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Learn The Simple Way To Write Melodies.

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 melody:

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 etc.
  • 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 talking about.

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 sounding melody.

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 between ranges.

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 this section:

  • 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 section.
  • Experiment with using harmony and harmonic changes within the melody to give it variety.

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Copyright Simon Smith 2007. All rights reserved. 


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