Let your counterpoint guide you and write from the top down. Don’t worry about chords until it sounds good. Think about the beginning and the end of the phrase and how you want to get from point A to point B.
The “A” motif in my composition “D Tune” (Ex. 1) is only three notes (A, F#, E) and two chords (D, A7). Since I stretch this melody out a few times in this piece, I have some space to fill. I wanted to experiment with ways to move to the V7 chord, and counterpoint and nice lines that create linear tonal movement can fill the space between chords, and provide musical tension and harmonic motion.
The first time through the tune, beginning at M. 90, the A motif is played twice, first stretched to 9, and then to 10 measures, with a counterline accompaniment beneath. In the below reduction (Ex. 2) I’ve some chord changes, but there are a lot of question marks. The overall motion, however, is I to V (audio examples follow the score excerpts:)
Ex. 3 is the first 8 bars from the the second section, measures 135-142. The A melody is in the second to top voice, a new counter melody on top, some of the same counterline below. With three voices and a bass, interesting harmony starts to happen:
The next A melody phrase (Ex. 4, M. 143-152, below) is much denser. Cross-doubling and moving unisons emphasize and widen the sound of the counterpoint, and the high voice “D” melodic pedal-point (see my earlier post) rings out. Between the high “D” pedal, and the two note A-F# melody, there’s a strong feeling of D major. Or is there? It’s almost as if the D major chord is pedal point, or a background wash, with the harmonies below layered on top. This time the voices move down and almost force the V chord (which has a pretty bizarre voicing):
The chord symbols in Ex. 4 don’t really make sense, but you can see the common tones strong voice leading, and a widening voicing scheme with contrary motion in the outer voices, all moving ahead to the V7.
Let your counterpoint guide you and write from the top down. Don’t worry about chords, write what sounds good. Think about the beginning and the end of the phrase and how you want to get from point A to point B. Techniques like this are ways to do something different from writing a melody with block chord accompaniment and chord changes.
This type of linear harmony and voice movement might set you free from traditional chords, and hopefully answer some of the questions you ask yourself as you face that blank page.
The full score of both examples:
A score of the full piece and a rehearsal demo: