How to Write a Melody for Synth Pads - Add Layers to Chord Progressions or Bass Lines (Counterpoint)

In this Hack Music Theory lesson, you’ll learn how to use synth pads in a way that won’t just fill out your sound, but will actually add a vital musical layer to your songs. But first... Tea!

Hello, we are Kate Harmony & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to the Hack Music Theory show, where you are empowered with notation-free theory for making great music in DAWs.

Synth pads are miracle workers for filling out your sound. However, as a result of their sonic superpowers, most producers totally undervalue their potential to contribute musically to their songs. This means that pads are all too often an afterthought; thrown in a section that isn’t sounding full enough. And these "afterthought pads" are super boring, as they’re usually just doubling the chords, or even worse, just playing the root note of each chord. So, if you envision a section of your song being pad-friendly, then try write the pads before you write your lead melody. Because, when pads are written into the core of a section, they can inspire great lead melodies to grow out of them, creating a magical interwoven and layered musical experience (as you’ll see in next week’s video, when we cover the lead melody for this section!).

1:45 - HACK 1 - Counterpad
4:13 - HACK 2 - Trill Your Listeners

Melodies (or chords) played on synth pads are usually simple and move rather slowly, as pads have a rounder sound with less attack, perfect for those long notes! But, when that’s all they play, things can get pretty boring. So, how do you keep your pads simple and slow, without them getting boring? Easy, you just use musical decorations, as they add interest, but don’t interfere with your melodies (or chords), and these little unexpected decorations will definitely trill, sorry, thrill your listeners!

There’s many different types of musical decorations you can use to embellish a simple melody like this, but one of our favourites, and the one we used in this example, is what we call a “slow motion trill”. A trill, also known as a shake, is what you get when you ping-pong super quick back and forth between the note you’re on, and the next note up in your scale. But while a normal trill would probably use 1/32 notes at this tempo, we’re using 1/8 notes, which gives us that same decorative effect, but without the notes turning into a blur. Cos synth pads just can’t handle 1/32 notes - speed is not one of their strong points! So, listen to your pad melody, and wherever you feel it starts to get a bit boring, stop on that note, cut it up, and turn it into a slow motion trill, as that surprisingly fast movement of 1/8 notes will totally invigorate your pads!

The example in this video is the verse section from of our upcoming single “Down with the Drama”, which features the amazing Sarah Serene on vocals. If you missed any of our previous videos on this song, check out our YouTube playlist.

If you want a more in-depth lesson on how to use counterpoint, we suggest our video: Hack Counterpoint & Write Unique Harmonies.

Lastly, do you struggle to finish your music? If you do, then check out our online apprenticeship course, where you’ll learn how to effortlessly write new sections for existing sections, how to transition between them, and most importantly, how to finish your songs! For more info, just head on over to our Apprenticeship Course. Alright, enjoy the video/podcast.

Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada

1: Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
2: Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
3: Learn how to become a song-whisperer, and effortlessly finish music!

Hack Music Theory is the pioneering notation-free method for making great music. Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and wife) Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more. Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his Hack Music Theory method! While these Hack Music Theory YouTube lessons teach music theory for producers and DAW users, they are designed to accommodate all music makers (songwriters, guitarists, etc.) and all genres, from Electronic Music to R&B, Pop to Hip-Hop, Reggae to Rock, EDM/Dance to Metal (and yes, we djefinitely Djent!).