Top 10 Ideas for Writing Great Melodies

 by Karen Randle
 (edited)

For songwriters,  finding a great melody is like a miner spotting a flake

of gold. It doesn’t guarantee a great song or a gold strike, but it sure

increases the chances.  We’re sharing, the best spots to

dig on Music Mountain in hopes of finding a great melody!

While the definition of the melody is simply notes in a variety of pitches

and lengths, this entity these notes make up is so much more.

The melody is what often helps a listener remember the song,

lyrics, and even the artist. In our drumming patterns, bass lines, and

chord progressions we can get away with shared use, but our melodies

have to be unique and stand out!

Below are 10 ideas to help you find and enhance your next great 

melody.

Scales and Intervals 

A thesaurus of musical scales is your best friend. Try playing new

scales, boring scales, and exotic scales. Play the notes in ascending

and descending order at first to get the feel of the scale and then 

experiment.

If you’re going to sing, play scales in friendly keys and modes friendly

to  your voice. Pay attention to the intervals of the notes – (you can

watch many great YouTube videos of famous songs and the intervals

they use).

Chords and Arpeggios

A memorable melody is often the overlying chords of the song arpeggiated

or played one note at a time.

Like your scales and intervals, having a solid idea of how chords are

built will help you with melody construction.By knowing which chords

in a key are tonic, and dominant,  you’ll be able to share the proper

emotion necessary to convey tension and resolution in your song. If

we’re stuck on which note to use next, the scales and chords will

usually show us the way.

Chord Progressions 

When chords are played together in particular orders, these are

progressions – every genre of music has its own. Really, there only a 

handful of chord progressions that cover most  songs and you should

know them all. This is a great way to start a new song, you simply pick

a progression and play it. From there, use chord extensions,

substitutions, and key modulations to create some fresh ideas.

Rhythms and Meters

Try different time signatures and rhythms, so easy in our age of apps.

It’s possible to download software with drum machines, backing

grooves, and every rhythm you can imagine. Look up different time

signatures and genres to play your scales and chord progressions over.

If you’re struggling with music theory, this is your best step. Play a

backing tempo, rhythm, track, or any music without a melody and just

start jamming. For those aspiring hip-hop artists, a drum machine or

sampler is your sketchpad.

Change Your Sound

Use different instruments, effects, and try new technology. Many

famous songs were written when bands found new toys in the studio

to play with. Try another instrument out at a jam, especially if it’s from

another instrument family.

Synthesizers and computer-driven music can provide you with

different sounds, effects, and possibilities. These days synths are

associated with EDM and home music production,  but some of the

best songwriters love their abilities to create new sounds.

A great melody needs creativity and changing your perspective is part

of that.

Steps and Skips

So far we’ve mostly gone over methods of melody inspiration. 

However, there are also some basic rules when writing them. In music,

moving one note over in the scale is a step, and moving more than one

step is a skip or a leap.

Usually, we want to move in stepwise motion as that is the easiest way

for most people to sing. However, our song also needs some skips and

leaps to make it interesting and exciting. Play your intervals again and

see how high you can go in a leap; this will help you keep your

melodies realistic.

Song Structure 

Along with the note movement, the entire melody structure of the

song is important. Sometimes it’s simple features like shorter notes in

the verse than in the chorus. It’s also common to raise the pitch of the

chorus notes, especially to add a climactic note change right before the

chorus begins.

*One way to make simple melodies better is to give them more

transitions. Don’t just shift from verse to chorus and back, add a bridge

or a part with a slightly altered melody.

Repetition

If you’re writing your average pop tune, then you definitely want the

best hook of your melody to repeat. Regardless of the genre much of

the melody is still all about repetition. Even within a good hook, you

will also find many of the same notes to make it easier to sing. It is

common in many great choruses to see repeated notes with a couple

of short leaps added in. A great melody relies on the same sounds

people like to  hear all the time.

Mind the Lyrics 

We focus so much on the musical aspect that we can forget many

songwriters start with a lyrical approach. Sometimes the lyrics and

music come at the same creative moment and for others, we have to

search for a melody.

Common mistakes are cramming too many words into a line or not

sticking to the proper syllables. Just like some notes sound weird

together, so do some consonants and words. If your melody will have

lyrics, people need to be able to sing the notes and words and not get

tongue-tied.

Copy and Learn 

Listen and replicate what you hear. That’s how music works, we hear

someone playing and we get excited and want to copy it. Listen to

songs you like and figure the hook or riff out. Play as many songs as

you can on your instrument of choice and focus on the melody.

When you repeatedly see how those who have succeeded are doing it,

you eventually will figure it out yourself. Practice different genres; sit

down and write a love triangle, a troubadour love song, or a dark

moody piece.  Jump right into music by seeing what other musicians 

have done!

This is how great melodies are born. We take what we love and are

inspired by and then let our own creativity take hold. And, if  we

practice our craft enough we can find melodies of gold just waiting to

be placed in the right song!