Skip to content
Relate chords to me...
Clear all

Relate chords to melody notes

5 Posts
4 Users
New Member
Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 2
Topic starter  

I have several numbers that I am playing & singing with guitar, mainly po/old folk.

What I cannot work-out, is if the song starts with say 'C' chord, how do I know what note to start singing on?
I would expect C E or G, as these are the chord notes, is that correct? or is that too simple.


Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5342

Yep - at least, it's that simple for the first note although if the chord is C I'd expect the first vocal note to be E or G

After that you'll find there is a controlled movement between chord tones called passing notes, controlled dissonance and resolution and lots of other stuff that can go on but doesn't unless you're singing Bach chorales.

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at:

Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 4921

Yep, it's almost that simple. It takes two general shapes...

When you're creating a song, you can start with chords, or you can start with melody.

Many songwriters start by writing a chord progression they like and singing a melody over it. If your chord progression has a G chord, the notes G, B, and D will sound great with it, because the harmony supports the melody. A and E won't sound too bad either - the melody and harmony work together to create something a bit more complicated, a Gadd9 or G6 sound overall. But sing Ab or C# and you'll quickly decide that's not a good choice... so the melody tends to evolve to match the chords already written.

Some songwriters take a more 'compositional' approach, creating a melody first and then fitting chords to it. Those are usually the folks who have studied a bit more stuff like counterpoint and harmony, and they tend to get more complicated results (complicated in terms of theory - if they do a good job, the listener hears the changes as pretty much inevitable, as in any other good song!)

Here the writer looks over the finished melody and decides where the chord changes should go. They then look at the melody notes and figure out what chords contain all or most of them - that way the harmony supports the melody. The end result is that the melody tones are mostly chord tones.

In either approach you'll get some notes that aren't part of the chord. Dig a little deeper and you'll find one or more of these things is going on:

1. The non-harmonic tone (the one that isn't in the chord) doesn't fall on an accented beat
2. The non-harmonic tone is shorter than the others
3. The non-harmonic tone sits right between two chord tones, and they rise or fall in series (this is called a 'passing tone')
4. The non-harmonic tone is a brief digression from a chord tone... you go B-Bb-B. That's called a 'neighbor tone'. Listen to just about any rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and you'll hear a bunch of them on "land of the freeeee"
5. There are a few others, like escape tones and such - but you typically won't find them in pop music; they're usually in classical or jazz. Most pop writers stay away from them, because they want the overall feel to be pretty smooth musically.

If the melody and harmony don't agree, you get a real uneasy feeling from the music. Outside of some metal and avant-garde classical pieces you won't find those very often. When you do, it's called bi-tonality (the melody is doing one thing, the harmony another).

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL

New Member
Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 2
Topic starter  

Thanks for those 2 replys.
So in a song, while the chords are played, the melody is not always using the notes within the chords?

Upuntil I took-up the guitar 2 years ago, I have never had anything to do with music theroy, and only ever sang in the car, with what I see now as having 'no tune' I didn't realise this 'till I got up at the local music club & sang a few songs, I could then hear my melody just was not there!

I'm just starting to improve, by singing melody using midi files.

Any more advice is always helpful.


Eminent Member
Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 32

Depends on the style, if its pop/rock then I'd use the R,3&5 (C,E&G), whereas if its jazz/fusion/blues, the other scale tones are perfectly viable too, and the 7th is expected! :)

Online Guitar Lessons at