Melodies – both instrumental and vocal – are a key element of the songwriting process. However, a good melody can be challenging to create. Here is a brief introduction to melodies, along with some tips to get you started!
Let’s take a look at what a melody is and how to write a melody:
What is a melody?
A melody is a grouping of notes or pitches. Simple melodies, like those you may hear in nursery rhymes, consist of just a few short notes that make a musical phrase. More complex melodies, like the ones you hear in operatic pieces or jazz bands, create multiple melodies that are intertwined together throughout a song.
A melody contains two main components: pitch and duration. The pitch of a note is based on its own vibrational frequency – how “high” or “low” a note can sound. Duration refers to the length of a note or a rest within music. For example, a half note is held out for half of the duration for a measure written in standard 4/4 time. In this case, the half note would be held out for 2 of the 4 beats per measure.
Different Types of Melodies
There are several different types of melodies that can be used when writing music. The three most common are chord-based melodies, scale-based melodies, and monotone melodies.
- Chord-based melodies: A lot of songwriters begin their writing process by creating a series of chord progressions, which are individual notes that are grouped together to create a harmonic sound. After this, they may compose melodies based on the individual notes of each chord.
- Scale-based melodies: These melodies consist of notes within a particular scale. For example, a C major melody might only use notes found within that scale. The C major scale consists of eight chronological notes (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C) with no sharp or flat notes. Major and minor scales typically include seven to eight notes, but it is not necessary to include all of them when writing a melody with this technique.
- Monotone melodies: Melodies can also be simple rhythmic patterns. A monotone melody is a single unvaried musical tone, and it is very common in hip-hop, dance beats like EDM, and sometimes even rap. It isn’t ideal for the same rhythmic pattern to continue, unvaried, throughout an entire song, but it can definitely be used as a melody in certain sections.
Now that we’ve discussed the basics, let’s get to the good stuff!
Here are some tips and tricks for how to write a melody that’s great!
- Follow basic chords: If you’re new to songwriting, following simple chord progressions and improvising notes as you continue can lead to a new melody being created in the process.
- Try to write with a plan: Having a topic or outline when diving into the songwriting process is always helpful. Try writing backwards, or in an order that works best for you! Maybe start with the chorus melody, and then back-track to the verses. This way, you’ll have a better understanding of what you want the melody to portray at certain points in the song.
- Give the melodies a focal point: A focal point really grasps the attention of listeners because it is the highest note of a section. It makes that part of the melody special and stand out from the rest, which creates a lot of space to play around with different notes and progressions.
- Repeat phrases, but change them a bit: Our brains are hardwired to like patterns, but after a while they can become too repetitive. If you come up with a great melody or phrase, repeat it, but with slight alterations each time. This creates a lot of dynamics, which keep listeners engaged the entire time.
- **In songs like Lizzy McAlpine’s “Erase Me,” we hear a very simple guitar melody in the first verse. As the song progresses, that same melody is enhanced within each verse and chorus, which helps build emotion as the lyrics build as well.
- Use your voice: Your voice is one of your greatest strengths when it comes to writing music. Writing away from an instrument helps get creativity flowing because you’re not stuck in a box. Humming or singing (they don’t even have to be words – just sounds!) interesting vocal lines to yourself or into a recorder can help generate ideas for potential melodies.
Writing a great melody takes practice, patience, and a lot of trial-and-error. Starting off small, and working your way up is the best way to create a project that you are truly proud of. Get inspired and just go where the music takes you! You can always go back to adjust later if something sounds funky. Remember, no project is perfect on the first try, so the more you write, the better you’ll get!