Guitar and keyboard

How Chords Can Limit Your Melodic Ideas

Here’s a tip for you, especially if you’re a chords-first songwriter who works out songs on a guitar. And it may seem like a simple, no-brainer type of tip, but it’s an important one: revoice your chords.

Each time you play through a chord progression, you’ll find that your ear gets drawn to the highest notes you play. In that sense, simply playing through a chord progression on your guitar, or keyboard for that matter, can start to imply a melody.

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with that (and in fact that can be a technique for creating melodies if you’re stuck), playing your chords with the same voicings all the time makes it difficult to imagine other melodies. That’s because your musical mind keeps getting pulled back to those highest notes, and it’s hard to invent a melody that doesn’t match it note-for-note.

So if you’re a chords-first songwriter, consider these tips:

  1. Practice different voicings as a regular part of your instrumental practice sessions. The better a guitarist or keyboardist you are, the better your musical ideas will be.
  2. Take professional lessons. Taking lessons not only powers up your playing technique, it allows you to connect with a professional musician, and that alone will broaden the depth of your musical base. You become a better musician when you play with the pros.
  3. Play through your chord progressions using as many different voicings as possible. You’d be surprised how many new melodic ideas will pop into your head when you hear your chords hitting different top notes.
  4. Change your style of playing as you work out your song. If you tend to mindlessly strum as a typical go-to technique, switch to something different, including fingerpicking, adding harmonics… whatever gets you out of your comfort zone.
  5. Change the sound of your playing. This might mean switching from acoustic guitar to electric, classical, even a different stringed instrument all together, such as mandolin, ukulele, banjo… You might be surprised what this does for your ability to create melodies. Use your imagination… even try detuning your instrument as a way to discover new melodic shapes.

Having your fingers always moving to the same chord positions has the danger of locking you into a sound that makes it difficult to be creative, and limits your melodic ideas. The better you are as a guitarist or keyboardist, the easier you’ll find it to create unique melodies.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter.

all_10_newJan_sm“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundles cover every aspect of songwriting technique. How to write better melodies, chord progressions, lyrics, and more. The bundle packages contain hundreds of chord progressions you can use as is, or modify as you see fit.

Posted in Chord Progressions, Melody, songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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