Hey dudes and dudettes,
Last month we covered the idea of keeping things simple for a myriad of reasons. These reasons include
us restricting potential musical possibilities and enhancing sections with diversity of material, among many others. We’re at a point now where these concepts are quite difficult, so I highly recommend that you go back and read through my previous articles which will help contextualise what we know by this point. Seriously. We’re building on all of our current understanding of music theory to construct an example of how you might use these tools to write a section of music.
I don’t know… something about instructions? Cooking? Metaphors are weird.
What comes first? Melody or Chords?
Honestly, it’s up to your personal taste. I’ll be covering starting with chords in this article and starting with a melody next month. The idea behind the two is the same. While each approach will influence the direction you will take the music, neither is wrong, nor better than the other. That being said, to help jump start my own process I am going to use something that we’re quite familiar with by this point. I’m going to use the chord progression to ‘Reformat the Planet’ as our starting point, and then build on it from there.
Reformat the Planet is in the key of G major, and follows the chord progression of: G, C, Em, D, C, Em, C, D. This currently means very little to us, because we don’t know much about the chords’ function within the key. If I was to break down the function of the chords I would end up with: I, IV, vi, V, IV, vi, IV, V. Now we can do some fun substituting of chords to make this chord progression a little bit more… original.
If we examine our broad chord functions in the key of G major we get:
Tonic (Feels like home): I [G], iii [Bm], vi [Em]
Subdominant (Moving away from home): ii [Am], IV [C]
Dominant (Moving home): V [D], vii° [F#]
We can substitute chords for other chords of a similar function. Looking at this chord progression I see that it uses the IV chord a lot. I’m going to substitute out the ii chord at some points because they both share the Subdominant function.
I now have: I, IV, vi, V, ii, vi, IV, V
Let’s try substituting our vi chords for I. They share the same Tonic function (so does the iii chord, but because the vi chords are currently next to IV and ii at some point, I’ve chosen not to use them here. I just don’t like that motion in this circumstance.)
I now have: I, IV, I, V, ii, I, IV, V
Cool. I have something new that I really like. These chords in lead sheet would read: G, C, G, D, Am, G, C, D. Overwhelmingly major, but that’s okay. I could go further and substitute modal interchange chords, which sounds very appealing to me to help balance this out with at least one more minor chord. G minor (the parallel minor/Aeolian Mode) is a good way to substitute chords in from another mode. It’s pretty familiar but it has some unique qualities to it.
G minor would be expressed as these roman numerals and lead sheet chords: i ii° III iv v VI VII [Gm, A°, B♭, Cm, Dm, E♭, F]
I really like the minor iv chord [Cm] and want to substitute it in when I would normally have a IV chord. It creates a bittersweet tail ending to something so uplifting and major.
I now have: I, IV, I, V, ii, I, iv, V [G, C, G, D, Am, G, Cm, D]
So I have my chords… what now?
To construct a melody you can always start by working off of chord tones. Let’s lay out the chord tones in all of the following chords.
G: G B D
C: C E G
D: D F# A
Am: A C E
Cm: C E♭ G
If I write a short skeleton melody over these chords with these notes I can expand on it later, and I know that all of the notes will sound harmonically pleasant (because they’re already in the chord).
I tried to base this entire section on a rhythmic figure that goes 3-3-2. We’ll see how we can spice this up in our next example.
Once you have this skeleton to work off, you can start looking at movement between these notes. This can be by step (a single space) or jump (multiple spaces). Play around with this to find what you like. Sometimes you will find that you want less movement in a melody and a good way to facilitate this is with step-wise motion. This isn’t always achievable with just chord tones, so you’ll have to think about passing tones. Here’s how I might incorporate some passing tones into my melody.
The notes in red are the passing tones and come on the off beats. You’ll notice that I add a lot of them on the third beat of the group of 3. It gives it an almost swung, lilting feeling.
I changed the passing tone to an F natural in the second to last bar because we were using a borrowed chord from G minor. G minor (or G Aeolian) doesn’t have an F#, so it would be out of place to use one in this instance. It makes the transition to the E♭ much more satisfying.
There you have it, a very simple example of constructing a chord progression and a melody from the tools we’ve been learning to work with. I hope this has helped you to see these music theory skills used in action and how you can use them in a practical setting. Give it a try yourselves, and please share how this knowledge has helped you with your own craft! If you have questions, recommendations for topics, or even just want to share what you’ve learned, get in touch with me at tuberzmcgee (at) gmail (dot) com. I’m always happy to listen/read/help out.
Note: traducción al Español por Pixel_Guy encontrado aquí.