How to Write a Melody
How to Write a Melody: Check out our extensive guide on how to compose a brilliant melody…
Writing melodies is a key skill with every successful melody writer dreaming of creating something unforgettable.
It’s certainly a shared ambition among the best songwriters and artists with everyone from the Beatles to Little Simz adept at writing their own melodies.
The popularity of a song can depend on these melodic ideas – after all, inspirational song melodies are usually what get stuck in the listener’s head, leading to more streams, higher chart positions and greater success.
But what makes up a great melody?
What are the different elements that go into it and what are some of the essentials writers need to know to help them compose a melody?
Here’s our extensive guide on how to write a melody alongside some top tips on chord progressions, motifs, creating memorable melodies and more…
What is a Song’s Melody
Songs are made of various moving parts such as lyrics, rhythm and melody.
The word ‘melody’ itself originally hails from the Greek word ‘melōidía’. Its literal definition is as a “linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity”.
It is a sequence of notes within a piece of music and there can be several different memorable melodies in a song for the verse, chorus and bridge, all of which can take multiple forms.
How are Melodies Used in Different Genres
A melody could be just one musical phrase with a handful of notes or a more complicated structure incorporating numerous ideas.
It can often be defined by the genre a songwriter is working within. Styles ranging from prog to opera and electronic music can be far more melodically intricate than a nursery rhyme or pop melodies.
What Makes a Memorable Melody?
For some melody writers, this is the million dollar question. But ultimately, there’s no set formula or equation to make a melody stick with a listener.
Melodies often follow different structures – perhaps a rhythm or a musical phrase, (the musical equivalent of a sentence in language) repeats itself over and over.
Maybe the melody follows a certain pattern which it continually returns to. Some follow a contour which is a flow of different melodic lines or lines of music.
The simpler a melody is, the more likely it is to be remembered, and many songwriters aim to create something that repeats itself without being boring or outstaying its welcome.
Ultimately, as with so much of our musical taste, this can all be subjective.
How to Write Your Own Melody
On starting your melodic adventure, the first decision you need to make is to pick your instrument of choice.
Whether it be the guitar, keyboard or a specific piece of software, whatever you choose can open up different melodies via new tones, sounds or chord progressions unique to that particular piece of instrumentation. Learning how to write a melody will eventually become a personal process.
How to Use a Chord Progression
A chord progression is the order in which chords are played within a song or composition and can be a very useful tool for a songwriter. These chords and the way you play make up the harmonic foundations of a piece of music.
After you’ve worked out the different notes for your melody and song, you can build on this via a chord progression and there are plenty of common chord sequences out there.
C Major is one of the most well known examples of a chord progression. It includes the following notes:
C Major | G Major | A Minor | F Major
C Major is used across a range of genres and is billed as one of the most popular chord progressions in music thanks to its ubiquitous use by artists ranging from Green Day to Men at Work.
Building Songs with a Chord Progression
The topic of how to write a melody is a complex one. Songwriters often start writing a melody by utilising a series of chord changes, then coming up with melodies using the notes in each chord. This way, the chord you use will help you work out the notes and the key to play in.
Some chord progressions can have as many chords as you like but need a minimum of two to become a progression. If you can vary the rhythm slightly, then this can lead to better melodies.
Certain songs only have one chord but that certainly doesn’t diminish their power. For example, Bob Marley & The Wailers’ ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ sticks to a single chord throughout.
Use The Pentatonic Scale
The pentatonic scale is a five note scale and there are major and minor versions. It is familiar across different musical genres with one of the most famous examples being the G major pentatonic scale in ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.
The song, written and recorded by US rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, features three chords D, C, and G that all fit together in the G major scale.
Memorable Melodies | Essential Tips
- Choose your musical scale
- C Major scale
- Plan vs improvise your great melodies
- Utilise different ways into your melody
- Come up with a verse ahead of the chorus
- Don’t settle for your first melody
- Give your melodies the time and space to breathe
- Turn up and commit to melody writing
- Give your melody writing a break too
- And yourself
- Write melodies with stepwise lines
- Repeat certain melodic phrases with slight twists
- Utilise a different instrument
- Use counterpoints for inspiration
- Be a fan and listen to your favourite artists
Choose Your Musical Scale
Composing a melody that works and is memorable can be based around a scale.
Scales are groups of notes arranged in either ascending or descending order with major scales usually sounding more upbeat, minor scales more melancholy.
Major scales are very familiar to the average listener and have all the ingredients you need to express many different kinds of emotions. They are often used by many of the world’s best songwriters.
C Major Scale
One of the simplest scales is C major as it consists of natural notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. An even simpler version is the C major pentatonic scale: C, D, E, G, A.
If you want to add up more melodies, then you can blend major and minor scales.
Ultimately, using a scale that fits a chord progression means any of its notes can be incorporated in a melody. It immediately limits the amounts of notes you can use and can help melody writers zone in on the foundations of a song.
Plan vs Improvise Your Great Melodies
It can be tempting to compose melodies without any limitations and it’s true that starting to freeform notes and tunes can be an effective way of coming up with initial ideas. You can start by playing or singing different notes within a scale you decide on.
At the same time, having a map for your music can always be a useful way of working. Consider the chorus first, then write in reverse towards your bridge and verse.
Or think about whether you need an intro melody or what kind of pre-chorus would work best with the chorus. Whether you prefer improvising or preparing, both options can lead to great melodic rewards. As a songwriter, you just need to work out which is best for you.
Utilise Different Ways Into Your Great Melody
From the lyrics to finding your rhythm or different pitches of notes, there are multiple ways into a song or melody. As we’ve said, there is no right or wrong way of approaching your music. Using different processes can keep you stimulated and lead to exciting, different results.
Come Up with A Verse Melody Ahead of the Chorus
Seven Nation Army has one of the most notorious and noticeable bass lines ever. Sporting fans
As a songwriter, the chorus is where you might feel the most pressure to deliver. After all, this is where the magic often lies for the listener. It is where the memorability of a song and its impact can really be felt but for its creator, it might understandably seem like a daunting task, particuraly if you’ve been asked to write a pop song.
One way of tackling it is to focus on the song’s verse first and aim to capture this melody ahead of the chorus. Once this is in place and you’re happy with it, your way into the chorus should come into focus more easily.
Don’t Settle For Your First Melody
Songwriters don’t always nail their best melody on their first attempt. In fact, a melody can often be improved and refined during editing and music can often reap new dividends on repeat visits from the writer.
You can keep returning to a melody until it has a high enough impact to effectively grab the listener’s attention.
Give Your Melody Writing Process Space to Breathe
If something doesn’t work or feels difficult to track, then sit on it for a while and come back to it. It’s worth remembering that songwriting is considered as a muscle by many top writers. The more frequently it is flexed, the stronger and more productive it becomes.
However, if you leave melodies for a while, you should be able to identify those which stick in your head and those that need to be left on the editing room’s floor.
Turn Up and Commit to Melody Writing
Melody writing, like any creative art, requires practice. It’s unlikely that the first thing you write will be a work of genius. That’s not to say it’s impossible but usually writers need to invest in their skills and refine their process.
The more you write melodies, the better you should become and the more likely you are to find the creative process that works best for you.
Give Your Melody Writing a Break too
Creative blocks can happen to the best of us and often prevent songwriters from finding their best melodies. So if you’re just running into dead ends with your music, why not down tools and do something else for a while?
Exploring how to write a melody can be tough. Stepping away from your instruments and the studio can be as beneficial to your own wellbeing and writing as much as practising every day. It’s all about finding a balance between the two.
Write Melodies With Stepwise Lines
Song melodies are usually a mixture of stepwise motion (moving from one note to the next one up or down) and leaps (moving to different, not adjacent notes).
Often, the songs that don’t have too many skips and move in a stepwise motion can be extremely memorable such as the melody to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.
Although there is a skip at the start, it is written in a major chord and moves in simple steps. A stepwise motion might be the most common but some writers feel that melodies are more dramatic with a mix of steps and leaps.
Repeat Certain Phrases With Slight Twists
If you come up with a short musical phrase – just a few notes in a certain order or rhythm – then one way of creating interest and grabbing the listener is by repeating it with a slight twist.
It could be a different note for each, perhaps a new lyric or off-kilter rhythmic pattern. Any of these approaches can instil your music with an extra layer of excitement.
Utilise a Different Instrument
Writing with a new instrument or piece of software can be an effective way of coming up with ideas or developing a fresh approach.
If you are trying to find a melody, then maybe use a voice note app on your smartphone to capture vocal lines. This way you can return to an instrument with your new ideas.
Use Counterpoints for Inspiration
Having lots of patience is essential when you’re learning to read bass tab. Although they won’t take Write two melodies rather than one, then focus on interweaving them together. This gives you more room to experiment with layers around a song and can open up new opportunities to dream up winning melodies.
Be a Fan and Listen to Your Favourite Artists
When your learning how to write a melody, whether it’s Kate Bush, Self Esteem or Dave, many of our favourite artists are masters of melody and it’s worth delving into their music to learn more about their creative process.
Focus on what works for you, then try to use this inspiration as a springboard to figure out your own music.
Melody writing is just one part of the songwriting process but, as we’ve seen, it can be essential if a piece of music is to work and stick in people’s minds and ears. It is often the main focus of a track and not only help define it but give it a great hook.
There’s no denying that learning how to write a melody can be tough and there are numerous ways to take on the challenge of coming up with an amazing melody. You need to remember to stay curious, be willing to experiment with different approaches and find music that works for you – hopefully it will for others too. Work on your melody writing skills with your acoustic guitar to refine those rhythmic patterns. Or explore music theory and your vocal range to write a melody. Just remember that there are many routes into your music. Good luck!
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