June 25, 2013  

How To Write A Melody, Part 1

A strong melody can turn a mediocre song into a classic that will be remembered for  years. But how do we write one? And how can we ensure that our melodies are catchy? In this tutorial we’ll take a look at some tips and techniques that will help you to write effective melodies. First off lets have a listen to some examples of great hooky melodies.

Keep Your Melodies In Range

The most important thing to bear in mind when writing melodies for songs is that these melodies are going to be sung. This may seem like an obvious point, but it means we have to bear a couple of things in mind when we’re writing. It’s very important that you keep your melodies within the range that a typical pop or rock singer can sing!  In our experience, most female singers sound their best between ‘E’ below middle C and ‘C’ above it; male singers sound best between ‘G’, two octaves below middle C and the first ‘E’ above it.

This is at best a rough guide, as many singers have a much wider useable range than this, but most pop singers in 2013 are not particularly skillful and so need as much help as you, the writer, can give them.

Keep It Simple

Many developing songwriters make the process more complex than needs to be, composing melodies too complicated for a non singer/musician to remember. The audience needs to connect emotionally with the melody and it is easier for listeners to feel an emotional connection to a melody that they can easily sing. Good examples are Hymns and children’s songs, but why?

  • The phrases are often short and concise
  • They use melodic/rhythmic repetition
  • The melodic intervals tend to be close to each other, easier to remember.

Don’t Go Too Fast & Avoid Big Jumps

Make sure the melody doesn’t move too fast, singers tend to be human beings and so can only sing a certain amount of notes before they run out of breath! Also, big jumps or intervals between the notes in your melody can be taxing on a singer, especially if they’re not very experienced. As a general rule, a jump of more than six notes in a melody is a little ambitious unless your singer is a professional, or otherwise skillful. And even then, you should have a very good reason to make that big a jump.

Sing Your Melody As You Compose

This may be a little daunting for those of us who don’t sing on a regular basis but it’s essential. It’s of fundamental importance that when you’re writing the melody and the lyric of a song that it sounds comfortable and natural when sung. Through the centuries, the tried and trusted way of ensuring your song sounds right is to sing it as you write it. Don’t worry if you don’t have a great voice, no one is going to hear you, just take comfort in the fact that every, and I really mean every good song writer, writes like this.

Create A Simple Melodic Phrase

Most of the time, your melody will be based around the notes that are in the current chord that you are playing. Consider the case of a pop song in the key of C Major, and we are playing the chord of C.

As we can see from the illustration above, the chord is made up of three notes, ‘C’, ‘E’ and ‘G’. If you hum the note ‘E’ whilst playing the chord C, you should quickly notice that your humming feels harmonious, it feels like it fits nicely with that chord. Now try again, but this time hum the note ‘G’ whilst playing the chord C. Again, your humming feels like it fits with the chord, although it feels slightly different this time as you’re humming a different note

So far so good, let’s try using both notes. Play the chord, and then hum the note “E” followed by the note ‘G’. Notice that both notes fit the chord, feel different to each other and also feel optimistic and positive. You have just hummed a simple melody that works very well over the chord of C, using the third and fifth notes of the chord.

But a melody is more than just a sequence of pitches, we are writing songs after all! So, play the chord once again, but this time sing the word ‘sometimes’ using the two notes ‘E’ and ‘G’ like this:

Some – times

E              G

Notice that this extremely simple melodic phrase now sounds like the beginning of a song and is now far more than a just sequence of pitches. It is of fundamental importance to keep your lyric in mind whilst you are writing a melody. In actual fact, it is the opening line of the song “Sometimes” by Depeche Mode.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at passing notes.

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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