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Thread: How do you write your harmonies?

  1. #1
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    How do you write your harmonies?

    Until recently I have been writing triadic chord progressions (using one instrument) and adding the bass afterwards. I've been writing melodic lines separately for a while now. It's a much more complex process and personally I can't really see that it has any benefit over the much simpler process of writing the progression as chords and then dividing the lines among instruments.

    Has anybody got any input on this?
    Last edited by BlindSummit; 06-30-2011 at 03:34 PM.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlindSummit View Post
    Until recently I have been writing triadic chord progressions (using one instrument) and adding the bass afterwards. I've been writing melodic lines separately for a while now. It's a much more complex process and personally I can't really see that it has any benefit over the much simpler process of writing the progression as chords and then dividing the lines among instruments.

    Has anybody got any input on this?
    It depends on the sound you are going for. If you want it sound like a Bach Chorale, then probably working it a chord at a time is best. But I read somewhere that many of Mozart's compositions started out as melody and bass lines only.

    I would say whatever works best at the time. Some times I write a melody first, some times a chord progression first. But in most cases, no matter what is first, they each effect the other over time. A slight change in the melody over here might give rise to a more interesting chord choice. Plus when you start doing things like ostinato bass lines, etc., you have some creative choices to make that may not be standard. They each mold the other over the time you take to compose them.

    Most of the "rules" of composition have to do with figuring out how the human mind works. In the above example, Mozart probably worked out the melody (soprano) line and the bass lines first because he understood how the human mind works: we hear the highest notes first and foremost, and the lowest notes second...the middle is just filler in between in terms of importance. We hear active lines more than inactive, etc. There are lots of these sort of things to consider.

    So, in the end, as long as you arrive at the finish line and complete the piece, don't worry so much about procedure. As soon as you're done, start the next one, and the next one. Just keep working and remember that you are composing for others to hear and enjoy, so consider how they might respond to your choices.

    Hope that helps!
    Marq-Paul
    www.marq-paul.com

  3. #3
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    Great answer mate, cheers for taking the time. I will continue with the melodic line method for a while and see if it has a different effect on my music although until now it must be said that my best music has come from the chord splitting method.

  4. #4
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    Generally, I start with a melody and then a bass line. Sometimes I'll do a chord progression first. Often, I'll start with just a fragment of a melody, perhaps with some harmony. Then I expand the fragment (by various methods) to longer and find some method of heading towards a cadence. Then things get re-written many times.

  5. #5
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    I start with the lyrics, I'm Country and the story is the big thing in Country. However the point of this post is.....

    I end up with a lead sheet - no bass clef, but as I also play electric bass that is enough as I improvise my bass lines from the chords shown on the lead sheet - as I play. What I'm trying to say; if the bass and the keyboard are playing chord accompaniment they can play from the "fake chord" sheet music and do not really need a bass clef shown.

    Never hurts having both treble and bass.

    Here is a cut and paste on after seeing the chord name what can be done for a bass line:

    Major Scale Box for 4 string bass.

    G|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    D|---6---|-------|---7---|---8---|
    A|---3---|---4---|-------|---5---|
    E|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string


    Generic Notes for Harmonies.
    The root, five and eight are generic and fit most any chord. Remember the diminished has a flatted 5.
    So all roots work. R-5-R-5 is better. Throw in an eight and those 3 notes will play a lot of bass.
    The 3 is generic to all major chords. See a major chord R-3-5-8 is a generic bass line that will work.
    The b3 is generic to all minor chords. See a minor chord R-b3-5-8 is a generic bass line that will work.
    The 7 is generic to all maj7 chords. R-3-5-7.
    The b7 is generic to all dominant seventh and minor seventh chords. R-3-5-b7 or R-b3-5-b7.
    The 6 is neutral and adds color, help yourself to 6’s. I like R-3-5-6 for major chords. Has a great sound.
    The 2 and 4 make good passing notes. Don’t linger on them or stop on them, keep them passing.
    In making your bass line help yourself to those notes, just use them correctly.
    Remember roots, fives, eights and the correct 3 and 7 will play a lot of bass.

    Go get some piano music that has both the treble and the bass clef shown. In the bass clef look for the lowest note in the measure, I bet you will find a lot of roots, fives and eights. If you are writing your bass line that writes a lot of bass lines. Other thing to take into account is moving the line to the next chord. Secondary dominants - the dominant note of the next chord as the last note in what you are now involved with makes a good walking bass line, i.e. R-3-5-(SD) that V-I to the next chord is a great pull to the next chord. Or use a chromatic run. Target the next root note, miss it, and walk to it one fret at a time. Land on it for the next chord change. This by the way is a lot of fun, practice missing by 1, 2, 3 or even 4 notes, just be on the next root when the chord changes.

    Generic bass line for keyboard; Just one and the first I learned is:
    Left hand Pinky (R) Thumb (5) right hand Chord (R-3-5) then back to the left hand for a thumb (5)
    So you get a R-5-chord-5. About as generic as you can get.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 07-01-2011 at 09:49 PM.

  6. #6
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    I use several processes, depending on what's happening in my mind.
    I may start by the melody or by the chord progression. I never start by the lyrics, unless they have a melody associated.
    I do it by the ear only. Theory and harmony comes after.

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