Music Theory
Acoustic Composition
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Can Harmony Tell a Story?

A melody is capable of expressing many thoughts all on its own, but, when accompanied with an appropriate chord progression, it’s possible for a melody to transport the listener to an entirely different world. Let’s look at an example to see more about how this can work:

These are the first 13 measures of the melody in Chopin’s Prelude in E minor. Let’s listen to this melody with and without the chordal accompaniment.
Notice how the chords change the tone a feeling of the melody. What kinds of emotions or thoughts are being expressed?

This originally untitled prelude has traditionally called the Suffocation Prelude because of the sense of despair. What’s creating this sense of despair? Would the same effect be possible with any chord progression? Let’s find out.

Chopin would probably hate this example, but hopefully he would understand the educational purpose behind this reharmonization.

Practical takeaway

When arranging, it’s important to consider what story the chord progression is telling. Don’t be afraid to experiment and occasionally break some of the “rules” of functional harmony.