Chords are the foundation of music. And naturally, your melodies should fit your chords. But let’s say you have your chords or chord progressions completed; how can you make a melody that fits?
This article will give you three easy ways to make a melody from chords. Let's dive in with the first tip without further ado – using an arpeggiator.
1. Use an arpeggiator
Using an arpeggiator is probably the easiest way to make great-sounding melodies from chords. When you add an arpeggiator MIDI effect to your chords, it cycles through the chosen notes in your chord and creates a melody from it. You can get different results by changing settings such as rate, gate, different styles, and transposing settings.
If creating chords is new to you, you can look up and listen to different chords and draw them into your piano roll. Then, go to MIDI Effects and choose the arpeggiator.
Pro tip: Try automating the parameters for different results. For example, you can slow the rate down briefly or let your arpeggiator play in another style for a moment.
2. Play around the scale
A fantastic feature in Ableton Live is the Scale Mode. Choose your scale, and Ableton will show you exactly which notes a scale contains within your chosen key. For example, see all the C Major and Minor notes, different music modes, and even Japanese scales.
If the root key of your track is A Minor, you can apply Scale Mode in A Minor and see which notes fit the scale. Your hearing is important here, though, as some notes will sound better than others. But as a guide, the Scale Mode works great for creating a melody from chords.
Pro tip: Experiment with different note lengths and velocities, and don't be afraid to make things interesting.
3. Use the chord notes
Want to go a more minimalistic route? Try using only the notes of your chord. Repeat these notes in a groovy fashion that suits the rhythm of your chords. For example, if your root key is C Minor – you have C, D#, and G to play around with. Think of yourself as a human arpeggiator.
Here, you can use the previously mentioned Scale Mode in Ableton to see all the notes in the scale. Of course, you can also go above or even below the chord's notes. Never limit yourself and your creativity.
Pro tip: Don’t limit yourself to one octave – go above or below your main octave for darker or lighter melodic changes.
Melodies are a key part of the music. If you sing along to a vocalist's lyrics, you're singing along to a vocal melody. When you get a song stuck on your head, it's the melody that sticks.
Now, when you know how to make great melodies from your chords, you can start any track by making a solid chord foundation and adding a melody that takes it to a whole new level.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.