Songwriting In Any Style. Part 2

This lesson is on melody writing and on melodic development.

Ultimate Guitar

Part 1: Steps And Skips

I'm assuming you have basic knowledge of intervals (refer to or my "pure theory" lessons if not). Vocab: Melodic interval - an interval between two notes sounded one after another Step - a melodic interval smaller than a minor third Skip - a melodic interval a minor third or larger Conjunct motion - melodic movement dealing with steps Disjunct motion - melodic movement dealing with skips Classically, disjunct motion is generally more dissonant and conjunct motion more consonant. Try playing a C, then skip to a G, then go down the major scale step by step back to C (C, G, F, E, D, C). This is a simple melody involving a skip and some steps. The melody could be described as mostly conjunct. Now try a melody made entirely of skips. C, A, D, G, E, C. It feels much more "varied" and "diverse" than a conjunct melody, just a bit short of earning the title "exotic." Experiment with varying amounts of disjunct and conjunct motion until you feel you've fully grasped the concept.

Part 2: Rhythmic Embellishment

Another element to consider when writing melodies is timing. Take the first example above (C, G, F, E, D, C). I'll show you two different rhythms for this melody, both in 4/4, with the count (#, e, &, a, etc.) next to the numbers. C(1) G(&) F(2) E(&) D(3) C(&) /(4) /(&) C(1) /(&) G(2) /(&) /(3) F(&) E(4) D(&) C(1) In the first example there is a rest after the melody, and then it would repeat. In the second example, the final note of the melody is also the first note of the repeat. The second example feels a little more varied, and you'd be more likely to hear it in a popular song than the first example, which feels a little squished together and awkward. However, sometimes the inspiration/purpose calls for that awkward feeling. Write some melodies with some nice steps and skips, and then work on their rhythms until you've fully grasped this concept too.

Part 3: Scales

Using different scales/modes can really give your melodies distinct flavors. The examples we've worked on so far all work in the major mode, specifically the Cmajor scale. But what if you took the 4 (F) and sharpened it, for a Lydian sound? It sounds a little more adventurous, and dreamlike. What if, instead, you flattened the 3rd (E) and turned the major melody into a minor melody? Now it sounds like a darker, lurking melody. This may sound contradictory, but try not to get into the habit of describing melodies or songs as "in" a certain scale, and try not to think too much in terms of scales. Instead, think of it in terms of intervals. Although the main melody of a song may include a #4 and a b7, the "lydian dominant" mode may not be very consistent through the song; those notes could just be colorful little accidentals thrown in for interest. Ultimately thinking in terms of scales when composing, improvising, or analyzing music will only limit your creativity. So even though this part is titled "scales," what I'm really trying to teach you is to use a few colorful notes. Throw in some b2s, #2s, b3s, #4s, b7s, or whatever it is you're into. Mess around with all the melodies you've written so far and try writing some new ones until you feel a strong grasp on this concept.

Part 4: Now What?

So you've written a melody and taken steps/skips, rhythm, and the scale (or colorful notes) into careful situation. Now how do you go from one melody to an entire song? The easiest way to go about it is to repeat the melody without any variation, just keep going for an entire verse or chorus or whatever it is. There are some great songs written this way, keeping your interest through lyrical change, little licks/fills from the instruments, etc. A more complex way to deal with the issue is to add variations of the melody. Take Radiohead's "High and Dry." During the chorus: "Don't leave me hiiigh Don't leave me dryyy" The initial melody (don't leave me high) is varied a bit (don't leave me dry) by ending with two extra notes (on the word "high" there is one consistent high note, and on the word "dry" Thom Yorke hits the same note but then follows it with a couple lower notes). This guy's lesson on melody writing is very helpful, pay special attention to his song analysis (he explains Warmth of the Sun by The Beach Boys, Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles, and High and Dry by Radiohead). These two links (first, second) are to lessons on how melodic development has been handled by classical composers. Hope this all helps. Next time, we'll discuss what to do with the other instruments (or "voices") once you've written enough melody for your entire composition.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    After I finish up these lessons no how to write songs starting with melody, I'm going to start teaching how to write songs starting with a groove, how to write songs starting with lyrics, etc.
    If you mess around on a guitar you may or may not come up with something, and if you do have something good chances are it'll just be through coincidence. I'm trying to teach people to better express themselves, not just write good songs through luck.
    Guys, I just realized I accidentally posted part 3 in the "for beginners" category. Does anybody know a way I could move it? And if you want to check it out, there it is!
    Basically the only part of these lessons that I came up with myself was the "inspiration/purpose" bit of part 1. And nobody seemed to be too into that idea
    Thanks for the feedback guys! And by the way, this isn't completely "my method" that I devised myself and just wanted to share with a lot of people, it's actually a popular method of teaching songwriting that I prefer over the half-assed ways guitar teachers teach these days. These lessons are really the most direct link between music theory and songwriting that I know of. Really happy they helped you out sj.desai90, I've been stuck before in the same problem as you've had and I hope that these lessons continue to demystify songwriting for you and others to come
    I can't thank you enough for posting this. I've always been intimidated by the thought of writing a melody and have stuck to strumming chords for over 4 years. This constraint caused me to virtually stop playing over the past year. After reading this post, I feel as if a blindfold has been removed. "This may sound contradictory, but try not to get into the habit of describing melodies or songs as "in" a certain scale, and try not to think too much in terms of scales." This was the line that really made an impact, possibly because I thought I was supposed to be doing precisely what it says not to do. Although this explanation may not be for everyone, it was perfect for me. Thank you for the vital insight that has alluded me thus far, I forgot what it felt like to be excited at the prospect of playing guitar. -Stay awesome Sir
    This is a good lesson and tries it myself and works really well. But what happened to the days where you pick up the guitar and thrash around for a bit until something good comes out? Thats my personal favourite way. But still great lesson.
    Wrote a song using your method today. I got a good harmony going then based the chord progression around it. Never done it like that before. Opens up many doors thanks again.
    BTW everybody, check out the melodic vocal work of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta on their latest album Noctourniquet. Whether or not you like it, there's some very nice work in their you can learn from.
    Nice ideas. I look forward to the next lesson and how you figure out the chords under the melody. I normally play chords and then figure out a melody on top. Kind of limiting.