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Music Theory for Electronic Musicians 2: Minor Keys and More

Lesson 17 of 26

Writing Melodies for Chord Progressions

J. Anthony Allen

Music Theory for Electronic Musicians 2: Minor Keys and More

J. Anthony Allen

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Lesson Info

17. Writing Melodies for Chord Progressions

Lesson Info

Writing Melodies for Chord Progressions

So next, Um I want to look at putting chords and melodies together, so we're going to talk a little bit about melodic writing like writing melodies. Now, we couldn't to ah, whole separate class just on how to write a good melody. So we're not gonna focus in on, um, really like the arc of the melody and the whole melody in and of itself because that's a little out of the scope of this class. Maybe we'll do another class. Ah, that that focuses on that. What we're going to focus on here is, um, how to take a core progression and find a melody that works on that core progression. And we'll do it both ways. Will also do I have a melody. How do I figure out what courts to put on there so we'll do kind of the chicken and the egg thing. Uh, we don't care which comes first. Now, nothing said for me. How I like to work is I like to start with the core progression and then find the melody inside of it. You know, like the cords kind of set up. The whole feel of the song to me are of the track. And...

then, as I I start to work with the cords, usually a melody just kind of floats to the top. I'm a little weird in that way. I don't think that's normal, but that's how I work. Um, it makes it makes it so. The melodies in my tracks are a little more simple. The cords might be more dense, but the melodies air all pretty closely tied to the courts. You could do it the other way, though, where you could have a core progression and you just figure out our sorry a melody and you just figure out what? What chords work with it. So, however you like to work, there's no standard thing. People do it both ways. People do it other ways. Um, but let's talk about a couple of her waist. So let's start. Let's start with the core progression. A. So we need that. So let's say let's make an a minor chord. So let's say I'm in the key of a minor, so let's do an a minor chord. Maybe we'll go to the seven someone go down. The seventh is major, Um, and that's the court. We would end up on it would be a G major. And now let's go. Maybe two. I don't want to do that, too, of a minor. That would be be if I build a core based on B. That's that diminished one. I want to deal with that. Ah, let's go. Maybe to the fore that would be d through that. So let's do it A d chord. I'll just build a triad there. And I know the notes in my core progression earned my key of a minor. Because, remember, the key of a minor is the relative minor to C major. So it's all the white notes, so I don't need to draw out all of the scale because I kind of concede it on my piano. Great. Here, let's do one more cord. Um, let's say something that leads us back to a so that we can loop it around. Maybe the five chord would be good. We know that usually works well. That's an E, Um, but I don't go 4 to 5. That's not really what I'm feeling right now, so let's maybe do ah, about a three a c major chord, so that would be based off the third scale degree. That might sound cool. Let's do that. Okay, So here's my core progression. I haven't a minor the G major a d minor, and then a c major. Okay, I'm gonna get this sounding a little bit better. I'm just going to use our inversions trick that we learned before. Maybe I'm gonna take this note up an octave. No, I take that back and then to go back down and take this one this note down inactive, and let's take this note down, Inductive. Now, we've got a cool base thing going back and forth. Okay? So let's hear this. Okay, so it's pretty normal chord progression. Nothing weird about that. Um, let's I'm gonna throw a drumbeat on it. So give me a second while I find some drums just to get us in the feeling of this tune that will help us come up with a good melody for it. Okay. Through the magic of pausing and un pausing my video I have a drum beat now. Um, so I just grabbed it. Just kind of an old loop I had, um So let's hear what I have. Okay. Great. Ah, super simple, but that's okay. So now I want to find a melody that works on top of this. Now, the way I'm going to do that is basically I'm gonna take each chord. I'm gonna like we've aligned through them. So I have another sound set up here something that has a little bit more sustained to it. So this is how I usually start. You could do this however you want, but this is how I like to do it. I'm gonna take this clip and copy it down there. Now, this is my melody Instruments. I don't want my melody Instrument is to, like, play these chords. Um, I wanted to play one core one note at a time, but now I'm looking at my core progression on the melody instrument. So I need to thin this out. So the easiest, most obvious thing to do would be to get rid of everything except the top notes. That always makes a pretty handy melody because these notes work. So maybe we'll start with that. Actually, someone's gonna get rid of these. Okay, so now I'm left with a melody on top of my core progression. It's not gonna be the most interesting melody in the world. So let's hear it. And then we'll see if we could make a little more interesting. First thing I want to do is I'm gonna take it up. Inactive. Okay, so we have four notes that work. Each of these notes works within the cord that's happening at the time. So remember, one of the tricks here is making it sound interesting, Making the melody sound interesting horizontally like as it goes across this way over time. But also it has to work vertically, right? It has to work with all the notes happening at the same time. So all the notes in the cord would be vertically right. Ah, all the melody as a whole be horizontally. So this works both ways because we just pulled these notes right out of the court. Right. Um, let's see if we could do something a little more interesting with them. Let's try to connect the dots a little bit. So for this, I need my scale. And maybe just for the sake of argument, not the sake of argument, because you can't argue because you're there and I'm here. Um, but I'm gonna draw out our scale. Is this the a minor scale? Because I want us just to be able to see it for reference, because now we're really going to need it now. Um, okay, So let's try to connect these dots. What can I do to get in between these two notes? I don't want to go to this note. You know, a d sharp in between because that's not in the key. I want to stay in the key. Um, I could go out of the key to make a melody, notes, but that gets really dangerous. So for this melody, I wanted to sound nice and fairly simple, so I don't want to go out of the key. Um, let's see what we can do to get between these two notes. Let's think this note a little shorter. Maybe just that much. And then we'll add in another note here. Now this note. I wanted to move so I don't want it to stay right there, but it's got to be in the key, so let's go. We could go up. We could go from here to here to here this notice in key. Now, this note is not in the court, right? So for our ah, horizontally, vertically sorry vertically. It's not lining up because this note is not in the cord. And the court happens through this whole bar, right? Or this whole chunk right here. So this no close out of the court, that's okay. Um, we would call that just a passing tone. It's not in the cord, but it's in key. It's going to push us into the next one. You can't have everything be in the court all the time. It will just be boring if you do it that way. So sometimes you go out of the court. Ah, in order to make a more interesting melody, let's hear what? This This note ads for us. Okay, that sounds pretty good. Another thing I could do if I wanted to is instead of that and step back. Here we go. Another good trick is to do Ah, what's called an anticipation. You don't need to remember these technical terms, But ah, basically could go to this d early. So I'm going to the next chord and a telling that works on next. Corbyn gonna do it early. This can sometimes be a cool tricks even if I did it again there, Right, So that could really work. Let's maybe leave this one here. But I'm gonna take this one back because I did kind of like that f there. So I'm gonna go. So this is a chord tone. This is not a cord tone, but it's OK. It's just passing. This is a chord tone and then let's pull it back and then we'll go to this f early and then let's do something different here. Let's say maybe, well, this let's leave. Let's have this f go a little bit longer. And then well, we got to fill out the rest of it and let's go to We could do in anticipation of this e and that could work. Um, but let's try maybe another. Excuse me. Another note in the court. We could do that too, so we could have passing tones. We can also have other notes in the cord are at our disposal as well. So I've now forgotten what this court waas Um we did a a G. I think it was a D minor. So the notes in a d minor, r d F in a so I could go down to a D here. So now I've gone between two chord tones and that works and then up to an e. So let's let's hear that. Okay, that works. But you know what? My imagination kind of inserted here was this note like that went boom, boom, boom. So I went, like, down and up. And then we land on the e. Let's hear that. Cool. It's getting somewhere. Now I want to hear this note change. And I think now I wanted to go down to a D. Okay, not bad. So to summarize all of this, this is a core tone. This is a non cord tone. We would call it. This is a core tone. This is not a cord tone here, but it becomes a cord tone here. Once we crossed this line, it is a court owned. This is a core tone, but this is not 1/4 tone. The non core tone. This is a chord tone, and this is not 1/4 tone. So I've added, but all of the notes are in the key, right? They all work here. Um, but they're not all in the court that's happening horizontally. Kind of connected the dots that kind of weaved a little line through the cords. Ah, and when you do that, some of them are not going to be in the courts. If the melody you make has notes that are Onley in the cord, you're either going to be using a really awesome core progression or you're gonna have a really boring Millie. So don't be afraid to experiment with these non chord tones. Just go outside of of the cords, just try different stuff. Just look at what notes are in the key and say, Okay, I could go to these notes. They're not in the core, but they're in the key. Give it a shot when, um, I could do a lot more with this, but I think that that ah clarifies what I wanted to cover for this element of it. Um, next I want to take a melody and see if we can figure out what chords will work against it. So we'll do that now

Class Description

In the first part of Music Theory for Electronic Musicians, we learned how to work with the piano roll editor in a DAW to make harmonies, melodies, and whole tracks. In this second part, we'll expand on those ideas. We'll work with minor keys, focus some time on melody and bassline writing, and we'll talk about how different tracks work. 

Extensive Analysis 

In this class, we feature an extensive track analysis segment by Daft Punk, Avicii, Skrillex, and many more. In each of these segments, we'll look at their tracks on the piano roll editor. We'll talk about why they sound the way they do, and how you can use similar techniques in your own music. Each of these segments picks apart multiple elements of the song and dissects it in an easily digestiable manner. 

Who should take this course? 

Anyone interested in producing their own tracks. This will get you up and running and give your tracks a unique sound in no time.


This course consists of video lectures, which all contain a session in Ableton Live 9. If you are using a different program (or none at all), no worries! This isn't a class on how to use Ableton Live, and the concepts can be applied to any DAW.  

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Well, I slobbered all over you after your first class and this one is as good or better. I realize people don't go to college for 12 years and learn what you shared in a few hours and you didn't earn your doctorate with just this stuff. I mean Julliard must offer a lot more, but you have advanced my knowledge by miles and I've got to say thank you. Make some more of these simple, common talk courses - I'll buy them all.

Ben Küstner

Real Great Course. I learned a lot about Music Theory and now am jamming better than ever on my keyboard. Thanks Allen

Nick van Lochem

This course its so good he makes it al sound so easy. that ists easy to remember and use in your creations.