Adding Chords to a Melody on the Piano – Music Composition

– Hi. Many musicians out there get a bit frustrated because maybe they’ve come up with a great melody that they’d like to work with, but they’re not entirely sure how to get chords to fit the melody. So, here’s a melody, it doesn’t matter if it’s a melody in a style that you would normally work in or not, because the principles are just the same. So, here’s my little four bar melody. It’s not a melody that’s going to set the Thames on fire, but it will serve a purpose that you might find helpful. Now, down here, I’ve got some chords. We’re in the key of C Major, so what you do is you take every note of the scale, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and then you make up chords.

So you do that by using the first, the third, and the fifth note. In other words, C is the first note. So, D would be number two, so E is number three, F would be number four, G is number five. So you use one, three, five. So above C that gives you, C, E, and G. Above D it gives you, D, F, A. Above E it gives you E, G, B. Above F it gives you F, A, C. Above G it gives you G, B, D. Above A it gives you A, C, E. And above B it gives you B, D, F. And we sometimes refer to these, as these chords, C, D minor, E minor, F, G, A minor, B diminished. Don’t worry too much about the major and the minor and the diminished for the time being, but those are the chords it gives us. Or some people prefer to do it this way. They use these Roman Numerals to call this chord I, chord II, chord III, chord IV, chord V, chord VI, and chord VII. And basically, if you want a chord to fit your melody, you look at the first note, and you think, “Well the first note is E, which of these chords “has got E in it?” Well, chord I has got E in it, isn’t it? So that would fit. Chord VI, has got an E in it. And, chord III, has got an E in it. So basically if I take this E, I could put chord I with it. That sounds okay because it’s got an E in it. I could put chord III with it.

That sounds okay because it’s got an E in it. I could take chord VI. Sounds okay, that’s got an E in it. Or to put that another way a chord of C, a chord of E minor, or a chord of A minor. But if I tried to take chord VII, or B dim and put that with it, doesn’t sound very good because there’s a bit of a clash. So you’ll find for any note in the melody there will always be three chords that fit with it. So then you could kind of experiment with those three chords and think, “Well which one do I prefer to use?” So for example, because it’s the first note of the tune, you might decide you’re going to start with chord I, or a chord of C, because that would fit quite nicely, wouldn’t it? Now, if I put that down I’m then going to move on to C. Now C is also in the chord of C or chord I, so I could stick with that chord of C or I could move to a different chord that’s got C in it. So that I is one possibility, but chord IV, a chord of F, has got C in it. Chord VI has got a C in it, or a chord of A minor. So I could go from C to A minor, or I could go from C to F major, or I could go from C and stay on C. If you want it to be a little bit gentle, you don’t want the chords to change very much, you could just stick where you are. So I’ll do that for now. Let’s go on to the next one. Here we’ve got a D. Sometimes you can just take each single note. Sometimes you can put some notes together. So when I look at this second bar, I think well D, B, G spells out a G chord, doesn’t it? So there’s a G chord or a chord V. So maybe I could put a G chord over the whole of that bar because it just happens to fit all of those notes. Well that’s great, isn’t it? So let’s have a G there, or a chord V. You don’t have to do that. You could have one chord for the D, and one for the B, and one for the G, but it might just make it sound a little bit kind of jolting to be changing the chords when you’ve got three notes that spell out a chord. Well you might as well just go for it, might you? Going on to the next note, well this isn’t going to fit a chord of G so we probably need to change. We’re also discovering that we’ve got one chord in the first bar, one chord in the second bar, so maybe that’s kind of roughly how it’s going to work. We’ll have to see. A could fit with chord IV, the F chord. It could be something to do with chord II, the D minor chord. Or it could be something to do with chord VI, the A minor chord. So if it’s the F chord or chord IV, it’s that. If it’s chord VI or A minor, it’s that. If it’s chord II or D minor, it’s that. So it could be any of those things. Well, let’s for the sake of argument go with a D minor chord, which is chord II. Then, I may decide I want to carry on with that because it fits the D, but the trouble is that it doesn’t fit the B. So I’m going to have to change aren’t I? I may even think, “Well is there a chord “that’s got D and B in it?” And actually you can see D and B fitting in a chord V there, can’t you? It also fits in a chord VII. Though I have to say that usually chord VII doesn’t sound quite so good, because it is a diminished chord. It sounds a little bit odd. So you might want to avoid chord VII most of the time. So how about we go for a chord V, or for a G chord. And then because this is the last note of the shortest melody in history, well it’s a C, and it fits with a C chord, or a chord I, so that would kind of bring us home. So if we run with those chords, it’s going to sound like this. So we’re going to have a C chord, and a G chord, and a D minor chord, and a G chord, and a C chord. Or I, V, II, V, I. And by the time I’ve got something interesting going in the accompaniment using those things, it could be quite good. So there we are. How to have a melody that you might have composed or improvised. How to find chords that fit with it. So you could have hours of fun with that. Good luck!

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