Help with finding the chords.

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Member Since: Apr 11, 2003

I am now officially an addict of this site...

Looking for advice/tips on the following. I write my own stuff but usually, although not exclusively, come up with the melody first. Problem is I seem to have real difficulty finding the chords for the melody. Anyone got advice on this? I am willing to listen to anything.

I recently lost my writing partner, he was only 35 and I am now venturing into the world of solo writing which is alot more difficult as together we used to fumble around the fretboard until we found the chords to fit. Now I have to find them all myself and need a helping hand.

Thanks in advance,

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Since: Sep 09, 2002

Apr 16, 2003 09:57 am

try humming the note you're lookign for first. keep humming until you find that root note (1st). once you're positive you've found the root of the chord, we will go off looking for two more important notes, the 3rd and the 5th.

Lets start with 5th, it's almost always in the same place. From your first root note, counting it as zero, count up in semi-tones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. This note is probably the 5th note in your scale. Play the root and fifth together. They should jive together nicely. These two notes together are called "fifth" chords, or as guitarists like to call them, "power chords".

Next lets look for the real voicing of your chord. That's gonna be in the "third" note of the scale, so we'll find it somwhere between the root and fifth. For a minor chord, which give your chord a "sad" sound, we will count up from the root by 3 semi tones. Find you minor third and play the 1st, 3rd, and 5th togther, it should sound sad. To find your major third, come up fro the root by 4 semi-tones. This is a happy sound. Play your 1st, 3rd, and 5th and your chord will sound happy.

There's tons of other chords out there, where we can add the 7th, or the 9th of the scale, etc, and come up with all kinds of other wonderful voicings, but for now just practice with your 5ths, majors, and minors. They are the easiest to begin with (and the only ones I know for that matter!) Hope I've been of some help. Corrections and additions welcome -j

Since: Sep 09, 2002

Apr 16, 2003 10:01 am

oh! i just re-read your post. You're playing guitar aren't you? Then in that case, it's 10-times simpler. Learn your barre chords and those suckers can just be slid around anywhere on the fret board.

Learn you notes by name on the 5th and 6th strings. Then learn you barre chord shapes for chords rooted on the fifth and sixth strings, and then you move those shapes anywhere in the fretboard. Everytime you learn a new shape, you lean not just one, but 12 more chords!

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer
Since: May 10, 2002

Apr 16, 2003 11:53 am


Sorry to hear of your loss. Jamie has it pretty much covered. There are so many levels to what you are asking. I would say without any idea what you have on hand to continue to work with the chords you have mastered in the guitar for the fit. I follow the practice that Jamie outlined first. Find the root, build up from there. Once I find a fit then I will play with inverting the chord structure if there is a different effect that may work better. If you find it too much to try to match chords with a piece in the begining try playing one note at a time on the guitar as you sing. This will help you reveal the roots of the chords. Then build on those roots.

Since: Jan 18, 2003

Apr 25, 2003 03:52 am

hi steph

i've been drinking, so let's see if this makes sense. jamie's advice is great as a place to start. finding root notes will help develop your ear, and chords based on the melody note will usually tend to fit. depending exclusively on that, though, can sometimes get predictable. there are lots of things you can try.

maybe try to learn a little bit of harmonic theory. bookstores have lots of beginner guides to music theory, and i have found a basic understanding of harmony to be invalubale in writing. basically the way to start is to learn the seven chords that reside in any musical key, then figure out what key your melody is in. then you have a set of seven chords that you can shuffle around. it's a good place to start. it gets you away from using chords based on the root note all the time, and gives you some more options.

its not a complicated process but it takes some work to learn. but since youre learning on guitar, you can maybe try out some of these quick shortcuts.

i'll bet you have a good sense as to what note feels like 'home' in your melody. it will be the place where the melody seems to be at rest, resolved, at peace. 9 times out of ten this note is the name of the key you're playing in. use your ear to find it. once you have it, you can easily generate the seven chords that belong to that key, and you use them sort of freely. most popular tunes throughout history pick thier chords just from out of the seven possibilites (and thier variations like various types of 7th chords) found here.

let's use C major as an example, since C is a good key for guitar. so, let's suppose your home note feels like it's C. from there, do this:

1. skip a fret, from c. you'll land on d. rememeber this.
2. skip another. you'll hit e. remember this.
3. don't skip. just move up one. that's f.
4. skip to g.
5. skip to a.
6. skip to b.
7. go straight to the next note, and you're back home to c.

the spacing of this pattern is the major scale. if your home note feels like C, you're probably in the key of C, which is just a way of saying that the chords that make up that key are going to come out of the c major scale, which, again, is: c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c.

now how do you get the chords? there's one built on each note of the major scale, and they go in this order: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminished (just use minor) and back to major.

so in c you have cmaj, dmin, emin, fmaj, gmaj, amin, bmin. how do you make these?

on guitar it's easy! learn one bar chord shape plus one modification to it. as an example, you can build your first one on the fifth fret. here it is:
1. put index finger on fifth fret, fat string.
2. put ring finger on seventh fret, the next string over.
3. put pinky on seventh fret, next string over.

that's the 'power chord.' now, to make it a truly movable barre chord, you need to keep those fingers as they are, but make your index finger into a bar all the way across the neck, so all six strings sound. doing that makes a minor chord. you can move it anywhere up and down that sixth string and it's name will be the name of the note your index finger is on. on the fifth fret, the chord name is A minor. to change it into a major chord, (still working on the example at the fifth fret) just put your middle finger down on the 6th fret, on the 4th fattest string. that gives you:

fifth fret, 6th string
seventh fret 5th string
seventh fret 4th string
sixth fret 3rd string

and thats a major bar chord, and you can move it anywhere, and its note name will be the name of the note your index finger is on.

to really make this work you need to learn bar chords on the fifth string, too, so you wont have to have your hands all over the neck to get all the chords in the key. the shape is a little different there because the 3rd string of the guitar is tuned differently. but the same principles apply. make the c major barre chord by placing:

1. index finger on C: 3rd fret, 5th string (thats the second fattest string--i dont know your skill level!)
2. make a bar on the fifth fret, for the next three strings over. personally, i cant make my fingers do that bar very easily so i just use three fingers. this gives you c major. to make it minor, you have to lower the note on the thinnest string by one fret. there are diagrams in books and online as to how to make and finger barre chords. its the most useful and basic chord for guitar because its movable.

once you have the hang of barre chords, practice moving them around a major scale, following that sequence of major minor minor major major major minor. thats how you harmonize any major scale. those seven chords are the most basic and logical ones (but not the only ones) you can use for a major key melody. there's a trick to minor key harmony too, in case you're writing a tune that has a minor feel: for any minor key, the seven chords that make up the key are the same seven chords that make up the major key which lies 3 half steps (frets)above your root note. the key of A minor uses all the same chords that C major does: they're just in a different order. it's real easy to see this on a piano.

i have no idea if this has been any help. it's just the foundations of harmonic theory. there are so many options for chords to all depends on your melody and whether it 'sticks to the scale' or deviates. i don't know how you write--i usually dont write melodies that fall neatly into the major or minor scale, and then i have to get inventive with chords. but this is a good place to start, and for those weird moments when your melody takes off to a new place, you can either learn more theory or use your ear like you have been. or a combination of the two.

hope that was useful


Since: Jan 18, 2003

Apr 25, 2003 03:59 am

oh yeah, almost forgot to clarify the whole issue of 'what is a major scale,' in case youre not familiar.

basically the thing to take from those instructions about how to pick c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c, and generate a major scale, is this: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. thats the pattern for major scales, and it's the same from any note you start on.

if you get more into theory you can learn other scales by just remembering shortcuts, so you dont have to memorize any other scales, ever. like, the lydian mode is just a major scale with the 4th note raised by a half-step.


Chief Cook and Bottle Washer
Since: May 10, 2002

Apr 25, 2003 11:42 am

Ya, Fortymile mentions a real good alternitive with modal theory. It is great ear training as well!

Since: Sep 09, 2002

Apr 28, 2003 06:24 am

great reading fortymile. i found that useful. you write very well.

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