Using 2 Chord Progressions for the Same Melody

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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Melodic fragmentOften, choruses can consist of two runs through the same melody (“Just the Way You Are, by Bruno Mars, for example). It’s fine to simply repeat the chord progression that accompanies it. But as a songwriter, your concern may be that hearing your melody twice might be boring. You do have some easy solutions at your disposal, including adding to your chorus instrumentation as it progresses. But there’s another idea that you might want to consider: try two different chord progressions that harmonize your chorus melody.

Those two progressions don’t need to be radically different from each other. In fact, you will likely achieve what you’re looking for – variety and contrast – by simply changing the first chord or two only.

The only factor you need to be mindful of is that the melody must, of course, harmonize properly with the two different chord progressions.

I’ve done up a quick MIDI file to demonstrate this idea. The first run-through of the melody uses one set of chords. The second run-through starts on the same chord (Gm) but then works through a different progression.

CLICK to hear (opens in a new window).

Gm  F  Eb  Dm Gm  Gm  Cm  Dm  G ||Gm  Cm  Dm  Eb  F Gm  Eb  F  G

The double bar line in the middle shows where the melody repeats. The underlined chords should get one beat each, with all other chords being held for two beats.

As you can see, the chord choices are relatively similar, so the two halves of the melody don’t come across as sounding radically different. There’s another idea you can try, however: focus mainly on major chords for one half of the melody, and minor chords for the other.

The benefit to repeating your melody while changing chords underneath is that it allows you two runs through your melody while giving the listener a creative harmonic journey.

Even if you don’t have the kind of melody that repeats, it’s still a good exercise to try harmonizing your song’s melodies as many ways as possible. You may just stumble upon a chord progression that sounds better than the first one you considered.


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  3. “focus mainly on major chords for one half of the melody, and minor chords for the other.”

    Quick drive-by comment: one nice thing to do as long as you don’t overuse it, is to use a diminished chord to pivot from major to minor or back. Say you’re writing something in one major key, and you hit the dominant seventh. On the second repeat of that bit, bump the dominant 7th over to a diminished seventh; you only have to change one note to do it. Now you can click into the relative minor. So the notes of the melody are the same, but suddenly you’ve gone from, say, Ab major to F minor.

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