I wanted to write a simple 'classical sounding piece' of music and I find that waltz is the easiest as I have trouble finding chords. I wrote this simple meoldy in A melodic minor but I can't seem to be able to find any appropriate accompaniment chords and corresponding 'bass' notes that would give me this Classicism Period feel that I'm going for. I want it to have a calm feel but still have some tension resolution parts scattered around. Of course I know I would have to modify my meoldy all the time so it doesn't get repetitive but that's a different thing. How would I go about writing some chord progressions that suit my melody?melody Here is an excerpt with the basic rendition of my melody. I've added some accompaniment chords that sound horrible just to illustrate the waltz rhytm that I'm going for (the two connected notes would be the chords). Every accompaniment chord progression I came up with so far either sounds too modern or clashes with the melody. PS: I've never written any 'classical' music before

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    Are you sure this is a waltz? – Tim Jul 6 '19 at 20:17
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    Try D - Am - E - Am – PiedPiper Jul 6 '19 at 23:36
  • @Tim uh um, I'm a beginner :/ – Angramme Jul 7 '19 at 0:37
  • @PiedPiper thank you, but I was looking for a more general method so I can do It myself. How do I know which feelings different chords make in context of other chords and melody. Which chords progressions build tension, which do resolve it? Could you point me to some ressources please? – Angramme Jul 7 '19 at 0:40
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    Some little points! A melodic minor isn't a key. A minor is. There are no # in the key sig. for A minor. Waltz should be no easier to provide chords for - having 3 in the bar isn't a quarter less difficult than having 4! I guess you don't play an instrument. Learning one is a better bet than attempting pure theory. Then get round to the latter. While learning to play, you'll meet all sorts of theory anyway. – Tim Jul 7 '19 at 14:02

I wrote this simple meoldy in A melodic minor but I can't seem to be able to find any appropriate accompaniment chords and corresponding 'bass' notes that would give me this Classicism Period feel that I'm going for. ...PS: I've never written any 'classical' music before

Set that melody aside for the moment.

If you have never written anything in classical style, it may be best to take a fresh start and work with a model with a modest scope. One approach treats the composition process as a rhythmic elaboration of basic harmony.

Here is a simple waltz from a set of waltzes by Schubert...

enter image description here

That's the entire waltz. Only 8 + 16 bars. But we are looking at the finished product with all the detail of linear melody and broken chord accompaniment. Let work backwards from that finished product in stages of progressive harmonic reduction to see the simple origins.

First let's look at an each to understand example. The first bar...

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...can be reduced to...

enter image description here

It is easy to see how the whole bar can be reduced to a single chord, because all of the notes in both left and right hands are chord tones.

But, we can do the same kind of reduction on passages that use scales like bar 4...

enter image description here

...where the notes circled red are the chord tones and the E and C are non-chord tones called passing tones.

If we apply that kind of process to the whole opening 8 bars, we get this reduction:

enter image description here

A number harmonic elements are repeated in those 8 bars. I colored various repeating parts with different colors. Notice the bass in red is repeated with just a small change in rhythm and octave to the B. The chords in blue are repeated the same except a rhythm change for the phrase ending. Part of those chords is in green and it repeats in 4 places in different octaves.

We can reduce all of that to an even more basic harmonic scheme...

enter image description here

Now that we have worked backwards from the finished product to a simple harmonic scheme we can re-assess the part of the original question:

I wanted to write a simple 'classical sounding piece' of music...

While it is possible to take an existing melody and fit it to an accompaniment, a typical classical approach is to rhythmically elaborate a three or four part harmonic framework.

Get a harmony textbook to learn harmony basics. Learn good voice leading from start, that's very important in classical style. Also, learn about cadences and how they are used to delineate phrases and form.

Study material for rhythm is sometimes tricky to find. But for a waltz you probably want to learn about clear metrical rhythm, harmony change over the barline, and harmonic rhythm. Often these things are covered in harmony textbooks, because harmony, rhythm, and meter are all connected.

Finally, review Schubert's waltzes and other dances. He wrote lots of them and most are small size, use these elaboration techniques, and are relatively simple in terms or harmony.

  • Wow, thank you. That's exactly an answer I was looking for. Could you please clarify how do you know which tones are chord tones, and which tones are passing tones? Are you just looking at the accompaniment chord? – Angramme Jul 8 '19 at 22:38
  • When looking at the finished product, the quick answer is "yes" I know chord tones/non-chord tones from a quick check of the accompaniment. But it isn't always that clear. You also try to reconcile with harmonic conventions. Ex. play F, G, C in the bass with D, D E, C in the treble (D E is over the G.) It could be analyzed as ` ii6 V iii6 I` but the convention is ii6 V I where the E is a non-chord tone, an escape tone. But keep in mind the creative process is sort of the reverse of the analysis: adding non-chord tones to a simple harmonic skeleton. – Michael Curtis Jul 9 '19 at 13:52
  • Thank you @Michael Curtis! So I would start by writing some chords for couple of bars that are based on the theory, then I would develop the melody adding the passing tones and such. Finally at the end I would add the accompaniment knowing the chords that I started with. Is that an approach that would work for a beginner? Also where do you learn those "harmonic conventions" that you talked about in the comment i.e what is the proper name so I can look it up? – Angramme Jul 9 '19 at 23:03

This type of harmonization is essentially what you would learn in the first one or two semesters of most music theory courses. So I recommend looking into some theory training. Depending on where you live, you may be able to take these courses at a local community college.


There are certainly other ways to learn these skills besides going to school. One that has been used for hundreds of year is copying. By that I mean taking the sheet music of a piece you like and re-writing it out note-for-note either by hand or using notation software. This technique is especially associated with young Mozart; in the manuscripts he left behind, scholars have found copies of many works by other composers written in Mozart's hand. Of course, in Mozart's day this was usually the only get a copy (neither music publishing nor photocopiers existed), but it is still a great tool for getting inside a composition. You won't learn the names of the various techniques, like you will in school, but you will begin to see various style and methods of composing and harmonizing.

Since the Classical era ended hundreds of years ago, all of that music is now out of copyright, which means the scores are widely available online (imslp.org), so there's really nothing stopping you from doing this today!

  • Thank you for your answer, I know you were before but @PiedPiper gave some ressources. :) Thank you – Angramme Jul 7 '19 at 11:00
  • Thank you for your edit! I will do it this way, It should stay a hobby. The moment it becomes an obligation it also becomes less fun. Hope you have a good day. – Angramme Jul 8 '19 at 15:04

You should start with a basic course in music theory. Ideally you should ask your local music school, but there are plenty of resources online.
For example Music Theory for Musicians, Basic Music Theory for Beginners, Zebra Keys

  • thank you! I was afraid it was going to come to this. How much time does such 1-2 semesters take? half a year a year? I could take a gap year after I pass my final exams. – Angramme Jul 7 '19 at 11:01
  • @Angramme I wouldn't get too overwhelmed by the idea of formally studying music. It sounds like you already spend your free time composing and practicing music, so why not devote some of that time to studying it? In the US, it would usually require 3 hours of class time a week and a few hours outside of class for homework and studying, so it wouldn't require becoming a full-time music student. – Peter Jul 7 '19 at 15:09
  • @Peter thank you! I actually live in France, but I guess it isn't so different here. But I'm already taking lessons 1h per week of piano with a local teacher, and the closest music uni is 1h ride from where I live sooo... Moreover I already have a lot of homework at my school :( I think I will try to learn online. What do you think of it? – Angramme Jul 7 '19 at 16:27
  • @Angramme That's sounds like a great idea, music is a life-long learning experience, so you don't have to rush. See the edit to my original answer for some advice. – Peter Jul 7 '19 at 18:21

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