harmonic differentiation

Contrasting song sections using harmony


  • You want a section of your song to sound different and evoke different feelings   
  • You need multiple ways to create the distinction


Creating melodies is simultaneously really simple and very complicated. There’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple and trusting your ear/how it feels. That said however there are really useful ideas that can help you up your melody game.

Five ways to make change with melody  

1. Use the same chords or don’t

You don’t always have to make a change. I mention this here as it such a common technique in modern music. Sometimes the change is more subtle. Add tensions to the same chords or make change in another way. You don’t always have to use changes in chords to make the difference. 

2. Add or remove chords

Adding (or removing) a chord early in a section tells us right away that something else is happening. Changing a chord draws attention so another great thing to do is add a chord underneath a key word, message or moment in the song. This is even more impactful when the chord is unexpected. This might mean it’s a borrowed chord or other chord from outside the key.

3. Change harmonic rhythm

If we change chords more frequently there’s an injection of energy into the song. We can also slow the rate of change. Hold onto the five (V) chord a little longer or reduce the number of chords. Perhaps the section would be just find with one chord? Consider the rate at which your chords change and how many chords you use in a section. Experiment with it and see what it does for your songs. 

4. Switch the order of the chords

A super simple but effective thing to do is change the order of the chords you have already been using. Just try changing the cycle and see what it means for the song. 

5. Pay attention to cadences

We use the term cadence to describe the feeling that a musical phrase has finished,  that there’s no more music to do for that section. The cadence typically resolves all the tension that may have been built by other sections of the music. You can learn more about them in our harmony overview. 

Now what?

Now you have explored harmonic differentiation take a look at making change using rhythmmelody and lyrics.  

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