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When looking at a score of a song I have always looked at a melody against the notes of the chord root but recently I started learning counterpoint and I feel that I may have overlooked the importance of the melody note against the bass. A bassline may play other notes below any given chord so my question is: If I want to write better melodies, and I am learning by analyzing sheetmusic of my favorite pieces of music and songs, should more priority be given to the melody against the bass as opposed to the melody against the chord?

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  • I'd say neither. Write the melody first then put chords and bass to it.
    – user50691
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 10:51
  • I think everyone develops their own process for crafting melodies and so there isn’t one answer to this. Some advocate creating melodies in isolation while others say it’s important to have any harmony in mind while working on melodies. One way to view bass lines is as an jokers to part of the harmony, so if it works for you to think of the bass note of the harmony more than chords then so that. If you find it helps to think about other notes of the chords or the full harmony while creating melodies, then do that. There are no rules Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 14:51
  • I’m voting to close this question because it's opinion-based.
    – empty
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 18:03

2 Answers 2

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A 'good melody' is good based on general principles; such as not using multiple skips in one direction, avoiding constant repetition of a single note, etc. However, when analyzing a harmonized melody, you must analyze both the harmony and bass.

The consideration of the bass versus the harmony is not mutually exclusive; the melodic notes chosen should depend on the harmony, but the specific melodic note may be chosen to favor the bass.

Although the melody against the bass is probably more important for Renaissance and Baroque musical styles, composers of every period take the harmony into account. In modern music, especially pop, the melody is much less likely to have any strong relation to the bass.

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I'd say not particularly. As a bass player, I may play several completely different basslines under the same melody/chords. Where would that leave you?

The melody of most songs has a greater affinity to the underlying chords at any point - usually there will be at least a couple of melody notes which are found in the chord at the time. This helps a lot, as if the two don't match somewhere, either the chord or the melody will be wrong! And don't just regard it as melody against chord root, as you say. While a simple bass line may well incorporate the root of a chord, that's not even half of the story. And bear in mind that sometimes a chord sequence may appear first, sometimes it's the melody line, sometimes the words, and occasionally everything comes out together. Serendipity!

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  • I am not saying or asking if the bassline can change or not... it can and it might. I was asking if the consideration of what melody note gets played has more importance against the bassline (changing or not) note than against the chord root at that given time. Because of the "weight" of the bass, don't we hear the intervals between the bass and melody more than the intervals between the chord tones and the vocal melody?
    – user35708
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 10:24
  • No, I don't think so. Those intervals are generally way more than an octave, particularly with female vox. Chords, whether played on guitar or keys (usually) are much closer, therefore making the intervals smaller. but I don't think that's a particularly relevant consideration, between bass line and melody, unless you're talking particularly about SATB, which is not where I'm answering from. hence my mention of a changing bassline, meaning the intervals between melody and that bassline won't be as important, due to the fact they could be anywhere. What point have I missed?
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 11:50
  • Depends of the style: baroque, classic, pop, jazz ! The more you are experienced in playing and listening the bass line will be there automatically ... Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 13:07

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