developing the ability to play behind or ahead of the beat is work. It takes time. It takes setting the metronome on a slow tempo and working out hitting the note just ahead or behind the beat. It's also important to listen to music regularly that utilizes these approaches.

The One

The One refers to the first beat of the measure. A lot of people gravitate putting everything starting in on the one. You don't need to start your melodic line on the one. Hard on the one means when everything falls hard on the one beat as an accent. It's something that is often a carry over from classical studies as metronomes usually put emphasis on "the one" so you know where it is..

The One is not limited to classical music. It also shows up in early funk ala James Brown

James Brown likes to end lands his phrases on "The One"

I feel One just like I knew that I {b]One

So this is your exorcize Take one of your rhythmic motet motif. riff, phrase and make it land on {b}The One. It doesn't have to land "hard on the one" it just has to land on the first beat of a measure.. Landing on the one is not just reserved for funk/soul. It happens in pop/rock, country and other styles as well.

The Lead In

A lead in is one or more notes that preceed "The One" Generally speaking a lead in should start after "The Three" or third beat of the prior measure. You don't have to start on "The One" and make it a full measure when starting a line. A lead in leads one into the measure. and the melodic line can continue there after. So try this develop a melodic idea that starts on the and of "The Four"

Such as

and | One and Two and Three and Four and | etc you don't have to fill all the holes and you may wish to leave some open. Then move it back so you start on the four.

Four and [ One and Two and Three and

And then the and of three.

and Four and | One and Two and Three

The pause (also known as the Two)

Let a chord or something ring out on the one and start your melody on "The Two" The pause has a hesitation feel. It's a means of making them wait a little bit so they can absorb things and gives them some sense of expectation.It's more common in country honky tonk and country rock

As a musician, performer you are an actor. delivering a line. You dance along the notes. The delivery of the performance is in your hands but it comes from a different place. It's a head game like acting and sometimes it requires faking it till you make it. If you take only one example above and try it out only once then there is no point in even doing it. You want the concepts to be in hand, in conscious and in sub conscious. If you try these ideas out try them out for a good month. And when you listen to others see if you can spot them doing one of the above methods. While deciding on which notes to play against a harmony to form an effective melody is important. The heart of rock and roll (as well as other popular song forms) is the ......____ And it's often not what you say but how you say it.

there are several approaches to choosing how to work over chord progressions but I'll save them for another time. Working out your rhythmic ideas is a great time killer and skill developer until then.

Edited by TapperMike
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So hopefully you've spent some time working on your phrasing /rhythmic motets.

The next thing to consider is the rhythms especially the rhythm guitar/accompaniment piano that supports your melody line.

How you surround your melody can define if it sits into the groove. The same things that apply to drum and bass "Playing in the pocket" apply to rhythm accompaniment and melody. A lot of times when we are working with one instrument and voice. The instrument tries to fill as much space as possible. If you think about leaving gaps or holes in your rhythm work you can fill then so they stand out more when a melodic line or short phrase fills them. It's a lot easier to do in a band situation where aces in there places applies. Each musician acknowledging how they fit into the groove rather then everyone trying to march in on everyone else s game.

So finally lets define melody.

A melody is not a solo while solos can use parts of a melody to fulfill the spot that they reside in solo's have less constraints then a melody.

A melody is something memorable, Meaning something easy to remember. In order to accomplish that a melody has to have repetition and variation within the repetition. One of the hardest things for a musician especially one who may be an extremely talented and versatile soloist to do is repeat what they started with slight variation over the melody. You don't want your second verse to be identical to the first but you do want it to carry the same "shell" or concept. Just as in lyrics you want to give something that is easy to follow along by rhyming and repetition with a slight variation to the original "Theme"

Note range is very very important when constructing a melody. For the average or even the above average man on the street it's really really hard to sing two or more octaves. As a rule of thumb you don't want to go past one and a half octaves while devising your melody. Usually stick with in an octave per phrase.

When you write a melody you have the entire chromatic scale available to you. Pushing the boundaries of creativity within the chromatic scale may be fun or exciting but it's skating on thin ice if you believe that someone could sing the song or that it would be a memorable experience. A melody is something that is singable/hum-able If you can't sing it then there is little chance that anyone one else would either. So show some constraint in your note selection.

Chromatic scales are not easy to sing. Neither are whole tone scales or half - whole scales. The easiest thing to sing are arpeggios followed by pentatonic scales and then diatonic modes. Remember we are talking about melodic lines. Melodic lines, motives are the songs we get stuck in our heads. Most people block out whatever is supporting the melody. and remember the melody because it's something they can sing unlike trying to sing something that has more then one voice like a chord.

....More to come.

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Well ... one thing you could try is not following the chords so much!

As an exercise, take the first bit of melody in the song (1 bar or so) and try to repeat it a few times - just making minimal changes to fit the subsequent chords. That should at least give you some ideas as to the possibilities.

Another thing to consider is: are you determined to keep the exact chord progression you are using? I often find that once I start to "flesh out" a melody a little that I end up making changes to some of the chords. This can certainly make things sound more interesting.

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Mikes advice is best.

If you want to try something simple, read on:

If you insist on working to a chord pattern (applying melody to pre defined chords):

To change the way the melody sounds, a simple device is to stagger the relative timings.

To do this,

1/ record your chord pattern.

2/ make any melody to go with it. It doesnt matter too much how uninspired it seems.

3/ record the melody in isolation to the chords (so when playing back, you hear no chords at all).

4/ cut and paste your melody to begin later in the chord sequence. Try advancing it by 2 or 3 beats.

It will sound very different. It may not always be what you want, but it will take you out the rut you're in.

A new approach would be to begin with a melody and work out the chords afterwards. Dont settle for the first set of chords you think of. Try another couple of options. eg: If the chords are C, G, Am, then change the chords to C, D, F instead (Dont go altering the melody! Not until your sure you can reproduce the original melody correctly).

All of the above will work best with common chord combinations (C, F, G) or (C, Em, Am, G) etc. In other words, something where a regular scale will not create dischord instead of harmony.

At the moment I am trying to come up with alternative chords for a well known song. Give that a try maybe.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Great dissertation on melodic rhythm techniques and exercises Mike.

I see a lot of noob songwriters get hung-up in a rut with uninspired melodies, which maybe a result of trying to follow the lyrical pattern that they are starting with. I often find it lucrative to develop a melodic structure (often using rhythmic methods similar to those that Mike, just so well described), and then work out the final lyrical pattern to fit it. But its is usually a combination of working out melody and changing the lyrics to fit, while at the same time finding the ideal lyrical phrase and then making the melody conform to that.

This is probably why it's an Art rather than a mechanical or mathematical science. It pays to know (or learn) these techniques and tricks, because they will help you get out of that "Rut" that you often find yourself in. But it often boils down to, "can you fit a square peg into a round hole and make it sound good?"


Edited by thetau
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I just wanted to add one more thing.

If you really want to get the down and dirty of writing a good melody start by learning melodies of songs you already are familiar with. I'm not talking singing I'm talking playing them on your instrument (guitar, piano) Learn to play them as an instrumentalist might approach a song. It will give you a better idea about musical direction and articulation and "Singing through your instrument" rather then just playing random notes or a simple chord progression. You'll start to recognize how rhythmic modes are working in a melody line as well as expressive technique that gives your melody life as opposed to just boring dry technical motion. Learn how to invigorate your playing to bring out the soul and the character of the song. And when you have that think about your own melody writing. How can I make my guitar/piano cry or sing. Because in the end it's not so much what you say but how you say it that counts.

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There is a technique called "naked melody" that can be utilized. Sting does this a lot and there's a lady in my song circle that writes beautiful melodies without the ability to play an instrument.

First, take your instrument and put it away - don't go anywhere near it.

Get your recording device, find a spot that is conducive to making you feel alive and begin singing/recording your lyrics. Work on emphasizing different words, use different rhythms, use ascending passages for hopeful, upbeat, danceable tunes - descending passages for introspective/moody/sad tunes. I usually work the chorus first, with about five to ten (minimum) versions.

Once you have the chorus set you can move to the verse and be sure to contrast the melodies there. Change the box of pitches that you used in the chorus, usually casting your verse melody down at least a third. Next is rhythm - long phrasing in chorus, short phrasing in verse and vice versa.

After you have a group of these down begin mixing and matching until you find what works.

OK? You good? Sounds fantastic? Ready for part two?

Pick up your instrument and start playing chord harmonies against what you've come up with, and dear God, please forget I, IV, V - start moving around. If you're not that proficient on an instrument, hire someone to back you up and tell them, "Yes, that's what I hear" or "No, try again".

As is the case with everything I've just said, these are "tools" not "rules" - feel free to break them or disregard them totally.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Y'all are talkin' as if a melody is one thing, and a progression of musical chords is another thing. Any succession of musical notes/tones is a "melody."

Hi HS,

I'm curious.

Are you suggesting that a chord pattern is a melody?

You could extract many melodies from a chord sequence, but a melody over those chords need not use any of the notes in the chords.

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A repeated sequence of four-note chords is a repeated pattern of a melody played with four-note chords.

Ok. To use your own example, lets say you have these 3 chords with the 1st repeated again at the end:

F#m 7 : Bsus4 : A9-7 : F#m7

What is the melody?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hey guys! This is my first post here!

I'm having a hard time coming up with melodies to go over or complement a chord progression I have. Every melody I think of pretty much just follows the chords progression too much and it doesn't sound very original or different. How do I think of a melody that counters the chord progression nicely but still fits into it (if that makes sense)?

Start easy by trying to have the melody do the opposite of what the chords do. If the chords go up, melody goes down. If the chords are strummed fast, the melody is drawn own. That may help you pull the two apart and move on to other ideas pretty quickly.

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I would never want to break free from the progression.  There are such things as "Vamps" where you keep the same chord thru-out the song.  While I can tolerate a vamp for awhile. I can't tolerate two vamp songs in a row.


Usually random melody generation away from an instrument leads to not remembering it when you have a good idea. If the melody is stuck in your head there is a good chance it's someone elses popular song you can't recognize.  In my most prolific writing cycle I'd keep a tape recorder and a guitar next to my bed.  I used to dream musical ideas. Wake up and try to get the core idea.  Some were lousy some were great.  But if I didn't hit record  I'd never have known.

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