HOW TO WRITE MELODIES: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE

how to write memorable melodies

Looking for an easy way to write memorable melodies?

That’s fantastic!

You’re in the right place.

Here’s our one stop guide on how to write, better, more memorable melodies.

HOW TO WRITE MELODIES

Why Melody is Important

How many times have you found yourself humming a catchy line from that song you heard on the radio?

We know we do it all the time…

And we’re certain you’ve found yourself humming more than a couple times, on the way to work, in the shower or while doing the cooking.

That’s why melodies are arguably one of the most important parts in music making.

man in shower singing
source: here

Unfortunately no one can hum that crispy drum beat or the FX & atmosphere you’ve spent hours perfecting.

So how do we write good, memorable melodies?

In this article we’re gonna break how to make beautiful melodies down into 3 easy steps.

So stick around, you’re about to become a melody writing wizard!

Sidenote:

Creating melodies is much easier when you understand how to play Piano.

We’d highly recommend picking up a tutor or a course that will teach you.

What Is A Melody?

A melody is a series of single notes that are played in a particular scale or pattern, that can be sung & remembered.

how to write melodies in the piano roll

Melodies are generally always monophonic (single noted) and accompany chord progressions or a bass line.

If you’re confused about how to make chords or what a chord progression is, you can check out our article here: HOW TO MAKE CHORDS

Think of your melody as the icing on the cake or the spices you use to make your meals less bland.

WHAT IS MELODY MADE OF?

Melodies are generally built from a scale and consist of 1 note patterns and can be found to include these elements:

  • Scale
  • Intervals
  • Timing
  • Arrangement

So…

What does this mean and how can we use it to write our own?

We’ll start by explaining what a scale is.

Scale

A scale is a series of 8 notes played in a particular order.

Take C major for instance… it’s simply all the white notes played up to C and back.

c major scale piano

Now, the order of the notes is crucial to what the scale sounds like and you can have different types of scales depending on what formula you use:

Minor & major scales (happy & sad sounding scales).

To understand how to make a scale, all we need to know is: what a whole-tone and semi-tone is and a formula that we’re about to share with you.

Whole Tone

A whole tone is made up of two semi-tones and is simply the space from one note to another.

For instance, take the jump of C to D and count all of the notes that occur during that space.

piano whole step

How many have you got?

You should have 2.

That’s all a whole tone is!

It’s just a fancy way of naming the space between two different notes!

Half Tone

A semi-tone is just half of a whole tone.

And…

As we learnt above – a whole tone is just a jump of two notes (including the black keys).

For example:

The jump from E to F is just one note! As is the jump from C to C# (the black note above C).

semi tone piano

Therefore telling us that a semi tone is just a jump of 1 note.

The Scale Formula

For any major or minor scale you need to play whole tones and semi-tones in a particular format to either make it major or minor.

Major: W, W, W, H, W, W, W, H

Minor: W, W, H, W, W, H, W, W

Using the knowledge of semi-tones and whole tones in conjunction with the formulas we have provided above, we can now create any major or minor scale on the piano or using a DAW!

Why Scales Are Necessary

You’re probably thinking ‘ok so now we know how to make a scale. how does that help us create a melody?’

Let us explain…

A scale is a series of notes you can play that, whatever the note you play, it will be in key with the other.

c major scale
like this ?

So…

How can we use this to write great melodies?

Say you’ve got your chord progression in the key of A minor. All you need to do is start playing the A minor scale and you’ll be in key with your chords!

But that sounds a bit boring.

So how do we spice it up a bit?

With intervals.

Intervals

An interval is literally just the distance between the notes you’re playing in your melody. A melody always uses more than one note, so there‚Äôll always be at least one interval. 

(it’s just a fancy word to explain that you’re changing the distance between the root note of your scale, which is A, and the next note you’re playing in your melody)

piano roll melody ableton live 10

It’s useful to know the different intervals and the different musical values they can offer.

Here’s an example of intervals:

We’re gonna be using the A minor scale.

I want you to start by changing the jump between the notes to different intervals (or spacing).

So instead of playing: A, B, C, D, E and so on; try spacing the notes out! Miss a couple from the scale out and play around with it.

For example you can play: C, A, G, F.

They are all in the same scale and the same key you’re just switching things about.

Timing

Timing is the space in time between the notes that are being played. You can have different values for this and using it correctly can really change the tenor of your melody.

For example: your melody could be a 1/16th note arp or it could contain 1/8th notes, 1/16th notes and so on.

using rhythm in melodies

Arrangement

For a melody to be memorable it needs to be arranged within a certain structure. Your melody needs to fit within a point from A to B that has a ‘question’ and an ‘answer’.

how to write melodies in the piano roll

TYPES OF MELODY

Ok so now we have the fundamentals of what a melody consists of, we should be able to write one.

But first…

Let’s discuss the different ways you can write a melody.

There are three different styles of melodies that are largely found in electronically made music.

Motif Based Melodies

  • Melodies that consist of a repeated idea that can be slightly altered within the key or scale they are played. These melodies usually consist of each note being played after one and other and are made of varying notes in a particular scale.

Chord progression melodies

  • Melodies that are played as your chords are played. Generally they consist of the top note in your chords. Because… as we learned above, melodies are monophonic (single noted).

Arpeggiated melodies:

  • Arpeggiated melodies are melodies created using each note of the chords you play. In an arpeggiated melody, the note of each chord is played one after the other with a particular set timing (1/16th etc).
Arpeggiator Ableton

Now we know the fundamentals & how many different types of melodies there are, we can start to get to the fun bit!

HOW TO APPLY IT

In this section we’re going to share our easy, three point strategy that shows you how to write unforgettable melodies!

During this phase it can be easy to get lost playing notes at random, not sounding right and feeling a little down because of it.

woman confused about how to write a melodies
source: here

We’ve all been there!

That’s why we’ve found it’s better to have an attack plan or strategy so you can move forward with ease.

Choose a key

This is the most important part of the writing process.

If you want your melodies to sound in key with your chords, vocals or bass line, you’ve got to make sure that you’re writing in the right key.

So… how can we do this?

Remember when we mentioned scales earlier?

We’re actually going to be using these as our structure to write the melody.

Within a scale, you can play any of the notes that make up that scale and they’ll still be in key!

This means you won’t be wasting any time plotting notes at random, because they’ll all sound great together.

Tips:

When choosing a scale to write your melody it’s helpful to know how you want your song to feel to the listener.

You’ve got to think:

Do you want it to be happy? Sad? Ethereal? Dreamy?

We could go on.

The point is – however you want your song to sound relies directly on choosing the right scale.

So here’s a little cheat for you:

If you want to write your melodies and make them sound happy – you can use the Major scale.

If you want them to sound sad, use the Minor scale.

Using Rhythm

Rhythm is extremely important when it comes to writing memorable melodies, so how can we incorporate it?

A simple way to add rhythmic value to our melody is by adding a beat or using the metronome.

metronome
source: here

We suggest by using the scale you chose above to plot notes on the piano roll at a 1/16th rhythm.

Play it back and see how that sounds.

Our’s sounds like this:

Now, if you really want to get fancy here you can start to add spaces, make notes longer or shorter.

The world really is your oyster here…

You can switch and change notes around however you’d like until you get something you like the sound of.

You want your melody to sound varied, not the same old note and pattern anyone can make.

Think about how you can use different note intervals, octaves and arrangement to create a better, more memorable melody.

Create a sound.

Now your head is bobbing and you’ve got the perfect melody, you’ve got to create the right sound to accompany it.

No one wants to hear a simple one tone sine note or just a singular saw wave.

In electronic music, melodies are usually fairly simple and we want to captivate people with the sound we can create.

ableton wavetable synth
source: here

There are tonnes of popular tracks out there that use no more than 3 notes for their melody and are incredible!

That’s because of the sound design.

Work on your craft, watch tutorials and really build your sounds.

We created a simple pluck in wavetable and wrote a simple baseline.

Here’s how it sounds:

THINGS TO REMEMBER

Learning how to write melodies takes a huge amount of time, and sometimes it doesn’t sound right.

That’s ok.

If it doesn’t sound right, try to get some inspiration.

  • Download a tune you like and set markers (really dissect how the melody sounds and what techniques the producer is using)
  • Load up melody loops and do the same thing.
  • Try to add more silence. Maybe delete some notes, make them longer etc.
checkmark emoji
source: here

Good melodies are memorable and they can only be memorable if they repeat themselves.

Try to listen objectively to what you’ve done and really dissect what you think is lacking from your melody.

You can try:

  • Changing the rhythm.
  • Changing the octaves.
  • Adding notes or subtracting notes.
  • Adding space.
  • Changing the instrument or patch you’re using.
  • Adding FX or variation in the drum beat (simple melodies can be amazing if the right elements accompany it)

That brings us to the end of our masterclass on how to write melodies.

We hope you enjoyed it. Remember to take breaks and don’t be too hard on yourself.

have a break have a kit Kat
source: here

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Share it with them.

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Harry is a Music Producer, DJ & marketing specialist. With over 6 years of experience in the music industry, Harry has played multiple festivals, run his own sell out events, been released on multiple labels & even had coverage on national radio. Harry is all about sharing his knowledge with the world. Being a DIY musician himself, and having faced the struggles of having no budget, time & falling on his ass for years, he wants to share his knowledge with new, budding producers - so they don't have to face the same struggles.