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Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip

Robert Strait (6660) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Advanced · Tempo: 60
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Although most of this lesson will deal with arranging popular music, the next two pages are designed to demonstrate some uses for the harmonized major scale that you can begin to use immediately.

To illustrate how important and flexable the harmonized major scale can be, I've written the very simple, 2-bar melody below. The melody is in the key of C. In bars 3 and 4, I've added chord shapes from the C harmonized major scale below each melody note. With nothing more to go on than a C major melody, I've taken the voicings I know from the C harmonized major scale and arbitrarily chosen the ones which happen to have the correct melody notes as the top voice.

See how musical this sounds already?

The point is: you can make a very simple, musical sounding chord melody with this knowledge alone. Each chord in the major scale does have a specific function, and there are chords which are related (I will talk about these concepts in subsequent pages), but generally they are all from the same key and tonality. This is why it sounds pleasant and musical, no matter which chords you choose from the scale.

It is important to note, however, that we are working in a solo context here. In other words, there are no other instruments present to influence the sound of our chord choices, therefore we can choose any chords we wish to harmonize our melody. There are also no "indicated" chord changes as there would be with a previously composed piece of music, which allows complete freedom for harmonic interpretation of the melody. The example melody below contains notes which are all in the C major scale, so I chose to use a Cmaj7 chord to harmonize my first melody note, and immediately that implies a C major tonality. The ear tends to reference percieved notes against the lowest tone, or bass note, and the first chord it hears can often sound like "home"...therefore the ear can hear the first chord of a tune as the parent "key", or "tonality, of the song (especially if all the notes of the melody belong to a single parent key). If I had chosen Amin7 as my first chord, the implied tonality would have been A Aeolian. Of course, any harmony beyond the first chord of a tune can steer the song toward other keys and tonalities. I chose to harmonize all the melody notes with chords diatonic to C major, so the overall key still implies C major.

To demonstrate my point, try sustaining each note of the C major scale, one by one, over the entire example below. Begin with holding just a C bass note for the entire duration of the example. Next, play a D note, and so on and so forth. Hear how the tonality changes drastically with each bass note? Hear how some bass notes sound better than others? Do you hear how a C bass note sounds the best? That is partly because the melody itself implies a C major sound, but also because the first chord of the harmony is a C major chord.

Experiment by creating simple, major scale melodies and harmonizing them with the harmonized major scale voicing from the previous page. You can also experiment with harmonizing modal melodies, which I will demonstrate on the next page.
Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip - Page 2