Adding Chords to a Melody
Author: Gary Ewer
You've written a great melody, but you don't know what chords to
use to accompany yourself when you play it. What do you do?
Adding chords to melodies can be fun, if you know a bit about
how chords work. Try the following steps:
a. It's important to think about strong beats and weak beats
with regard to your new melody. Sing your melody and try to get
a sense of where the pulses happen. As you sing, you'll notice
your toe automatically tapping... that's a good sign! For many
melodies, you'll find that the first beat will feel like a
strong pulse and the next one will be a bit weaker. It's on the
strong beat that the chords will change. Let's take the melody,
"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" as a good example. Each syllable
of each word alternates between strong and weak. You'll find
that it feels most satisfying if the chords change on the strong
beats, or even every second strong beat, or every fourth one.
It's less pleasing to change chords on the weak beats, though it
can happen occasionally.
b. So... what chords do we use? The first chord should emphasize
the key you're in, so if your melody is in C-major, then the
C-major chord will probably work well. You'll find that in any
major key, three chords will work quite nicely: chords based on
the first note, the fourth note, and the fifth note. In C-major,
the three chords that will be most useful to you are: C, F and
G. So take the first strong beat note(s) and weak beat note(s).
Those notes will likely belong to one of the three chords I
mentioned. That will guide your choice. So the chords to Twinkle
Twinkle would be: C C F C F C G C (where each chord happens on
each strong beat.
c. I've just used three chords as an example, but now the fun
begins... try substituting some chords for other ones. As an
example, the C chord works well in C major, because it
reinforces the key. But try substituting one of the C chords
with an A minor chord. A minor has a C in it, so it will work,
and will give your music an interesting flavour.
Keep in mind that simplicity is better than complexity,
especially in the world of songwriting, when you want people to
remember your melodies. So don't try to use too many chords.
Four or five different ones are usually sufficient.
Good luck! (The information in this article comes from Gary
Ewer's downloadable e-book, "The Essential Secrets of
About the author:
Gary Ewer is a Canadian composer, arranger, clinician and
teacher. As a composer Mr. Ewer has written for CBC radio and
various performing groups. Presently Mr. Ewer is a full-time
instructor at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He is the author
of Gary Ewer's Easy Music Theory, a CD-ROM course in music
rudiments. He has also authored "The Essential Secrets of