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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
*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.
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
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
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!