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MUSIC & AUDIO > COMPOSITION

Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies - Part 1


by Jon Smith 14 Jul 2010
Difculty: Beginner Length: Short Languages: English

Composition

Songwriting

This post is part of a series called Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies.
Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies - Part 2

One of the most common questions I get asked by my students is 'How do I come up with a really good melody?' The
answer, as with all million-dollar questions, can't be given as a simple "You do it like this..." However, over the years, I've
developed a series of techniques and tips which can be used to help beginner song writers and composers come up with
stronger melody lines.
I've listened to a lot of songs in my time, many of which have been composed by amateur performers and music
enthusiasts. I'm sorry to say that the a lot of the song writers seem to forget about the most important element (in my
opinion) - the melody - and concentrate far too much on instrument selection, production effects, lyrics and so on. The
melody simply becomes an almost random selection of notes at worst, or a very dull and 'obvious' melody line at best.
Without a strong melody line, a song is rarely going to make it on to someones iTunes playlist!
So, how do we transform the oh-so-common, and dare I say 'boring' melody line, to be something that is pleasant to the
ear, interesting, memorable, and capture the heart of the listener? In this short series of tutorials I'm going to offer you my
seven steps to writing a memorable melody, where you'll learn how to create a melody a little something like this...
00:00

01:17

The example audio above and those throughout this series of tutorials were
https://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/sevenstepstowritingmemorablemelodiespart1audio6527

played on piano, as unfortunately I haven't

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The example audio above and those throughout this series of tutorials were played on piano, as unfortunately I haven't
been blessed with a singing voice that's worth sharing ousite of my own car and bathroom. However, I've accented the
melody notes (the highest notes) so that you will easily be able to pick them out from the backing chords and
accompanyment. The example song is one I simply played within a couple of minutes of sitting at the piano, it could have
turned out very differently depending on my mood, the day, the weather or whatever... but each version would all have one
thing in common. They would all follow the basic steps outlined in this series of tutorials.
I shall give various examples during this tutorias. Each will show the musical score / notation, plus an audio le for those
who don't read music so well. Just be aware that the score is written in it's simplest form with the accompanyment or
backing being displayed as straight forward chords. Where as the audio breaks these chords out a little to provide a
similar sound to that of the original example audio track that we're building up toward.

Step 1: Understand The Interaction Between The Chord And Melody


This is arguably the most important of all the tips and thankfully is the simplest to achieve for any new song writer. The
essential aim is to ensure that at various intervals during the song (such as the rst beat of a bar, or the end of a musical
phrase), the melody note 'lands' on one of the notes that is being played in the chord. What do I mean by this? Well, if the
chord that is being played is C Major, then, the melody note to feature should either be C, E or G (the triad that makes up
the C Major chord). If the chord being played was G Major, then the melody note to feature should be either G, B, or D.
Lets take the example of the following common chord sequence.
C -> G / B -> Am -> C / G -> F -> Em -> Dm -> G
(If you're not familiar with this standard method of writing chords, then C means the C Major chord, Am means A Minor.
G/B refers to a G Major chord, with a B as the bass note - instead of the normal G bass note. You can learn more about
chord notation here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_notation).
If we were to write a melody to this chord sequence, using only the advice from Step 1 in this tutorial, we'd get something
like this.

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00:00

SevenStepsToWritingMemorableMelodiesPart1

00:07

Here you can see, the rst melody note is E, which is played with the C chord, because the C triad is C, E, G. I could have
selected C or G and it would have sounded equally correct, but this time I decided to use E. In the second bar the chord is
G and I have chosen melody note G (from the triad of G, B, and D). In the third bar, the chord is A minor (A, C, E), so I've
selected melody note C.
Ok, having played this back, I realize that, purely by accident is already sounds like a rather famous melody from a
classical piece of music (Pietro Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - Intermezzo, about 1minute 40 into the piece). Despite
this similarity to an already existing famous piece of music, what is clear is that it's very easy to listen to and pleasant
sounding. It doesn't sound like someone picking random notes out from the chromatic scale, there's some structure to it.
That's because each melody note sits within the basic chord being played at the time.
It doesn't matter which of the notes in the chord we choose. Here's another example where the melody still conforms to
the guidelines in Step 1, but using a different melody note for the G chord in the second bar.

00:00

00:07

Again this works really well. (And, if you notice, this is also by complete accident similar to a very famous piece of music,
Pachelbel's Canon in D Major from about 20 seconds in). As long as you understand the notes of the chord being played
at any one time, you can start to piece together the 'main' or 'featured' notes
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of your melody line.

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at any one time, you can start to piece together the 'main' or 'featured' notes of your melody line.

Step 2: Making Use Of Other Notes In The Scale


Once we've found some of the chord notes (Step 1) to feature in our melody, it's time to think about adding some melodic
movement and interest to the melody line. But how do you choose which notes to add?
Well, the most obvious thing to do is work out what key signature your song is in, and then ensure you only use notes
from that scale. This will ensure you don't get any 'clashing sounds' that are unpleasant to the ear. (Of course there
maybe times when a melody purposefully uses notes from outside of the songs key signature, but, for simplicity we'll
ignore such melodies for now.)
In the previous example, the song was in the key of C Major. Knowing your key signatures is a critical part of writing a
good melody. If you don't know your key signatures, then I suggest you learn them (there are numerous websites and
books to help you do this). C Major has a key signature where there are no sharps or ats; on a piano keyboard, no black
notes. As such, when composing a melody for a song in C Major, we should focus only on the 'white notes' of the piano
to ensure we get a pleasant sound.
Ok, so now we're going to use melody notes from the key signature C Major, either going up or down the scale, as we
move around to each of the featured chord notes (as decided in step one).
I've used a fairly simple movement around the notes in this next audio example, using the tips from steps 1 and 2, to
produce the melody line as follows.

00:00

00:08

Clearly adding the extra notes from the scale as we moved from the E in bar one to the G in bar 2 has added some more
interest to the melody. Again, it didn't matter which notes of the scale I played, I could have move down the scale instead,
and it would still have sounded pleasant. Try it yourself and experiment a little.
https://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/sevenstepstowritingmemorablemelodiespart1audio6527

What is important is that I used only the

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and it would still have sounded pleasant. Try it yourself and experiment a little. What is important is that I used only the
notes that are in C Major (no sharps of ats) to get me from the featured melody note of E (in the rst bar) to G (in the
second bar).

Review Stage
Using steps one and two above will get you to what I termed in my introduction as an 'obvious melody'. What I mean by
this is the western ear is 'trained' to readily accept these kinds of melodies over the given chord sequence and they're
fairly simple in their structure. They don't jump around much and have a fairly limited technical involvement.
In part two of this series, we'll look at more techniques to add further interest to the melody line and develop it in to
something a little more unique.

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Jon Smith
Jon was introduced to the piano at the age of eight and was immediately in love. Whilst following a fairly classical
route in England, UK of the Royal Schools of Music Grades 1 to 8 for piano, Jon's real passion was for playing by ear,
composing, and 'jamming' along with other musicians or simply to recorded songs. Now teaching students how to
learn and enjoy playing piano, by understanding musical techniques rather than simply sight-reading musical scores.

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Jointhediscussion
JamesWalker3yearsago

Hi,Iagreewithyouaboutthemajorityofsongwritersneglectingthemostimportantpartofthesongamelody.Iamgettingintocomposing.
Reallymemorablememoriesareactuallythehardestpartofwritingasong.Takesongslike"Michelle"bytheBeatles,"LaIslaBonita"by
Madonna,"ItMustHaveBeenLove"byRoxette,"99RedBalloons"byNena,"PianoMan"(BillyJoel?),"HotelCalifornia"(?),"IWouldWalk
500Miles"(mightnotbetheactualtitleIdon'tknowwhowroteit","TheGirlFromIpanema","RiversofBabylon"byBoneyM,or"IWantto
DanceWithSomebody"byWhitneyHouston.Orinclassical,"FurElise"byBeethoven.NowI'mnotmuchforthesynthesizedkeyboard
partsofMustHaveBeenLoveand99RedBalloons,butallthesesongshavegreatmelodies,eitherallthewaythroughtheentiresong,or
atleastinthechorus.Alotofmusiciansfocustoomuchonshowingoffintheirguitar,drumandkeyboardsolos,relysolelyonbluesscale,
andneverreallylearntomasterthemajorandminorkeys.Theycriticize#1hitpopsongssayingthatthosemusicianshavenotalent
becauseanyonecanplaythosesongs.Buttheydon'tunderstandordon'twanttoadmitthatit'smuchrarertofindatalentedmelody
composerthantofindatalentedbluesscalesoloistwhojustplaysnotesfastandshowsoff.Butreallywhatmakespeoplerememberyour
songisthemelody.Butinreality,thisisn'tjusttruefornonfamousmusicians,buteven*most*songsyouhearontheradiohavereally
mediocremelodiesthatwereprobablythrowntogetherinafewminutes.There'salotofmediocresongsthatbecomefamous.Somost
musiciansthathavedecentsongsrelyonthealltooeasybluesscalebecausetheydon'thavethetalenttowritethereallyalluringmelodies
thatstriketothedepthofyourcorethatcanonlybeaccomplishedinmajorandminor.Don'tgetmewrongbluesscaleisgreatforsolos
because*noone*canimproviseamazingsoundingstuffinmajormelodiesthatdrawsyouinlikethebluesscaleorlikeamajormelody
songthatyouspendhourstohammeroutamelody.LikeJimiHendrixhadmajormelodiesinsomeofhissongs,butusedbluesscalefor
thesolos.Bluesscaleisfineifit'sbluesmusicorforsolosinrockorusedforafewsongsbutnotallinmyopinion,butmusiciansthatcan
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thesolos.Bluesscaleisfineifit'sbluesmusicorforsolosinrockorusedforafewsongsbutnotallinmyopinion,butmusiciansthatcan
onlywriteanalluringsonginbluesscale,orstrummingIIVVviiiichordsontheirguitarandsingingthetopnoteofeverychord,lettingthe
seemore

24

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EphraimCambronne>JamesWalker7monthsago

Eagle????HotelCalifornia(?)??????????????Imeanseriously?!!!

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AkiWayneUkonmaanaho3yearsago

Asuccessfulsongwriteroncesaidthatastrong(althoughverysimple)melody,evenintoday'spopmusic,willhave"nurseryrhymelike"
qualitiestoit.Ican'trememberwhosaidit,butIcannotargueagainstit.
10

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Thiscommentwasdeleted.

Vince>Guest2yearsago

James,youseemkindofyoungatthissoI'llgoeasy.WithouttryingtoexpandbeyondthescopeofthisarticleIwill
justremindyouthatthemajorandminormodesarerelated.I.E.CMajAMin.Totrytosuggestthatthereissimplicity
inmajororminorissimplywrong.That'slikesayingBeethovenonlywrotesimplemusic.OrBachwaselementaryin
hisuseofdiatonicmelody.ThebestadviceIcangiveyoutoproveittoyourselfistocomposeasimplemelodyover
the7thchordofCMaj:Bm7b5(HalfDiminished).Onceyourealizethisseventhchordplays(basically)thesame
functionasthe5thchord:G7(Dominant),youshouldbethoroughlybaffled.ThisisthefuninBach,Beethoven,
Mozart,andandcomposer/seriousmusician.
Thebluesscale,whileinherentlyformfittingtoa"soundsgood"melody,cantakethesame"icky"situationwhenused
overaclashingchord.Forexamplearelativemajor...CBluesusedoverCMajor/Lydian.However,usedcorrectly
(listentoCharlieParkerorJohnColtrane)itcansoundquiteBOSS!
Also,thegeniusofJimiHendrixwasthathesuperimposedMAJORpentatonicscalesoverbluesinimaginative
ways.
Onceyourealizetheuseofmodesinmusic,you'llstarttorealizetherereallyisnodifferencebetweenimprovising
overmajorusingtherelativeminororpullingintensionsfromtritonesubsorsecondarydominants.Simplyput,there
isnodifference(onceyouknowthescales)betweenanionianandadorianb2.
seemore

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JamesWalker>Vince2yearsago

Iamnotreallyyoung,butIamnotveryoldeither.Iam38yearsoldandhaveplayedpianosinceage8,butspenta
lotofmylifenotreallyplayingmuchkeyboard/synth/piano.Idabbledwithguitarabitafterage20.Iplayedpercussion
frommiddleschoolintomytwenties,butthenmigratedmoretobeingmostlyjustasynth/keyboardplayer.Itook
pianolessonsbetweenage8andaboutage15butdidnotpracticealot,althoughIpracticedsome.Throughpiano
lessons,Ilearnedallthemajorscales,aswellasnatural,harmonic,andmelodicminor.Ialsolearnedtherestofthe
modes.Ilearnedpentatonic,Ican'trememberwhere,itwasn'tinpianolessons,whenIwasabout9or10yearsold.I
understandthereisarelativeminorforeverymajor,andtherelativeminoristhenaturalminorscale.Ilearnedblues
scaleinhighschoolandimprovisedalotinit,aswellasinjazzband.ButInevergotadegreeinmusic,Igota
degreeincomputerprogramming.Iamawebprogrammerbytradeandamusicianbyhobby.
WhenIwasinmyearlytwentiesItriedforthefirsttimetowriteacatchysonginmajorandwasshockedathow
difficultitwastodo,becauseevenimprovisingwaseasyformefromwhenIjuststartedoutwiththebluesscale.For
thatreason,Idecidedtolearnguitar,hopingthatsomehowitwouldbeeasiertosingmajorscalemelodiesover
strummingguitarchords,butIthinkIjustendedupsingingabunchofreallysimplemelodiesthatjustjumpedfromthe
topguitarnoteofonechordtothetopguitarnoteofthenextchord,perhapsIthrewinothernotes,Ican'tremember,
butitwasverymuchlikepoorlydonenotevenfitforacoffeeshopstageguitarmusic.IamgladIwentbackto
keyboardsasmyinstrumentofchoice.
IthinkyoumisunderstoodwhatIwastryingtosayaboutmajorvsminorvsbluesanddifficulty,atleasttoacertain
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JamesWalker>JamesWalker2yearsago

WhenItalkedaboutcombiningCmajorscalewithEbluesscale,Iwasoff.WhatIactuallydidwascombinetheE
bluesscalewiththeCnoteandtheEbnoteandIusedtheCnoteasthetonic.

Reply Share
AkashAbkl3yearsago

iwanttobuyuacandy
6

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vito754yearsago

Greattutorial,ThankYou
5

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HowardMeltonNichols3yearsago

Ireallylikeyourapproach.IhavebeenplayingStephenFoster'ssongsonthepianolatelyandIalsowriteandperformmusic.Foster's
melodiesareaddicting.Icanhardlybreakawayfromthem.Greatmelodiesneverfadeaway.Theyaremoreimportantthanthelyrics.Itell
folksinNashvillerepeadlythat
3

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Craig3yearsago

ThisisexactlytheexplanationI'vebeenlookingaroundforyears!Thankyouso,somuch!
3

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CampbellLynne4yearsago

Absolutegenius,tooklessthan30minstoopenmyeyestostrongermelodiesandbettersongwriting
3

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Gary3yearsago

Thisispromisinginfobutwherearetherestofthesteps?
1

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AdrianTry>Gary3yearsago

HiGary.Apologies.Ournewsitedoesn'tyetlinktotheotherpartsofaseries.HerearethelinkstoPart2andPart3.
23

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Pulpfiction4yearsago

Howdoesthistranslateintoguitar?SoifIplayGmajorIshouldplayeitherG,B,orDstringunfrettedwithanotherguitartogetthemelody?
1

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Sandarpan>Pulpfiction3yearsago

It'swrittenfortwoguitars.

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Khaleesi 10monthsago

Thanksforthisarticle.

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Bernardayearago

Thisreaaaaaaaaallyhelped!

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Chastralayearago

Question:howdoyouplaythosechordsmagnificently,it'stoonatural,canyoumakeachordtutorial?

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daraayearago

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daraayearago

JusttoclarifythechordsbeingplayedwiththemelodiesinpartIareactuallythearpeggios,right?Ican'tnametheirexactqualitiesasI
understandtheoverallconceptthough,..

Reply Share
IAMBETTERTHANUALL3yearsago

whataboutcatchytunesuggnohelpatallwhataboutotherthingsineedhelpwithlotsofnotCOPYINGotherpplsmelodiestheymade
LIKEU

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JamesWalker>IAMBETTERTHANUALL2yearsago

Ifyouusebluesscaleorminorpentatonic,yourmelodiescanbecatchyrightoffthebatorwithalittlebitofpractice.Butasthe
posterVincenotedabove,findingfittingchordsforthebluesscalecanbetricky.Iamnotapersontotalkaboutmajorpentatonic,as
Ihavenottriedtoplaymuchwithit.Formemorablemelodiesinmajororminorscale,thereisnosilverbullet.Understandwhatisin
thistutorialandthatthefocusnotesofyourmelodies,usuallytheonesthatfallondownbeatsorhavelongerdurations,forexample,
shouldusuallymatchthechordtones.Understandthatthefirstnoteinthemajorscaleisthehomenoteandyoualmostalwayswant
toendthere,notnecessarilyattheendofamelodicphrase,butatleastattheendofthesong.Startingonthetonic(firstnoteofthe
scale)helpstoestablishtothelistenerwhatkeyyou'rein,butpickupnotesbeforethefirstfullmeasurecanworkwellasanon
tonic.The5thandthe3rdnotearealsoverystabletonesbecausethe1st,3rd,and5thmakeuptheIchordofthemajorscale.2nd
and6thareinbetweenandcreatemoretension,but4thand7thcreatethemosttension.Youwanttohaveasufficientamountof
stabletonesinyoursongbutusingtensioncanmakethestabletonesmorepleasingwhenyougettothem.Ihavelearnedtwoways
tolookatmelodywriting,perhapstherearemore,butthetwowayIknowarehowmelodiesfityourchordandhowtheyfityour
scale.Inotherwords,chordtonesvspassingtones,andtonesthatarestabletoyourscaleandthosethatarenot.Withchord
tones,theVandtheviidiminishedwanttomovetotheIthemost.TheprogressionfromtheVchordtotheIchordisthemost
pleasingchordalinterplaytothetypicalear.Arpeggiating(thatmeansplayingonlynotesofthechordinyourmelody)onthenotesof
theIchordisalsoverypleasing,andarpeggiatingontheVisverypleasingbutitwantstoresolvetothetonic(1stnote).Agreat
techniqueistocombinearpeggiationwithsomenonchordtonesandthiscanmakeforgreatchorusmaterial.Understandingthe
theoryofchordtones,stabletones,unstabletones,andthefunctionofthe7chordsderivedfromthescalethatyouareusingis
enoughtheorytowriteacatchymelody.Youwillstillbehardpressedtoproduceasongthatsoundslikea#1majorscalehitofa
seemore

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Ben4yearsago

I'mnotabletogetanyoftheaudioexamplestoplay.TriedbothSafariandFirefoxonOSX10.6.8.Anyoneelse?

Reply Share
AdrianTry>Ben4yearsago

HiBen.Itworksforme,bothinChromeandSafari.UnfortunatelyyouneedFlashtoplaythesamples.Couldthatbeyourproblem?

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