Keep reading to explore more tips about how to write great melodies in your song.
How to write great melodies
Here’s 3 crucial tips to write great melodies:
1. Start by singing or playing over a simple chord progression
Choose two basic major chords like C or F. If you need a refresher, here’s how to build chords.
Play your chords on an instrument like a piano or guitar, or plug them into your DAW’s piano roll and loop them over and over again with a nice synth VST.
Then, either sing or play your instrument with the goal of writing a melody. Make sure your basic recording device is ready to capture what you come up with during the melody making process.
Give yourself plenty of time and space to try out different ideas here. Melodies benefit from extended jams.
If you’re a vocalist, consider starting out your process by singing gibberish.
Yep, you read that right. Though it might freak out you’re neighbors, crafting a vocal melody from scratch is best done without any predetermined rules or boundaries to limit yourself with like lyrics.
Experiment with the same looped chords long enough, and you’ll soon find that gibberish soon takes shape into words, phrases, and fleshed out melodies.
2. Breathe life into your melodies with interesting rhythmic stressing and accents
Tame Impala’s Elephant is proof of how catchy rhythms can make otherwise bland melodies memorable.
The core of the verse is made up of only two notes. But with the use of syncopation it manages to stay catchy and memorable.
Even the simplest melody can benefit from the use of unexpected or off-beat rhythms.
If you’re writing a complex melody that still sounds “meh,” try simplifying and experiment with how your notes are presented rhythmically.
Get adventurous here by shifting the way your notes fall—from directly on strong beats to landing between them.
In case you find your melodies always start on the beat of 1, try having them begin either shortly before or after. Even a little change in rhythm can transform a melody in a subtle but massive way.
3. Pay close attention to your melodic contour
Melodic contour is overall shape of the line that your melody traces as it moves up and down.
Melodic lines can move in many different ways.
Motion by step (or stepwise motion) is when a melody moves by consectective notes in the scale.
Motion by skip is when a melody moves by intervals of larger than a 2nd.
Two many large leaps in a row are more difficult to connect as a single melodic unit. And a melody comprised of only stepwise motion is often not very interesting for the listener.
Try to balance the amount of steps and skips so that your melody stays fresh and exciting
Hot tip: It’s easier to use larger skips in your melodies if you fill them in at least partially by step in the opposite direction.
If you’re able to, write out the melodies you’re writing through music notation on paper. If you’re in your DAW, there’s usually a way to transform MIDI pitches into music notation.
If the distance between the notes of your melodies looks small, then it’s safe to assume your melody won’t build narrative and sound compelling.
One of the reasons “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is such a phenomenal melody is because it opens with a large major 7th interval. If your melodies are literally and musically falling flat, try expanding them into mountains.
4. Outline the harmony where possible
Melody doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s always an important balance between your melody and its underlying harmony.
Many of the best melodies of all time get their power from the way they gracefully blend with the harmony of the song.
Remember that the chord tones (scale degrees 1,3,5,7) are the most powerful and stable places to land.
Paying attention to the way you weave your melody from one chord tone to the next as your harmony develops is vital for good melody writing.
Try, try, and try again
Strong melody-writing isn’t a skill that can be developed overnight. It’s something you’ll need to work on over time to get better.
If you find yourself working hard to write melodies without much success, just remember that there’s a whole lot of other musicians in your shoes.
The world’s best songwriters didn’t wake up one morning with the ability to craft great melodies. They worked at it, trying and failing over and over again until they started to get it right.
Approaching melody-writing with an experimental attitude free of expectations gives you the best chance at creating something your listeners will resonate with.