Music Information

Chords or Melody First... Which is Best?

There are basically two ways you can compose a piece of music. The first and most traditional way is to write out the melody and then harmonize it. Some call this working from the top (as opposed to the chords on the bottom.) The second approach is where you create some kind of rhythmic harmonic pattern and improvise (or compose) the melody on top. Now, which one is best for New Age music?

The answer is neither approach. Each has its own merits and own special benefits. For example, if you start with a pattern in your left hand and improvise a melody with your right, you are doing what most new age composers/improvisers do. This is what George Winston does most of the time. He has chords he sets to a certain rhythm and does his thing with that amazing right hand of his.

This is the style that I have been playing, but I've recently lost interest in it. Not because it isn't good but because I don't feel like playing that way anymore. Currently I'm leaning towards a softer sound that comes from leading with the melody first. What I do is get the first 2-bars down and then improvise the rest till I fill up 8 measures. This way I can vary the chords and patterns without it sounding very repetitive (minimalism). It's actually another style. You can call it melodic while the other one (Harmony approach) is more textural. IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOUR MOOD!

Don't let one style freeze you into something where you can't maneuver artistically! Remember that your feeling must come first. Everything else is secondary. Let your feeling lead you and your creation will be truly inspired, however, if you try to mold what you have to say into a specific style, the result may be less than satisfactory.

Edward Weiss is a pianist/composer and webmaster of Quiescence Music's online piano lessons. He has been helping students learn how to play piano in the New Age style for over 14 years and works with students in private, in groups, and now over the internet. Stop by now at for a FREE piano lesson!

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