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What you should get
from this section:
- The basics on how to write a melody.
- Some guidelines on things what to do, and what NOT
to do, though remember that they are only guidelines, and there are no
hard and fast rules.
Now that we’ve covered
creating an actual
song structure, and we have a foundation in place, we’re going to need
a melody line. You may want the melody line for the vocals, the guitar,
the piano’s, or whatever, so let’s look at some of the keys to creating
a melody, and examine some of the basic guidelines.
For a melody to really
work, it has to
have some degree of repetition. For example, THIS wouldn’t work as a
Although we need
repetition, we don’t want
to be TOO repetitive. It’s a fine line between catchy, and annoying so
we need to give it SOME variety as well. Here is an example of a basic
melody with JUST enough repetition to be memorable, but not too much to
get on your nerves.
Things you can do to
keep it memorable, but
not boring, while still following the theme are:
- Change the dynamics within the melody. I.e. Increase
the volume of some of the notes within the melody, decrease the force
to make them quieter, and stand out.
- Harmonic changes. Add slides (if on guitar), add
ghost notes and notes in between, chromatics etc.
- Rhythmic changes. Speed it up, slow it down, pauses,
play some sections in a different rhythm while keeping the same notes
- Add harmony to some of the notes to create texture
- Add sound effects
- Change which instrument is playing the melody.
The Shape of the Melody
A melody will NORMALLY
follow a pattern of
up’s and downs, and tends to FLOW. If it just climbs up the stave, or
descends down the stave, it’s going to sound more like a scale than a
melody. This is fine during solos but as a CORE melody of a song, it
should have some sort of up and down pattern. If we look at the last
melody we played, I’ve drawn it out so that you can see what I’m
Notice that it kind of
flows, and doesn’t
just jump all over the place from one end of the stave to the other.
Doing that could be effective for creating a certain type of sound, but
wouldn’t really work most of the time if you want a nice, smooth
A melody will normally
be contained within
ONE octave. As always, there is no hard and fast rule with regards to
this, but as a general guideline, this would normally make sense. It
loses its “catchyness” (there’s that word again) if it goes too far
Here’s the other
melody with no shape, or
repetition with the shape also drawn on. Notice how erratic and
shapeless it looks.
Length of the melody
The length of your
melody will obviously
depend upon its purpose, but as a general guideline, you would want to
keep it short enough to be catchy, but long enough to have variety.
There’s probably not much call for a 57 bar melody unless you’re
playing some kind of weird Avant Garde music.
If you’re playing the
melody over an
intro, verse, chorus, or bridge, it’s going to have to be the same
length or shorter, so bear that in mind.
Coming up with the melody
There are many
different ways of actually
creating your melody. The way I normally do it is to improvise, and
play along to whatever chord progression the melody is going over. Once
I know what key I’m going to be playing in, I can work out what scale
or scales I need to use (without paying TOO much attention to the
rules). Also, knowing the chords gives me good starting references, and
it normally just flows.
Another way is to use
one of the earlier
techniques to create your melody, then just transpose it (Change it’s
key) and fit it to your song structure.
If you’re having any
trouble coming up
with melody ideas, go and make a cup of tea or coffee, listen to
something else to give you inspiration, and then come back to it.
What we’ve covered in
- The basic SHAPE of a melody
- Repetition guidelines
- How to keep your melody following a basic theme,
while maintaining variety
- Determining the length of your melody
- How to put an existing melody to a song structure
- Using the above ideas, create a new melody or set of
melodies for your new song structure/s that you created during the last
- Experiment with using harmony and harmonic changes
within the melody to give it variety.
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