How do you find the right chords in songwriting when you know the melody notes?

Hello everyone!

A friend of mine composed the melody and lyrics for a song and asked for my help in order to add guitar in the song.

Side note: I’m currently on level 4.2 in musical theory so minor scales, harmony and complex song writing are way above my knowledge and I’ve put myself in very deep waters, despite having written songs myself

So far, we have transcribed the voice melody on guitar so that it exists in a written and musical form, not only in her head.

Turns out that the melody uses the following notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, G#

I was almost certain the scale was C major till this stray G# appeared. Any ideas on what this scale is?

Also, any introductory tips in terms of finding the chords that match or composing a backing riff are very much needed!

Thanks a lot!


It depends a lot on how the G# is used, it could be a passing note or an intentional note to build tension. You need to decide which chords in C you want to use and see what it sounds like. If it’s only occurring a few times you could use a pause in the accompaniment to increase the tension.
I’m sure that there will be other opinions so it’s probably worth not doing anything yet until you get more answers.

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Hi Helen! Great to see you are producing great stuff with your friend. Keep it up!

I have no idea what I am supposed to tell you in theory wise (I never need that other than some basic understanding on chords, scales on guitar etc), and to determine the key I would need to listen to how melody is contructed instead. (It can be either C Major or A minor, which use the same scale, for example)

To fill in the chords, here is the best tips:
Why not try out and use ear to determine whether if it is right? =)

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As Darrell says, the G# may not be a note from the scale.

Given all the other notes you could start working from a departure point that the song is in C.

Then your chords in the key would be C Dm Em F G Am Bdim.

If you look at F G# (or call it Ab) C then you have Fm. This could be a borrowed chord. And it is common to compose a chord progression that has F Fm in it (I gather the Beatles liked to do this). That may or may not work when you sing the melody over the chords.

You might also explore chords, using your ears as suggested, and see which chord sounds like ‘home’ when you sing the melody and lyrics.

You may find that you end up with a mix of chords that come from different scales, rather than being diatonic ie making use of the chords from key (as I indicated above).


Have you got any means of sharing a small sample of the melody?
Either recorded or created using software?
With a matching transcription on standard notation or tab?

Looks like G# is a borrowed chord from C minor scale, great subject from our mod Richard already on the forum on that subject :slight_smile:

Using borrowed chords - introduction + examples


Hi. What is the mood feel? Happy or sad, major or minor respectively. I suspect you listed the melody notes alphabetically. As noted, C major scale hits all but the G#. So find the “home” note and choose the “right” sounding chord quality for it. If that works, you have a working key and can proceed from there.

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Not very serious answer: ask your fried to swap that stray G# to G or A. Then you can use the C major scale.

More serious answer: it depends on a lot of things and how complex chords you would like to use (major / minor / power / sus / 7th / extended / etc).

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I’ll need to have another session with my friend to complete the transcribing process and then I’ll make sure to send you a recording either with her voice or with the guitar playing the melody!

More of a rebellious song… What scale would fit best?

Thank you everyone!

Your advice has helped me a lot.

I’ll make sure to keep you updated on the writing process:)

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@DavidP pointed out above that G# exists in Fm, which would be the iv (4 minor) chord in C.

There is a very common and very cool sounding (imo) chord progression using the iv chord in major scale:

I - iii - IV - iv

A famous song that uses this progression is Creep by Radiohead.

In C major scale, that would be:

C - Em - F - Fm

It may or may not fit your song but maybe you could use the F chord before the bar that the G# is in, then the Fm chord for the bar of G# to create the same effect.


And as a general approach to fitting chords to a melody (called ‘harmonising’) the most basic approach would be to write down the melody divided by bars.

Then look at notes in each bar and use the chord that covers as many of these notes as possible.

For e.g. let’s say a bar contains notes E, F and G. Since chords are stacked thirds any triad chord containing the F note cannot contain E or G so it makes more sense to target E and G. Chords containing E and G are the C chord and the Em chord so you could use either for that bar.


That’s extremely helpful, thanks a lot!

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