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If I made vocal melodies on the top staff, does it have to be part of the specific chord progressions for each measure?

How would I make the melody on the top staff sound good from measure to measure while sounding good with the melodies on the bottom two staff?

  • What's your current knowledge level? Have you studied fugues or inventions by composers like Bach? Do you know about voice leading or four-part harmony? – Todd Wilcox Jun 5 '18 at 15:35
  • I haven't studied those things yet. My knowledge level is basic. Do you think it's called counterpoint or countermelody? – arc205 Jun 5 '18 at 15:39
  • Counterpoint is a type of music where more than one melody is being played or sung at the same time. It is not the only kind of music where that happens, but studying counterpoint will help. – Todd Wilcox Jun 5 '18 at 15:40
  • Does this song have counterpoint or countermelody in it? There are three staves, the top one is the vocal melodies while the bottom two staffs are the piano accompaniment. musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0063746 – arc205 Jun 5 '18 at 15:49
  • Mostly - that's similar to counterpoint but since it's modern it doesn't follow the same rules that counterpoint originally followed. Also, that uses arpeggios, which you might want to learn about. – Todd Wilcox Jun 5 '18 at 16:03

Here's how I learned to write multiple melody lines playing at the same time:

  • Study four-part harmony and voice leading. You'll want to learn chord analysis and how consonance and dissonance work.
  • Study some of Bach's 2 and 3 part inventions. Pay attention to how the different melodies work together. Do chord analysis on at least one two-part invention.
  • Write your own two-part invention. First, come up with a theme or use a theme you already have. I suggest using a theme that is two measures long. Then, copy the chord progression from one of the Bach inventions that you analyzed. For every measure, write in below the score the actual chords that you are going to go through. Then start with the theme and write each part in one to four measure chunks - don't try to write one part all the way through and then do the other part.

If you stick with it and get all the way through the invention and edit and clean it up and play it and see that it sounds good, you will have basically taken a crash course in contrapuntal melody writing. Making multiple melody lines work together with an existing chord progression will be much easier after this exercise.

  • 2
    Laudable ideas, but there's a fair bit of homework to do before getting to grips with Bach Inventions. A year or so of work prior? In this age of expected instant gratification, I've a feeling it won't be seen as the great answer it is..! +1. – Tim Jun 5 '18 at 16:10
  • @Tim I decided to give the asker the answer that they really need, rather than one they might be likely to accept. If pressed, I will be inclined to quote a maxim: "there are no shortcuts". – Todd Wilcox Jun 5 '18 at 16:14

I sort of answered this in your last question. Any line in a particular bar must bear some relationship to the underlying harmony in that bar - the chord or chords.

There will be some notes which are chord tones, and passing notes which are not, but are often used on weak parts of a bar to get from one good note to another.

In your example though, there's another problem. You already have a 'melody line', so anything on top of that will also have to complement that line, as well as the chords.


One can make an argument that, no, melody & harmony need not be in agreement, but that all depends on the kind of sound you're aiming for. It took 500 years of Western Art Music history for Charles Ives to pull that off with any great success.

Ultimately the real test of what "sounds good" is a matter of taste (on the part of the listener) & the composer's ability to argue their case through their music. While in the general case of Western Music one would write a melody that worked with the exisiting harmonies & countermelodies, that may not meet your specific need, nor be what you hear as you write. Either way: you will need to practice arts of melody writing to compose a good tune.

& one can never go wrong studying counterpoint. After all: everything is counterpoint.


This particular example is Life on Mars? by David Bowie. The piano line does not double the tune, and it's not really a countermelody - it's just an outline of the harmonising chords using arpeggios rather than block chords. The pianist is Rick Wakeman.

As you want to write a new tune to the song whilst keeping the existing piano line, I'd suggest you analyze the chords being outlined (there's more going on than the guitar chords above the stave suggest!) and then construct your tune so its fits the discovered harmony.

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