Chords or melody, which one to start with?

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  • Post last modified:November 19, 2020
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chords or melody

Do you want to compose a song, create music on the piano?

Are you wondering if you should start with chords or melody?

I see this question often indeed.

This could be the topic for a deep discussion about music theory and composition.

But I won’t do this.

I want to keep it simple and actionable for you so you can go to your piano or your keyboard and create your music.

My answer is that both works. And it doesn’t matter so much which one you start with.

Because you shouldn’t limit yourself when you create music.

I don’t know for you, but sometimes I have an idea of a melody and sometimes I got inspired by a chord progression.

So let’s see how to do in both cases to build at least the start of your song.



Watch the video:


Start with the melody

Let’s say you have a melody in mind or you have found one singing or noodling on your piano.

Now what?

You have to find the least a few chords to bring harmonic support to your melody.

Technically, the idea is to first identify the scale you are using to play your melody.

Then you can harmonize this scale to find out all the chord that goes with it. From then, you can choose a chord progression from the one I suggest in this article, or any other that fits.

But you can try another approach if you are not very comfortable with music theory.

You can first identify if your melody is major (“happy” sounding) or minor (“sad” sounding).

Then you can try to play major or minor chords comprising the notes you play. It is an empirical way to harmonize a melody.

This advantage of this method is to develop your musical ear.

More generally, several composers believe that it is a better idea to start with the melody.

This gives you more freedom and creativity to invent a beautifully crafted melody.

If you start with chords, you are more likely to limit yourself to a few notes and keep something more basic.

Start with chords

Now starting with chords has a strong advantage: it is easier.

You play the chord progression you have chosen or invented, and you improvise on them.

Improvising?

Yes, but it isn’t that complicated.

Just play notes a bit randomly without being afraid of playing wrong notes. Listen to how it sounds and little by little you will find notes that will build a melody.

It will be even easier is you know which key you play on, and identify the corresponding scale.

Now every note you play will fit a minimum with the chords.

You can also sing along the chords. It might come more naturally. Even if you are not a singer. Just hum a melody.

Using our voice is powerful to create music, probably because it creates a link between the music and our body. We “feel” more deeply the music inside.

Well, just my impression, nothing scientific there. I may do a bit of research and write about that elsewhere. Another story.

Conclusion

If you want to compose on the piano, don’t limit yourself. If chords come first that’s fine. But if you prefer to start with the melody, it works also!

I gave you the basic principle that I think should help you to create the start of your song: melody + chords.

But this is not the only way probably and I don’t claim to be an expert in composition. I am still learning myself, but I am here to help you and share all that I learn and understand about music.

I shared here my own view and my experience to write a simple song.

Hopefully, this will help you.

My question for you: Are you working on a composition? What is your main struggle?


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