Welcome back to Part 3 of our mini-series in ‘Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies’. If you missed the previous parts, then I do urge you to pop over and read those first, as there is a natural progression of the steps as we build on information learned from each previous stage. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
If you’ve already read and digested the previous two parts, then lets get stuck in to the final steps of this tutorial.
Step 6: Compose, Stop, Repeat, Record
As I’ve already mentioned in the introduction to this tutorial, writing a good melody is not something that can be achieved simply by ‘doing it like this… a. b. c.’. The steps in this tutorial are techniques, guides, tips – but they all require the composer to use their own creativity to takes these tips and implement them in to a unique composition.
As such, as you move along with your melody and try out different ideas from the steps in this tutorial series, you should always be prepared to STOP and REPEAT when something magical happens.
What I mean by this is oftentimes when you’re composing, humming, singing, or playing your new melody alongside a chord sequence, suddenly a certain musical phrase or part of the phrase sounds simply fantastic… the natural thing to do here is to continue along with the composition as the song carries you along and you feel excited to see what else you can come up with. You heart is captured by the moment and you become excited to continue composing this amazing new melody. However, by the time you reach the ‘end’ or become creatively exhausted, you may well have forgotten the exact combination of the chord, melody notes, rhythm, and so on that you played during that heart-stopping moment of greatness!
As such, I always recommend no matter how emotionally deep you’re getting into the new composition as you sing/play your melody, just remember to stop immediately following the ‘great moments’, and make sure you repeat, re-repeat and then record or write down those inspired moments. It is these small moments of magic which make your melody something very special, and therefore it’s essential you capture them!
Step 7: Rhythm & Varying Note Lengths
One thing that can make a good melody great, is the clever use of rhythm and note-length. It is very tempting for composers to just change from one note to the next, on every beat of the bar, or at the same time as chord changes.
This can be suitable for the right kind of song, but, the melody really needs to be strong and there should be something else picking up the interest too such as clever chord changes, or percussion providing some variety and interest.
Most of the time, you’ll do well to take the notes from the melody you’re starting to compose, and really think hard about how to ‘spice’ them up by holding on to certain notes longer, adding quavers and semi-quavers across slightly quicker passages to bring more musical movement in to the melody.
In the example we’ve been using for our tutorial, the time signature has been in 3/4 time. Understanding key signature theory is perhaps not that critical for those who’ve never studied it before. Certainly not as important as understanding key signatures (as mentioned in Step 2). Most musicians just ‘feel’ the beat of the music and intuitively know the timing without necessarily understand what 3/4 time, 4/4 or 6/8 means. If you do understand time signatures, it will certainly help you when it comes to jotting down your song to a score. And you’ll be able to see where perhaps the melody has become ‘stuck’ in the rhythm of simply changing note on each beat of the bar.
One effective tip for adding something extra to a melody rhythm is to try and allow some notes to be held across bars. What does this mean? Well, if we take our example song from this tutorial, we could amend the rhythm to add more interest as follows.
Here, between the first and second bar, the A is held for two beats, which takes it across the two bars, before the G is finally played. This adds some musical variety to the piece, and once again it moves the melody away from being too ‘obvious’; a little curiosity. You often here composers use this technique of slightly varying the rhythm in repeated patterns. In modern music (the kind with verse, chorus, verse, chorus), you will sometimes hear that the composer makes use of this technique in the final chorus for example. To add an extra special element to the piece, where the listener has heard a melody line a couple of times, and the final time they hear it in the song, it’s ever so slightly tweaked rhythmically, giving it greater impact.
Bonus Tip: Using The Techniques Creatively
So, we now have a solid set of seven techniques/tips to help make our melodies more memorable. As mentioned previously however, these steps alone will not result in a fantastic melody… they require interpretation, creativity, style, and clever use of the various techniques.
If you’re an absolute beginner when it comes to writing melodies, then I forgive you for somewhat ‘copying’ the example given in this tutorial. This will help you understand some of the ways in which each different technique can add something extra to a melody. However, a word of warning, don’t get into the habit of copying melodies. If there’s one thing people will pick up on more than most, it’s a bad copy of a good melody. What I mean here is if you start thinking ‘I want to create a song as good as, or like song X’… you’re heading for a sure fire way to spoil your chances of composing something great.
Instead, I suggest you try your utmost to cast all other melodies and songs out of your head. Be inspired by your own mood at the time of writing. Then choose a key signature, and start matching chord sequences with some harmonizing melody lines. Try to be creative in the way you use the different techniques by forcing yourself to do something you’ve not done before. For example, if you find yourself always writing in C Major, change it, perhaps G Major instead? This will have a dramatic effect on the way your brain, or ‘head voice’ automatically sings along to the chords being played. Mainly because your voice can only sing within a certain range (perhaps a couple of octaves). Shifting the key signature is therefore helpful to try and inspire new creativity in your melodies.
Alternatively you could try using the six note jump technique (Step 4 of this series of tutorials) in completely new parts of the phrase than you’ve tried before. Or linking different jumps together, one directly after another. Sometimes going up six whole tones, others going down. Think of the great ‘Love Story‘ melody, you can see how the first 8 bars of that music are practically entirely based on six note jumps. They’re used in such a clever way, that anyone who’s heard this song once, will probably find it almost instantly memorable!
For those who have previously been struggling with creating strong melody lines I really do urge you to fully familiarize yourselves with the tips provided in this series of tutorials. By being completely comfortable with the techniques, you’ll find you won’t need to ‘think’ about them much, thus allow your creative side take over.
As you listen to your favorite popular melodies, try to listen to them from the point of view of the above tips. This will help you learn how great melodies deploy the different techniques and consequently improve your melody compositions in the long run.
Always remember that generally, a great song needs not only your funky guitar chords, or computer generated cool new instrument choices, or wonderfully written lyrics… but also a really memorable, and strong melody line to take the song from nice to number one!