Some ideas for helping you to imagine melodies while playing chords.
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“Revoicing” means to change the order and/or range of the notes you use to play a chord. For example, the following short excerpt shows three different ways to play around with the C and F chord, each one followed by a higher voicing (Click here to listen):
As you can hear, each time the voicing of the chords moves higher, you get a different impression of the sound of the chords. More specifically, our way of listening tends to pull our ears upward, listening for the higher notes as being most important.
You can use that normal tendency we have to place significance on higher notes to help you create melodies. Each time that you change the voicing of a chord, you hear something new in that progression. So use that to your advantage.
Here are some specific ideas to experiment with when trying to write melodies that work well with chords:
- Get practicing. If you find yourself always going to the same hand position and notes on your piano keyboard or guitar, it’s time to expand your instrumental knowledge. Practice playing chords in as many positions and voicings as possible. This gives you many more options.
- Mix high and low voicings. Take a simple progression, like C Am Dm F, for example, and play each chord a little differently with regard to voicing each time you play through the progression. By mixing high with low voicings, you start to hear a kind of “proto-melody” emerge, something you can develop into a fully-fledged song tune.
- Change playing style. Instead of strumming, for example, try finger picking arpeggios (so-called “broken chords”) to allow you to isolate various notes from the progression. Once you hear interesting melodic shapes appear, try filling in gaps between notes with melodic steps.
Often, you’ll find that the simple step of starting your progression on a higher note is all that it takes to suddenly have melodic ideas begin flowing. Remember that good melodies use repetition as a structural element, so try coming up with a short 1- or 2-bar idea, and then repeating it as you work through the progression.
These ideas are the kinds of activities you’ll find in “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, available from Amazon or any other online bookseller, as well as major-chain book stores.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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