Melody Ideas

Just a few ideas for writing melodies over chord progression.

1

Melody

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.

Beginner

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. Lazy Melody 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.

Intermediate

Embellishments Legato 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 Trills 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. Harmonics 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.

Advanced

Chord Extending 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.

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Kaos_00
    This progression has been so often it hurts, but were gonna use it one more time, because I said so.
    You're still missing a word in there.
    The_Sophist
    Gryphon999 wrote: it looks so nice and ive read these things a few times but i just cant make any sense out of it
    PM me with specific questions and I'll try to help.
    kwikfingers-uk
    I hate people who just pick up on typo's! this is a good article! i dont see it as arrogant, just a few of the author's own thoughts and experiences. keep up the GOOD work.
    The_Sophist
    Jondy wrote: The_Sophist wrote: Jondy wrote: embellishments have nothing to do with writing a melody. embellishments are to embellish an already made melody. You covered some of the very rigid basics, which is to say, you can use chord notes, or you could use... not chord notes. use scales. woo hoo. also, the most important aspect of creating a melody? that wasn't at all covered? rhythm. it's like you think every melody should be composed entirely of quarter notes. you can make a beatiful sounding melody only using very few notes. the trick is how long the notes play, it builds the melody that is supposed to resemble human coversation and voice. Exactly what part of "not a tutorial" don't you understand? ...the part where those words were not anywhere at?
    I would define something that doesn't cover every aspect of something, and is just a collection of ideas not a tutorial.
    Gryphon999
    it looks so nice and ive read these things a few times but i just cant make any sense out of it
    sambargun
    Its titled Melody Ideas, not Everything About Melody. Decent article BTW. Many people can use it as a starting point and expand.....
    JohnKnee317
    Out of key tones are usually dissonant, although not always.
    Out of key tones are always dissonant, by definition. Some are less dissonant sounding than others, but all out of key tones are dissonant.
    masterofkittens
    It's funny how by this time the comments are mostly in responce to other comments that usually don't even matter and people seem to lose track of weither it was a good or bad article.(I liked it)
    jld8111
    C-Am-F-G is the chord progression to "Im On A Boat". Just thought id throw that out there.
    Paul Tauterouff
    Very good lesson. A lot of guitarists think only about making guitar melodies, but you can also use this technique to write vocal melodies too.
    JohnnieDarko
    JohnKnee317 wrote: Out of key tones are usually dissonant, although not always. Out of key tones are always dissonant, by definition. Some are less dissonant sounding than others, but all out of key tones are dissonant.
    Wrong. As you know, both the major and minor third are (imperfect)* consonants. So you could play them both over a chord that doesn't have a third, like powerchords or sus chords. It would sound consonant to that chord. However it's impossible for both notes to be in the same major or minor scale, so either one of them is out of key. *For those who'd like to know why I wrote(imperfect) consonants, may read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consonance_...
    jlyndon666
    I think this is a well thought out lesson. People couild really benifit from this lesson. Great lesson Sophist. \m/
    Ricebag Darrel
    Zao_89 wrote: Kaos_00 wrote: You're still missing a word in there. Looks like he accidentaly a word.
    hahaha, you made me laugh
    MistaRecta
    Melodies are a connection to the earthereal plane of music. If you are truely musical you can find a melody in realtime, as in no processing required. f you can't do this, find someone who can and write with them, otherwise learn to shred really fast, people think it's great and you'll still look like a musician!
    Kaos_00
    Still good. I look forward to seeing you do more lessons. I like to read your thoughts on theory.
    Dregen
    I figured the vast majority of this material out through my own experimentation, but this article would be really good for those who don't know about it.
    Wolfsblood138
    Some good ideas here, I never really thought of extending a chord to out of key tones because when I was starting out a lot of people would say a note or two in a guitar solo was out of key. But I'll try it again.
    TheAristocrat
    Probably the most thought out article I have read on here. This article is far more useful than many would think.
    Wolffgang
    Brilliant article, would love to see more like it; Reminds me of my earlier days of bumbling around in the dark just going by feel; which is fine, if extremely limiting.
    wesselbindt
    Kaos_00 wrote: This progression has been so often it hurts, but we’re gonna use it one more time, because I said so. You're still missing a word in there.
    Wow, I didn't even notice at the third time I read it.
    Zao_89
    Kaos_00 wrote: You're still missing a word in there.
    Looks like he accidentaly a word.
    Jondy
    The_Sophist wrote: Jondy wrote: embellishments have nothing to do with writing a melody. embellishments are to embellish an already made melody. You covered some of the very rigid basics, which is to say, you can use chord notes, or you could use... not chord notes. use scales. woo hoo. also, the most important aspect of creating a melody? that wasn't at all covered? rhythm. it's like you think every melody should be composed entirely of quarter notes. you can make a beatiful sounding melody only using very few notes. the trick is how long the notes play, it builds the melody that is supposed to resemble human coversation and voice. Exactly what part of "not a tutorial" don't you understand?
    ...the part where those words were not anywhere at?
    lowbudgetband
    Wow, good advice. I think this might just be the stepping stone I need to get out of the rut I've been in. Thanks!
    josuetijuana
    useful theory, but i just like to trust my ear =D incredible if you got absolutely no idea what you are going to write next
    Cachao
    Yeah, I always use my ear-but this really doesn't hurt and if I can't hear anything I'll be using these right away, thanks. *bookmarked*
    Fatal Instinct
    Useful information, however it was presented in a way that makes me feel as if the writer is arrogant. Would be much more useful with a mentor-like tone to the article.
    Jondy
    embellishments have nothing to do with writing a melody. embellishments are to embellish an already made melody. You covered some of the very rigid basics, which is to say, you can use chord notes, or you could use... not chord notes. use scales. woo hoo. also, the most important aspect of creating a melody? that wasn't at all covered? rhythm. it's like you think every melody should be composed entirely of quarter notes. you can make a beatiful sounding melody only using very few notes. the trick is how long the notes play, it builds the melody that is supposed to resemble human coversation and voice.
    The_Sophist
    Jondy wrote: embellishments have nothing to do with writing a melody. embellishments are to embellish an already made melody. You covered some of the very rigid basics, which is to say, you can use chord notes, or you could use... not chord notes. use scales. woo hoo. also, the most important aspect of creating a melody? that wasn't at all covered? rhythm. it's like you think every melody should be composed entirely of quarter notes. you can make a beatiful sounding melody only using very few notes. the trick is how long the notes play, it builds the melody that is supposed to resemble human coversation and voice.
    Exactly what part of "not a tutorial" don't you understand?
    jean_genie
    Jondy wrote: embellishments have nothing to do with writing a melody. embellishments are to embellish an already made melody. You covered some of the very rigid basics, which is to say, you can use chord notes, or you could use... not chord notes. use scales. woo hoo. also, the most important aspect of creating a melody? that wasn't at all covered? rhythm. it's like you think every melody should be composed entirely of quarter notes. you can make a beatiful sounding melody only using very few notes. the trick is how long the notes play, it builds the melody that is supposed to resemble human coversation and voice.
    I disagree. Writing a melody, at least to me, is about figuring out where all the notes start and end up - figuring out what to play in the middle is more of an arrangement thing. I think we can all agree that Bob Dylan wrote the melody to All Along the Watchtower , while Hendrix just rearranged it and filled in some gaps. If figuring out where to put each individual note is 'writing a melody', then I'd like to play you some Led Zeppelin songs that I helped write.
    Fatal Instinct wrote: Useful information, however it was presented in a way that makes me feel as if the writer is arrogant. Would be much more useful with a mentor-like tone to the article.
    I didn't see it as arrogant, but I guess that depends on your sense of humour. The username doesn't help with that though. Nor do some of the things mentioned in the comments section. But he started strong.
    jlyndon666
    Ideas for a next lesson? Create something that Jondy will having something positive to say about. \m/