** As featured in issue 33 **
Hi Guys and welcome back to my fusion rhythm guitar lesson for this issue. For this guitar lesson I want to look at a cool rhythm guitar technique for composing a chord progression based around a very simple melody. Often it can be really hard to come up with basic ideas to work with when you’re not feeling inspired and having a system that you can fall back onto to come up with a starting point can be very useful for your ‘off’ days and even on your good days!
You may or may not have noticed that it can be pretty common to find complex chord progressions and structures based around very simple, often almost entirely diatonic, melodies. The contrast of having a simple melody against this more complex chord work makes for a nice musical composition tool, although the opposite can also be very effective. We’re going to exploit this idea of simple melodic ideas against more involved harmonic progression to give us a compositional starting point.
To begin this process we need to pick a very simple diatonic area or key, preferably with only five notes to begin with. Major and minor pentatonic scales are a great starting point for this so go ahead and pick a root note and a major or minor tonality. Once you’ve chosen your scale you will have five notes from which to compose a simple melody. For now, just stick with a five note melody for the sake of simplicity, although feel free to play the same note more than once in the sequence of five - you certainly don’t have to play all the notes in the scale. Just make sure your melody sounds good to you and has some shape, rather than just being completely scale like.
Now that you have your melody we can start to flesh out the harmony, and remember this is just going to form the starting point of our composition. We can expand and embellish the melody at a later stage if we see fit but for now the simplicity of our melody is very much going to work in our favour.
Choose a random root note as a starting point - for the sake of the exercise it can literally be any note that you like. Once you’ve chosen your starting point, let’s say you chose and A, you then need to assign that root note to the first melody note. Next you are going to move your root note in a very specific way to find the root to assign to the next melody note. The two moves that are allowed are down a semitone and up a 4th or down a 5th (these last two will yield the same result as they are an inversion of one another). The reason that these two type of root movement work is that they generate what we call ‘strong’ root movement, this being something that I’ve referred to before in previous columns. By using this system of root movement we get strong sounding progressions no matter what chord types we use to harmonise our melody.
Go through this process and assign a root note to each melody note (you could of course assign more than one melody note to each root note or vice versa but for now let’s keep things simple). Now comes the part where your level of theoretical knowledge is going to play a large part in what you come up with because you are going to look at the intervallic relationship between the root note and melody note and try to find a chord type that will work to harmonise the two together. For example, if the melody note was an F# and the root note was an A, this would represent the interval of a major or natural 6th / 13th giving us quite a number of chord options from an Amaj13, A13, Amin13, A13b9, A13sus etc. You then carry this process through for the remaining four melody and root note combinations using your knowledge of harmony to find out which chords are available to you and using your ears to determine the choices that you like the most.
Once you have a fully fleshed out chord and melody combination you can then go back and add some harmonic or melodic rhythm, embellish or change the melody, add more chords and a groove to make the composition more like a piece of music. Check out the TAB for this issue to see what I came up with for my composition and I really hope you find this useful for those days where inspiration just won’t strike!