How to Write a Memorable Melody

Here are some useful tips for writing really catchy melodies.

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1. Make it singable.

Whether you're writing vocal music or instrumental music, this is very important. Your melody should be simple enough to get stuck in the listener's head. With instrumental music, because there are no lyrics, the melody should be embellished more (trills, bends, slides, vibrato, extra notes), but the foundation of the melody should remain singable. Share your melody with a singer and have them sing it back to you. If they struggle to do this, your melody is not singable. If they sing it well and with ease, congratulations! You've written a singable melody!

2. Use chord tones.

If you already have harmony in place, choose melody notes that are part of that chord. For example, over a G chord, use G, B, or D as your melody note. This is not a hard a fast rule, but it will work every time. Try this exercise - Diagram your chords and the notes they contain:
With your diagram complete, practice writing as many different melodies as possible, and see which combinations work best for you.

1. Stepwise motion.

Move in the smallest distance possible most of the time. Most famous melodies move in stepwise motion the majority of the time ("Ode to Joy," for instance). Try it with the diagram we made. If we start with G as our chord tone, we have an equally good choice in moving to F# or A when we hit the D chord. Let's go with F# for right now. After F#, we again have an equally good choice for E or G when playing the C chord.

2. After a jump, step in the opposite direction.

When you jump or skip to a note not directly next to the current note, follow it with a step in the opposite direction (check out "Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz"). This is a classical music "rule," and it's worked time and time again with my students. Here are three examples: G D E, G D C, and G D G. Which of those three melodies will sound the best? When given the choice, my students always choose G D E, because it follows the "rule" of stepping opposite the jump. They choose it without knowing the rule ahead of time. Of course, you are free to choose anything you want, but keep this guideline in mind, and your melodies will be more singable and memorable. Once you have your chord tones and a few variations set in place, you can begin to add other non-chord tones and passing notes to fill in any gaps. At the end of the day, it's your music and there are no "rules," but remember, the most famous melodies of all time follow these rules, in general (there are always a few exceptions). Either way, this exercise will only serve to improve your melody-writing and will not result in your music sounding too "theory-based" or "analytical," as some may worry about. Write melodies using this method even when you're feeling uninspired, and when the time comes that you do feel inspired, you'll have one more tool in your toolbox to ensure that your melody is the absolute best it can be! About the Author: Eric Bourassa trains rockstars in his music studio full time and lives in Fort Worth with his wife and two kids. He plays shred guitar at church by day, shred guitar at music venues by night. He dislikes long walks on the beach. For examples of catchy, instrumental rock melodies with lots of chord tones and shred interludes, visit www.ericbourassa.com.

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34 comments sorted by best / new / date

    g70xic
    Shreds at church? Wow.
    Satrianifan281
    I play for my youth group and my youth pastor lets me play a few shred solos in some of our songs.
    hamsteroceros
    Playing Altar of Sacrifice in a(n albeit empty) church is still one of my fondest musical memories.
    Damaged Roses
    I actually play in a Catholic church. I usually improvise some shreddy solos with cool overdrive while in mass. People love it LOL
    liquified
    Hmm... Can someone tell me why G D E is step in the opposite direction after a jump? Isn't it all going up the scale?
    nemjeff13
    I'm confused too..the jump I assume is G to D, but E is still going up unless you dropped a whole octave. I thought the answer was GDC?
    NorCalLos
    Here's another tip. Stick to the notes in the underlying chord on the beats and play non-chord scale notes on the "ands." Also, when making a jump from one chord note to another and following it by movement in the opposite direction, make the move in the opposite direction a small move. You can also do this in reverse by first moving to an adjacent note, then a big leap in the opposite direction to a chord tone.
    Sparda3
    Really good tips, especially the stepwise motion. I can't tell you how many times I've had issues with a sound I want to achieve only to remedy it with "correct" steps.
    TheOnlyChance
    How to write a memorable melody... don't read articles
    Aerynn
    I get where you're coming from in that music has to come from the heart, not a formula, articles like these can be really helpful when you don't know where to start. These days I read them to see if something interesting is presented that I hadn't thought of, but when I was first getting into songwriting these kind of articles helped me get the feel for things that are pretty commonly done so that I could expand on them myself.
    Ultima2876
    I kinda thought the same thing at first - it's a bit of a bad example because it can be seen both ways. But anyway, think of it as G _down_ to D, then back up to E. Or G _down_ to D then _down_ again to C.
    AndyZ
    So where can I hear a memorable melody written by the author of this article? Only thing I heard on his website was some progressive riffing piece with not particularly interesting shred.
    SomeBlueKind
    Read the article several times. Still found no info to fully realize what is meant by 'stepwise." Should elaborate on this, otherwise it seems a pretty useless article.
    mikepm
    Stepwise means moving up or down scales. Like Do to re to mi (1st degree to second degree to third degree of the whatever scale you're using). Though it would be boring with just steps, skips make it more interesting, aim for chord tones, create motifs both rhythmic and melodic. Add embellishments to melodies to add more interest.
    nakki
    "For examples of catchy, instrumental rock melodies with lots of chord tones and shred interludes, visit www.ericbourassa.com.For examples of catchy, instrumental rock melodies with lots of chord tones and shred interludes, visit www.ericbourassa.com." Do it.
    IfellFromHeaven
    I feel like when I have problems writing melodies, it is much less the intervallic patterns, or chordal tones that get me, but more or less the rhythmic pattern. Honestly, singing guitar lines and shredding singing lines, whether on guitar or piano, goes a long way in getting you out of your box of thinking. though going at it with some paper works sometimes as well.
    Sixxstarr
    I've always found the simplest way of coming up with natural and singable rhythms is to just hum to your rhythm and then use a piano/keyboard to match it and then transcribe to guitar
    krm27
    I also applaud the effort to provide melody rules that are really rules, rather than "sit at piano and try to come up with something you like." This would be a good starting point for more refinement, addition, etc., because, whether they are consciously employed or not (and whether they are changing all the time, or are too complex to fully nail down), I think there are rules governing what makes a catchy melody. I also agree rhythm is as important, or more important, than the choice of notes. As they say in real estate, "Location, Location, Location."
    Downfall93
    "2. After a jump, step in the opposite direction." Taste of my scythe by COB came to mind the melody at 1:21
    Andrew32459
    this article is the most useful one of all "songwriting" tips I've ever read. This one really shows how to construct the melody (it's base at least), insteed just telling the fact you need to write a good melody. I'd like it to be continued!
    libertines4ever
    I would add that the pitch of the notes is not the only thing that's important, it's also about the rhythm of the notes to a great degree
    ratbertovich
    Good points. Just wanted to add: repeat your better phrases a few times, with slight variations. A long melody is harder to remember when not partitioned into looped phrases.
    SilverSpurs616
    I love that idea of stepwise motion, and about moving in the opposite direction after a jump! I'm working on my own solo albu type-thing and I've been struggling with creating good melodies so this will undoubtedly help. thanks!
    ericdbourassa
    Hey that's awesome! I'm really glad to hear this idea was helpful for you! I don't use it all the time, but it definitely works when I do.