How To Write Melodies
It’s not as complicated as you might think
A Practical Way To Apply Music Theory
You ever just sit with your instrument and start doodling away. Idea after idea and you’re wondering, how do I turn this into something?
Writing a melody can get as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Today I’m going to show you how you can take a simple melodic idea and develop it into a melody. I want to point out that what I’m showing you is only one way to approach this. Sometimes I follow these steps and sometimes I don’t.
But if you’re feeling stuck or don’t know where to start then this can be something you can use to get going.
Here Is The Breakdown
I’m going to show you how to:
- Start with a very simple melodic idea using chord tones
- How to harmonize your idea
- Develop your melodic idea using a scale and rhythm
- Putting it all together
Simple = Easy
I’m working in the key of A minor. I had the chord progression in mind before I begun to write the melody. You don’t always have to do this. Personally, If I’m feeling stuck having a chord progression in mind will help me shape my initial idea. I only used chord tones for this initial idea. Chord tones are the notes that belong to the chords. This should save you from endlessly playing through the scale and give you some constraints and direction.
The rhythm is super simple. I was just thinking about chord tones and nothing else.I like to think of these as markers that give my melody some direction. We will later fill in the space within these markers. But for now we just need an outline to get us going.
Measure 1: The notes A and C. The first and third of the chord.
Measure 2: The notes F and C. The third and seventh of the chord. Here the melody technically makes that chord a D minor seventh (Dm7).
Measure 3: The notes D and G#. The seventh and third of the chord. Notice that the G# is outside of the key of A minor. It is very common to turn the five chord in a minor key to a major or dominant seventh chord. This is easily done by raising the seventh scale degree by a half step, from G to G#.
Measure 4: Resolving on scale degree one.
Give Your Idea Some Context
When it comes to harmony you can have a lot of options. I kept it super simple in this example. The melody and harmony are informing each other.
However, you can get creative with your chord choices. The idea here is to look at the chords that are available to you in the scale.
Bdim = B D F
C = C E G
Dm = D F A
Em = E G B
F = F A C
G = G B D
Take a look at the notes in your melody and see which chords contain those notes. I would suggest that you just start messing around and see what your ear likes.
The most important thing in this step here is to listen. You want to hear the melody against the harmony and really take in the different colors that are created.
Breathe Life Into Your Music
My original outline is still here, I haven’t moved any of the original notes. Keeping your chord tones on beats one and three is a good way to make them stand out. These two beats are strong and have a lot of pull to them. Try emphasizing the important notes on those beats.
For this step I highly recommend that you do it on your instrument. You don’t have to write it down. That can present a challenge of it’s own, especially if you’re no used to it. And it’s not necessary. Use your chord tones as way points, there is plenty of space in between them. This is where the scale comes in, I used it to fill in the spaces in between the original notes.
Here you want to think about the direction of your melody. Is it going up or down? Just how many notes are going to go in between your chord tones? What about space?This part of the process is all about experimentation, trial and error. The correct outcome will be the one that sounds good to you. I tried to include a few components in this example.
Measures 1 and 2: The melody goes up and down. I left space in both measures to emphasize the pick up note going to the measure after.
Measure 3: I wanted to create some tension. The harmony is already doping this, using the dominant chord creates instability. I wanted to reinforce that so I introduced another subdivision. The last three notes are the same, the G#. Not only is it the third of the chord, it’s half a step away from my resolution note. It’s also syncopated, which means it’s not on the strong beats. All of these components create tension.
I find that the more facility you have with your instrument the easier this gets. If you’re limited in your proficiency you’ll have less ideas available to you. My note choice was mostly from the minor pentatonic scale. But notice that I’m not completely attached to it because I kept chord tones at the forefront of my melody right from the beginning.
Putting It All Together
Here I just added the harmony back. I wanted to keep this blog post short but one thing you can add here is some rhythmic variation to the accompaniment. This post is primarily focused on the melodic component of music, I didn’t want to go on a side tangent. However, listening at this stage is crucial. Much like in step 2. You want to take in your melodic idea and the sound it creates against the harmony.
As I mentioned before. This process is only one way of approaching composition. Everyone’s creative process is different. You might not feel comfortable starting with harmony, and that is ok!
I would suggest replicating this process and seeing how it works for you. You can take a piece of it that might fit in your workflow, or you can use the whole thing.I would love to hear what you come up with.
Feel free to send or tag me on anything!
All My Knowledge, In Your Inbox
Subscribe To The Blog
Feel free to check out the podcast. I interview musicians from all genres and dive into their process both for career success and mastery over their instrument. I also post lessons that relate to guitar and music theory every week, as well as software tutorials and anything else that might help you on your musical journey.
© 2020 Issac Hernandez. All rights reserved