The melody or tune of a song is what most people hear when listening to music, the chords, drums, bass are very important in supporting the melody but the average person hears the tune. The best melodies are simple, easy to remember and easy to sing along with. However the goal of good melody writing is to make the tune simple but not boring or run of the mill. We will discuss how to write a melody, explain a bit of music theory
(I promise not too much!) behind constructing a tune and how to fit lyrics to melody.
The most common question I receive from ‘non-‘musicians’ is what do you write first, music or words? I like to do both and I would recommend you try both ways. If I’m writing with a collaborator who writes lyrics I would always write the tune to fit the lyrics. Sometimes if you have a chord sequence composing lyrics and melody at the same time is a good way to go. Even a combination of the two will work, remember there’s no hard rules to this. The melody is normally the primary reason a song gets recorded or not so make it the strongest you can.
Writing a Cappella:
A cappella means without musical accompaniment. Writing a cappella means composing melodies in your head and just singing them with the voice. Sometimes writing without an instrument can bring forward the strongest melodies.
As a beginning songwriter you can create songs without playing an instrument. With lyrics and melodies in your head, you can complete a song! How cool is that? Some songwriters who can play guitar or piano make the mistake of strumming some chords and letting the chords lead to the next predictable notes.
People sing the melody not the chords, the number one downfall of new songwriters is first playing chord changes on a keyboard or guitar, and then imposing the melody over the chord progression. Now chords are very important to add harmony which we will talk about a little later but if you don’t play an instrument don’t let that stop you writing great melodies.
Having said that, playing an instrument is very useful and knowing chord changes, scales and simple theory will assist you. Learning popular chord sequences will also be of great benefit.
Keep it Simple and Singable:
The goal of melody writing is to communicate a simple and singable melody that fits a perfect lyric. So how do we write melodies? (here comes the theory part) Say you have a chord sequence C Major-F Major-G Major These chords have the following notes in them;
C Major C-E-G
F Major F-A-C
G Major G-B-D
The scale would be C Major going from C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C when writing the melody for your song, you would select notes from within the chord you were playing at the time. So for example if you were playing a C Chord, the notes you would use would be C, E,or G. You can use notes outside of the chord but as a starting point you would choose the notes in the chord. I like to look at the syllables in the lyrics and decide what notes and rhythm I want to assign to them.
When you begin writing your own melodies try a variety of notes with different rhythms. Have fun with this and learn to rewrite melodies like you would with lyrics
Intervals in melody writing is a useful technique to learn. It will help you pick up new music and give you an understanding of melody. I hear you say what is an Interval? Good question, Intervals are the spaces between notes. So F-C would be a 5th because it’s a 5th in distance. To recognize a perfect fifth is to hum the starting of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; the pitch of the first “twinkle” is the root note and pitch of the second “twinkle” is a perfect fifth above it.