8 Tips For Writing A Great Melody

8 Tips For Writing A Great Melody

Melody oddly enough is probably the most overlooked element in songwriting.  We all tend (and I’m as guilty as anybody) to stress out over chord progressions, lyrics, groove, arrangement, and which reverb to use.  When in actuality melody is a SUPER important  element when it comes to a memorable song.  And writing songs that stick in people’s memory is one of the key factors in a successful song.
In this article we will explore how write stronger melody lines by looking at it from two different points of view.  Firstly, we will look at how changing your songwriting process or adding another step to it can help you write more interesting and more memorable melodies. Secondly, we will explore several components that excellent strong melodies share.  As anyone that has studied songwriting or music in general can tell you – there are no absolutes and hundreds of examples where any rule doesn’t hold true. However what we will explore today will give you another set of tools in your songwriting toolbox. Remember “No rules only tools”.
OK so let’s get started.

Tip #1 – Change Your Songwriting Process

Changing your songwriting process is scary for a lot of songwriters.  Perhaps you have a way that you’ve worked out of writing a song and it is working for you and it is all very comfortable.  I would like to challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and just see what happens.
Very few songwriters start out thinking about melody. Melody is just something that just sort of happens when you start working with the lyrics that you’ve begun to write.  The majority of songwriters that I’ve polled tend to sit down with a guitar or at the piano and start messing around (improvising sounds much more professional) and then something starts happening, something catches their ear and they start writing the melody, lyric, and chord progression all at the same time.   And NOTE: There is nothing wrong with that. I’ve written some very good songs like that.
This method has one really big drawback.  Melody frequently gets lost in the process.  Melodies begin their lives just moving up or down step wise to accommodate staying on a chord tone. And of course there are hundreds of examples of great songs that the melody is exactly like that.  However, there are many great songs that have fantastic melodies.
Let’s try something a bit different. So what if we sat down with a recorder of some kind with no instrument at all and no lyrics at all and just started writing a melody all by itself?  You would be surprised at how many songwriters that I’ve talked to have never even tried doing this. What it does is isolate the melody from all other aspects of the song and forces us to make the melody by itself interesting.  Suddenly we see that melodies have over all shapes, they are made up of phrases some of which repeat or sequence, have overall ranges, some parts are down low and some parts go up high.  And guess what?  All of this matters.
Now we’ve created a writing situation where you have nothing to worry about except melody. So let’s look at some aspects of melody that if you are aware of you can manipulate to create a great melody and more importantly contrast your verses from your choruses from your pre-choruses.

Tip #2 – Shape

Does a given section of the melody to up, go down, arc up, arc down, leap up, leap down, hover step-wise in a given range? Is there a pleasant mix of these so that your melody always has interest?  That is does it move step-wise down then leap up, etc …. ?

Tip #3 – Motive  And Development

Does your melody make use of small motives or shapes that repeat on the same pitch (repetition) or repeat on different pitch (sequence)? This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of a strong melody.  We all do it subconsciously but making a top of mind choice can really amp up your melodies.

Tip #4 – Use of Non-Chord Tones

Does your melody vary use of chord tones as well as effective use of non-chord/passing tones?  And of course at this point we are thinking of the implied harmony that our melody is creating.  This could all change as we move forward in the process.

Tip #5 – Range Change for Chorus

Does your melody change ranges in the chorus?  Most typical is lower overall range in the verse and higher range in the chorus.

Tip #6 – The Sound of Silence

Does your melody vary the amount of rests so that the density of the lyric changes.? Does your melody vary the placement of the rests (beginning / middle / end of phrase)?

Tip #7 – Start and End of Phrase

Does your melody vary where in the measure the phrase starts?  Beat one or in the middle of the measure?  At the end of the measure?  Does it change between verse and chorus?

Tip #8 – Length of Phrase

Does your melody very the length of phrase in a way that keeps the melody interesting. Perhaps a change comes at a place that creates an unexpected surprise.
There is more to melody writing but these 8 tips for writing a great melody will get you started thinking about melody and how the quality of the melody can really enhance a song’s quality, emotional impact, and memorability.
Give these ideas a spin and let me know in the comments how this works for you!
And as always, let’s go out there and make some music!

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Art Davis

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