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Stage 1: Compose a Basic Idea

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You need a two-bar melody based on simple harmonies for all the structures suggested later in this method. In Stage 1 you choose a tempo, time signature etc. and then you are ready to mess around with melodies over simple two-bar chord sequence until you come up with something you like.

You can work on an instrument or computer but remember the following:

  • keep rhythms simple but include something memorable (e.g. a dotted rhythm or a quaver-two-semiquaver pattern)
  • only use standard dissonances
  • for the moment use a piano score with just an indication of the chord in the bass stave and the melody in the upper stave – a complicated accompaniment at this stage will distract you from writing a good melody

Choose Tempo, Metre, Key etc.

Don’t just go for the defaults of 4/4, mm = 100, C major and no articulation or dynamics or your melody will end up being really boring!

Use the table below to help you choose some more interesting options. You can pick a combination or time signature, tempo and key signature. The last column offers some common patterns of rhythm or articulation that you might incorporate alongside simpler rhythms.

Time signatures Tempi Key Gestures
6/8 Presto
(mm. 176)
D major A dotted rhythm
2/2 Adagio
(mm. 66)
G minor Three staccato crotchets
3/4 Allegretto
(mm. 120)
Bb major A legato triplet
2/4 Andante
(mm. 84)
F major Two slurred notes followed by a staccato note
4/4 Allegro vivace
(mm. 144)
B minor Staccato quaver followed by two slurred semiquavers

Choose a Chord Sequence

Choose from the following list (a basic idea with simple harmony will be much easier to work with later). Those highlighted in green are the most suitable for writing a sentence (the simplest structure in Stage 3) whilst those in blue are more suitable for periods and need a bit more care to turn into a sentence.

  • I
  • I – V
  • I- IV
  • I – V – I 
  • I – IV – I
  • I – ii 
  • I-vii(6)-I
Look at and listen to some examples of ideas based on these chords

More ideas for harmonic progressions HERE

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