Compose a Melody from a Chord Progression

By now you’ve gone over some popular chord progressions and were maybe thinking, these progressions are great and all, but how do I add a memorable melody to the chords? Which notes of the melody can I use to harmonize with these chords? As mentioned in Different Compositional Methods using the harmonic approach will limit the melody of your composition. Only certain melodic notes will fit with the structural chords. However, the options available are diverse enough to create memorable melodies.

Generally your melody will use the tones that define the chord notes. For instance, if you are using a C major chord, your melody will use C, E, or G, with passing and approaching notes.

Composing a Melody Example

Another approach when choosing melodic notes is to observe the overall trend of the chord progression. For instance, if you choose a common C major, F major, G major progression, and play each chord on its tonic, then the overall trend will be ascending. To create an interesting melody over this trend, you will want contrast. To create a melodic contrast to the harmonic ascension, you could have the melody line on an overall descending slope, such as C, A, G. As shown in the picture.

Compose a Melody from a Chord Progression

In this example the melody has an overall downward motion, with a few upsetting passing and approach notes. This downward melody contrasts with the base chord ascension, which creates tension. To counter act the tension, I created a uniform rhythm, allowing for sense of overall form during the short melodic phrase.

You can also try to find a common note within your chord progression and base your melody off of that common note.
"For example, if you have a chord progression of C major, F major, A minor, then each of these notes have the common note of C. C would be the central note of the melodic phrase."

Composing a Melody - Change it Up!

However, be careful with this method to not make your melody monotonous. Ensure that the passing notes add variety, contrast, and some tension to the composition.The most memorable melodies are composed of contrasting sections. If you start a compositional piece with a slow chord progression and a sad tune, try to segue that section into a different mood, such as mysterious, or nervousness. To that end, you will want to not only change up the chord progression from section A to section B, but also change the direction of the melody by utilizing the techniques above.