Posted May 18, 2009 11:01 AM
Howdy, and welcome to my lesson on writing melodies. Before I get started there are a couple of things to get out of the way. Firstly, this lesson assumes you know how to form major and minor scales, as well as form basic chords and fit them diatonically, and the basics of timing.
Warning: In no way does this lesson cover every aspect of writing melodies, these are just a few ideas I've picked up.
The most basic part of writing a melody would have to be just noodling around in the scale, but since I've already said I assume you know how to form chords and scales, and then I'm also going to assume you can hit random notes in a scale, so I'm skipping that part.
The next step would be thinking about the chords you're playing over. The way my teacher got me started on this he called writing a lazy melody. This method is simply playing a chord tone, then moving to the closest note that is in the next chord. Now, a problem arises when two chords share notes, and you can either hold the note or change, totally up to you.
Let's take a basic progression
C Am F G
This progression has been so often it hurts, but we're gonna use it one more time, because I said so.
First chord contains the notes C, E and G. You can pick whichever you want, I'm going to choose C because I like to start melodies off on something strong, and it doesn't get more consonant than a unison.
The next chord contains the notes A, C and E. Now, the note closest to C is C, which offers no melodic movement, and the next closest is A, which is what I'm going to choose.
So far our melody goes C A, each being held as long as the chord is. The next chord is F, which has the notes F, A and C. I'm going to hold A because I like the sound of the root to third tone quality.
So our melody goes, C A A. The last chord is G, which holds the notes G, B and D. Now, there are two notes an equal distance away from the A of our last chord, which are B and G. You can choose whichever you want, I'm going to choose B for a reason you'll see in a minute.
So, we've gone through the whole progression, now we just have to get back to C. I chose the B, because it is a semitone away from C, which is a very strong resolution, so now we just start over the melody and it works.
On Off Melody
This is another simple method to writing a melody. Assuming your progression is in 4/4 timing, you just play a chord tone on a strong beat, and play non chord tones in between. I'm going to keep my example as simple as possible, because I don't think it needs a lot of explanation.
Let's use the same progression (C Am F G). All the following notes are going to be quarter notes, and I'll even divide the measures for you, because I'm just that nice.
C B C D | E B C E | F E A E | D C B B |
As you can see, each note on the strong beats over the chord (beats one and three) is a chord tone and the others aren't. With this method you can use the offbeat notes to move to the next note and make it interesting. This is an invaluable skill when writing melodies, so get a good handle on it before trying anything else.
Eventually you want to start thinking about how you're going to embellish your melodies, so I'm going to give you a few of the things I do. One thing I'm crazy about is bending and legato in general. I'm going to talk about them all in terms of bending, but it works for any legato technique. The easiest way to start thinking about it is that there are four kinds of bends.
1) Consonant tone to consonant tone
This is the most common method, where you're just bending from a consonant note to another one.
2) Consonant tone to dissonant tone
This is method is good when trying to create movement. This sounds like a smooth movement to a note we don't want, which just accentuates the dissonance of the note, and really make it want to move.
3) Dissonant tone to consonant tone
This really resolves a dissonant note, and make for a great resolution to a chord tone
4) Dissonant tone to dissonant tone
I almost never use this method, but it can be useful for making something want to move to a more consonant tone
Another quick trick I like to do is write a chord progression so those chords have two notes in common and trill those two notes over the change.
I mostly only use harmonics on strong tones, or bends to strong tones, as they really stand out. You can of course use them wherever you want, those are just my views.
The next idea I'm going to let you in on is using your melody to extend the underlying chords. It sounds a lot harder than it is.
Ex. You're playing over the C in the progression. Now, to extend the chord you choose the extension you want to add, I'm going to choose the major seventh both because I like it and it's probably the easiest. You should know that the major seventh of C is B, so all you have to do is play a B in your melody over the C chord, and you have just extended the chord to a CMAj7 chord.
The next point to talk about for this method is octaves. The octave you play your extension note matters a lot more than you think it would. If you play the note in the same octave as the chord, then it will sound like you are adding to the chord. If you play it an octave or two up it will still sound like you are adding to the chord, but the listener will place more emphasis on the melody note itself than it's relation to the chord.
Out Of Key Tones
This is one of the hardest things to make work when writing a melody, so I'm going to give you as general an explanation of this as possible, as I strongly believe it's better learned by just doing it.
Out of key tones are usually dissonant, although not always. There are two basic ways to think about notes when playing over a progression.
1)How does the note relate to the underlying chord
2)How does the note relate to the established scale
Most players eventually choose which they keep on the forefront of their mind when playing or writing, although everyone thinks about both, just usually not to the same degree. I personally think about the chords more, but both work.
Ex. Let's say we are playing over the same progression (yet again). So our chords are C Am F G. All of these chords fit into the C major scale, and with the G at the end bringing it back to C, it is defiantly in the C major scale. Playing out of key tones is completely personal preference, so I'll give you an example of something I might do. I might play the progression, and then on the G, throw in an F#, which is not a note in the scale, but would resolve nicely to the G in both the C and G chords.
Well, that's as much as I'm going to write today. Please leave comments and ask questions about anything, and if enough people ask questions, I'll make another lesson addressing them.
Hope I helped, Evan.