A great way to compose a lead melody (or an element that accompanies your main melody) is to take a chord progression and turn it into an arpeggio - a broken chord where the notes are played in sequence rather than at the same time. They really are a fundamental element in trance music that help create harmony and rhythmic interest.
Let’s explain arpeggio with an illustration. See below:
The first illustration shows three bars representing a chord. Its notes sound at the same time. Below that you find the chord broken up in a sequence of notes. As you can see, they follow the notes of the original chord. This arpeggio goes up, but it might as well have gone down. Or first up and then down.
Now, the key to a great arpeggio is a great, cool chord progression. Here at Midichords.com we have loads of them, so make sure to download some of them after you’ve finished reading this tutorial. They’re a great way to kick-start your new track!
For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll use a rather cool chord progression. See the piano roll below:
I’m not going to dwell here on the precise scale and chords, but you can download the midi for this chord progression here. I suggest you go ahead and grab the file and import it into your sequencer so you can program along with this tutorial.
Let us have a listen to the chord progression, so we get an idea of the mood and atmosphere. Again, the chord progression is quite crucial. You can have a great sequence of notes going in all directions, but if it is based on a bad chord progression, it is never going to sound good.
That's a nice chord progression isn't it? Now, what we will do is create a 3-note (triad) arpeggio across the upper three notes of this progression. See below:
If you do that for the entire progression you get something that sounds like this.
That sounds nice too doesn't it? Most DAW's have an arpeggiate feature by the way, which can quickly turn every chord progression into an arpeggio. And while this can help you to quickly break up your chords (for instance the way it is shown above), it is always a good idea to give your arpeggio's a personal touch by adding some notes here and there and moving a few notes up or down.
The arpeggio we created sofar sounds nice, but it is a bit boring. Adding a few accents can do miracles however. For instance, what would it sound like if we added a few notes just before a bar ends? See below:
Do you see where I have put the new (red) notes? In the first bar I added two on the low note, on the second bar one on the low note and one on the note in the middle. I've done this for the entire progression and this is what it sounds like.
Wow, cool. Sounds better already. Where to put the notes to get the desired effect is very much a matter of experimentation. Just play around with it. Add some notes here and there, drag them around and listen, listen, listen. The best tracks evolve by ear, trust me.
We're going to add a few more notes. One thing you may have noticed - especially if you grabbed the midi and look at it in your DAW - is that the chord progression is actually an 8 bar progression that is repeated, in total16 bars. Now, what I will do is add some note or notes to bar 7 and 15 that create a sense of conclusion to the arpeggio.
Check out the piano roll below:
The illustration shows bar 7 and 8 and the note (red) I placed in bar 7 just above the upper note in the chord. Note that I did the same in bar 15. The arpeggio now sounds as follows.
Do you hear the difference? A few top notes and our arpeggio really gets character.
It is time to combine the arpeggio that we have programmed with the original chord progression. Have a listen to the fragment below.
I did add a few layers to create a bit more texture, but that does not change the overall idea.
Now, what applies to the lead/melody, applies to the bassline as well. We can arpeggiate notes of our chord progression to create a cool bassline. We do not want it to follow the exact same pattern as our lead arpeggio, so we'll create another one. See below:
Again it's a 3-note arpeggio, but this time with only 3 notes per bar. Also, it is based on the lower notes in the chords. The third note in the 3-note arpeggio is actually one octave lower than the same note in the chord. That's perfectly alright.
So, what we have done here is create a slower en lower arpeggio for the bassline. Let's put it to the test and mix it with what we composed previously.
That's it folks! We've created quite an interesting fragment with a lead arpeggio and an arpeggio for the bassline based on a single chord progression. It is not a complete track of course, but hopefully it will inspire you to create some cool arpeggio's yourself. Remember to experiment as much as you can. This will help you to understand what works and what doesn't.
If you would like to play around with the chords and arpeggio's of this tutorial then you can download the complete multi-track midi file here.