Melodies are like the voice of music, whether they’re instrumental or sung. They can be simple or complex, but what’s most important is that they catch our attention and make us feel something.
The melody is usually the main part of a song that we remember, or the “hook.” When we write melodies, we want to create something that’s catchy, exciting, and emotional all at the same time.
Writing a melody is both a mental and instinctive process. Different patterns of notes and intervals can evoke different emotions and images. In today’s world of digital media, having a short, memorable melody that gets stuck in people’s heads is more important than ever.
In this article, we’ll explore the role of melody in music and give examples from different genres. We’ll also give you nine steps to follow when you’re writing your own melodies. So let’s get started!
What Is A Melody?
If you’ve ever found yourself humming a tune you can’t get out of your head, you know the power of a good melody. But what exactly is a melody? Simply put, it’s a sequence of notes that we recognize as a distinct and memorable tune in a piece of music. The word “melody” comes from a Greek term that means singing or chanting, which makes sense considering how much we associate melodies with vocal music.
But what makes a melody stand out and stick with us? One key factor is the interplay between tension and release. A great melody will build anticipation and then deliver a satisfying resolution, often by playing with our expectations based on the music we’re familiar with. A good melody will also incorporate contrasts, like different note intervals, major and minor scales, and changes in timing or dynamics.
Finding the right balance between the familiar and the unexpected is key to creating a memorable melody. If it’s too predictable, it can sound cliché, but if it’s too experimental, it can be hard for listeners to connect with. Different genres of music have their own conventions when it comes to melody, from the verse-chorus structure of pop and rock to the intricate patterns of electronic music.
So how do you create a melody? There are many approaches, from building a melody around a chord progression on a piano or guitar to using a digital audio workstation (DAW) to sequence beats and instruments.
The most important thing is to create a melody that is identifiable and above all, makes you feel something. Whether it’s a vocal line, a synth riff, or a bass groove, a great melody has the power to move us and stay with us long after the music has stopped.
3 Types of Melodies
Creating a melody can be tricky, but there are different approaches that songwriters use to come up with catchy tunes. Let’s take a look at three types of melodies that are commonly used in music production.
1. Chord-Based Melodies
The first type of melody is based on chords. Some songwriters begin by crafting a chord progression and then use the notes from each chord to create their melody. These notes are called chord tones and they provide the foundation for the melody. By using chord tones, the melody will harmonize with the chords underneath it, creating a cohesive and pleasing sound.
2. Scale-Based Melodies
Another way to create a melody is by using a scale or mode. A scale-based melody is composed of notes that belong to a particular scale or mode. For example, a melody in C major will only use the notes found in the C major scale. You can also use fewer notes and still come up with a great melody. Pentatonic scales, which only have five notes, are often used in pop music production.
3. Monotone Melodies
While most melodies have a range of notes, it’s possible to create a melody using a single note. This is known as a monotone melody and is typically found in hip-hop vocal melodies or in dance beats in some EDM songs. It’s important to note that a rhythmic pattern can also serve as the melody of a song section, as long as it’s the primary focus and no other pitched sounds are layered on top of it.
What Makes A Great Melody?
If you’re looking to improve your melody writing skills, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Let’s break down some of the key factors that make a great melody.
1. Keep it simple and memorable
First off, simple melodies can be the most effective. When a melody is easy to remember, it’s more likely to stick in people’s heads. So, try to repeat phrases deliberately to make them more catchy. The best melodies are the ones that you find yourself humming or singing all day long.
2. Give it structure
Like a song, a good melody has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It should have a shape and focal point that conveys the emotion or message you’re trying to get across. You can achieve this by using lyrical or melodic phrases that build energy through note changes, moving up and down a scale. A great melody will have a climactic moment that really stands out and gives the listener an emotional payoff.
3. Stick to the scale
Most of the time, you’ll want to keep your melody within the scale you’re working in. That means highlighting the strongest notes within that scale, usually three or four of them. By doing this, you’ll create a melody that sounds harmonious and pleasing to the ear.
9 Proven Steps for Writing Memorable Melodies
1. Choose your scale
To begin, start with a scale. You can base it on a chord progression or simply choose a scale that you like. If you’re not sure where to start, the key of C major is always a good option. The C major scale consists of all of the natural notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.
Alternatively, you could use the C major pentatonic scale which is even simpler with only five notes: C, D, E, G, and A. Keep in mind that a melody crafted from a major scale will typically sound happier than one derived from a minor scale.
2. Build a chord progression
Once you have your scale, consider building a chord progression to accompany it. This will give you a foundation to riff off and can help you come up with new ideas. If you’re unsure of how to build chords, you can look up common chord progressions online or use a backing track from YouTube.
3. Experiment with lyrics and rhythm
Sometimes it can be helpful to figure out the lyrics and rhythm before you start crafting your melody. Try speaking different phrases on top of your chord progression to see what works best. You might find that one phrasing pattern stands out more than another.
Melody writing requires a certain level of intuition. So, the first thing you should do is take out your voice recorder or any other recording device and start playing or singing notes within your preferred scale over the backing track you have created. If you have lyrics or a rhythm already, incorporate them into the melody creation process.
5. Focus on verse melody first
It can be overwhelming to start with the chorus melody since it has to be the highlight of your song. Instead, start with the verse first. This can help you to establish a context and a flow that will naturally lead you to create a new melody for the chorus.
6. Experiment with different melody options
Remember, there is no one right way to create a melody. Take your time to experiment with different options. Try incorporating high note climaxes, adjusting the rhythm slightly, or even testing out various lyrics. Keep refining until you have a melody that sounds great and captures the mood and message of your song.
7. Let your melody options sit
Don’t lock in on any particular melody right away. Instead, take a break and let your melody options sit for a bit. When you come back to them, you’ll be able to identify which ones have remained stuck in your head, and which ones just didn’t gel. This way, you’ll be able to choose the best melody for your music.
8. Edit your melody
Remember that many great melodies aren’t perfect at the first writing session. Take your time to edit and refine your melody until it sounds professional, polished, and memorable. A great melody can make or break a song, so it’s worth the effort to make it as good as possible.
9. Practice makes perfect
Writing great melodies takes practice, so make sure to take the time to practice this skill. Experiment with different melody writing workflows to find out what works best for you. The more you write melodies, the easier it will become, and before you know it, you’ll be an amazing melody writer.
5 Tips For Great Melody Writing
1. Immerse yourself in music
One of the easiest ways to learn how to write a good melody is to dive into the music you aspire to create. Listen actively and widely, paying attention to how the different elements and structures work together to communicate emotions and stories like a language.
Don’t hesitate to take inspiration from other music – it’s normal for music to draw on influences that came before. However, it’s important to note that this is not the same as copying an idea wholesale.
2. Learn basic music theory
If you’re struggling to write a melody over chords or a topline over a beat, basic music theory can be a big help. Understanding the harmonic relationships between notes and chords will inform how you write and shape your melodies.
All melodies are made up of basic note intervals. One possible way to start writing a melody is to use the pentatonic scale, which is found in almost every style of music.
The scale consists of five of the seven notes in a major or minor scale, and the tonic, third, and fifth are the strongest notes in the pentatonic scale, making them great foundations for melodies. For example, “My Girl” by The Temptations and “Wake Me Up” by Avicii both use the pentatonic scale as building blocks for their melodies.
Writing at a piano or keyboard can help you visualize and understand the theory behind the music. You can see and feel physical shapes like octaves, triads, key signatures, and major/minor chords.
Digital keyboard controllers like Native’s KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series make it easy to transition from improvising to recording without disrupting your flow.
3. Embrace repetition for catchy melodies
If you want to write a melody that sticks with your audience, repetition is your friend. Taylor Swift’s hit song “Shake it Off” is a great example of how repetition can make a song catchy and memorable.
Try repeating a word or set of notes in your melody, or experiment with using repetitive chord progressions. Repetition helps reinforce the emotions and meaning of your song without having to come up with a completely new melody.
4. Overcome creative block by changing your approach
Creative block is something that happens to many artists at some point, but you can overcome it by changing your approach.
If you’re stuck, try tackling your project from a different angle. Write a synth melody before building a beat, start with a chord pattern or the topline melody, or change the tempo or time signature for a new challenge.
You can also switch to a different instrument or sound to help get the creative juices flowing. Experiment with using different instruments, using your voice, or sequencing a pattern digitally. Computer DAWs can also automate melody in various ways, such as using an arpeggiator to transform one note across various scales and chords.
Guitarists can use Guitar Rig to access a wide range of amplifiers, effects, and sampled guitars for virtual instrument inspiration.
5. Keep practicing and collaborating
Creating a great melody is not an easy task, and even famous artists often discard many ideas before reaching the final product. The key to improving is to keep practicing, learning from your mistakes, and developing confidence in your own process. Collaboration with other musicians can also be helpful in creating a unique and memorable melody.
In today’s music industry, it’s common to start with a backing track or beat and then add a melody on top of it. Collaborating with others has become easier than ever thanks to the internet, and there are always new tools and toys to experiment with.
Remember that there are no shortcuts or hacks to becoming a great melody writer. It takes time, dedication, and a love for music to achieve success. If you want to learn more about the songwriting process, be sure to check out our songwriting guide.