July 10, 2013  

How To Write A Melody Part 2 – Passing Notes

Following on from our last tutorial How to Write a Melody Part 1, where we looked at some general techniques that can help your songwriting process, this week we’re going to look more specifically at how to employ passing notes in your tunes.

It is perfectly possible to write a melody that consists entirely of the notes that belong to the chords being played. This will tend to sound OK, maybe a little child-like, even slightly mechanical and precise.  Try doing this as an example:

  • Playing the chord of C, hum the notes ‘E’ followed by ‘G’
  • Now play the chord Dm, humming the notes ‘F’ and ‘A’
  • Now play the chord Em, humming the notes ‘E’ then ‘G’
  • And finish with the chord G, humming the note ‘D’

The melody fits the chords just fine, it’s completely harmonious and in key and sounds like it could be the beginning to a child’s lullaby. But this melody does not sound particularly exciting to most ears, and certainly does not sound very modern.  There must be notes we can use other than those contained in the chord, surely? Yes there are, and in musical theory these are known as passing notes.  Let’s go back to our chord of C again.

As we know, this chord consists of three notes, ‘C’, ‘E’ and ‘G’, but what about the notes in between, ‘D’ and ‘F’?  Can we incorporate them into our tune? Nothing could be simpler. Play the chord of C, and hum these notes in this order: C, D, E, F, G. Sounds perfectly natural, doesn’t it? It may even seem quite familiar, as it is the opening line of the song “Days” by the Kinks.

In another example, we’ll move to the key of G Major, which includes the black note F#, and use the chord of G:

This chord consists of three notes, ‘G’, ‘B’, ‘D’, so let’s try playing that chord and humming these notes:

‘D’, ‘F#’, ‘G’. We use the note ‘F#’ in this case as the passing note from ‘D’ to ‘G’, and you’ll notice that the phrase seems to flow nicely, finishing quite naturally on ‘G’, the fundamental note in the chord G. If this melody seems familiar too, try singing it over the G chord with these word. It’s the opening line to ‘There She Goes’ by The Las:

There She Goes
D – F# – G

Next week we will be looking at motifs.

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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂

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This post is included in Tips & Tricks