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A melody is a memorable series of notes.  

It carries the lyric and it's the part of a song a listener is able to perform.
It's usually simple, or it's made of simple patterns that repeat themselves in predictable ways.
Good melodies should be hummable.   The melody can also be the main tune an instrument plays.       

"Melody is the thread that ties a song together.  If done poorly, every seam will be apparent and it won't hold together for long.”         -David Pomeranz

Tone Tendencies        Symmetry         Structural notes        Controlling the speed        Melodic Placement        Summary

Melodic motion

There are two types of melodic motion. 

Conjunct: the melody moves from one scale step to the next.   See intervals

conjunct melodic motion

Disjunct: the melody jumps to any scale step.

disjunct melodic motion

Key melody ingredients

Rhythm structure:  The rhythm of the melody is a variation of the songs rhythm.  It reflects the essence of the song.
The melody notes can go up, down, or stay the same.  The pattern of rising or falling is called the contour.
Note choices
Interval choices

Melodic phrase

A melody is made of melodic phrases.  These phrases act like sentences in a language.  They begin and end at a point of resolution.
Short phrases are combined to make longer phrases.  Most phrases are 1 - 4 measures long. 
Phrases are labeled based on similarity. 

Metric grouping is another name for a melodic phrase.

Rhythm is the easiest way to compare phrases. 
If phrases have different notes but the same rhythm, they're considered variations of the same phrase.
There's many development techniques to provide contrast between phrases.

Melodic considerations

How disjunct is the melody?  Too many interval skips makes the melody hard to sing.

Can the vocalist breathe between phrases?  You should try singing it.   

Is the vocal range too great?   Does it change too quickly?
Keep the range manageable.  A 2 octave range is hard to sing.
A hit song must be singable.  The average person wants to sing along.  A masterpiece can use many octaves.


Develop a sense of melody.  Listen to music and sing along with the singer.
The easiest way to write melodies is to start singing.  It takes time to develop this skill, but it's worth it.

It's essential "that the writer sing the melody, feel it in the voice, reach for the high notes, and focus on experiencing the relationship between the lyric and the melody."               -Jack Perricone 

More singing exercises
Singing link to key exercises coming soon   

Tone tendancies in a melody  spacer

Independent melody

An independent melody is interesting without chords behind it.

It has enough rhythm and note variations to keep people listening.
"America the beautiful" is an example of an independent melody.


Each interval has different amounts of tension.

This tension is transfered to the melody. 
You control the melody tension with your interval choices.
Tension is measured by comparing a note to the root note.    

If you're confused see music theory, intervals, overtones or relative tension.   Otherwise keep reading.

Tense unstable notes resolve to stable notes.    

However, unstable notes don't always resolve in a melody. 
If you understand a notes natural resolution pattern, you can decide to let it resolve or not. 
This choice can satisfy or frustrate the listeners expectations.  

Open or closed

A phrase ending on a stable note is closed tonally.   The root note (1) provides the most closure.  The root note is usually the last note in a song.  Stable notes are often used at "stopping points" when resolution is desired.  

A natural stopping point is called a cadence.  A cadence is a form of musical punctuation. 
Cadences occur naturally, based on the form of the song.  They're emphasized with the use of stable or unstable notes.

A phrase ending on an unstable note is open tonally.  The most open scale note is 7 (the leading tone). 
All chromatic notes (non scale notes) are very open.  The b7 is the most closed (resolved) chromatic note.  It has a strong relationship to the 1, 3, 5      See overtones

Unstable notes are used at cadences when forward motion is desired. 

An unstable note that resolves to a stable note creates forward motion.
Interest can be maintained by using stable or unstable notes at the end of melodic phrases. 
The terms open and closed can be applied to every element of a song. 


When you play any single note, the sound you hear is a mix of many overtones (other notes).  I recommend the music theory overtones page.   This is a review of that page.  If you're confused, see beginner music theory.

Overtones in the Major Scale

The tension in any note is measured by it's relationship to the root note (1).                                                                            
major scale overtones

Some Major scale intervals are very dissonant 
The Major 7th, the perfect 4th (not found in the overtone series), and the Major 2nd.  

These intervals create a sense of motion in the major scale.

These notes want to resolve (or move) to stable notes.

Relative tension in the Major scale

Any interval (note) is stable or unstable.  We measure this stability by comparing it to the root note (1).  

stable and unstable notes

1, 5, 3     sound right when you play them.
6, 2, 4, 7   want to resolve
when you play them.  

These notes tend to resolve down to the closest stable note.  That's not a rule.  Notes can resolve upwards, or not at all.

Natural resolutions for the unstable notes. 

natural resolutions for diatonic notes

Diatonic and chromatic resolution patterns

This is a review of the diatonic - chromatic page.

Diatonic notes are scale notes.   Chromatic notes are any note.
Natural resolution patterns for the chromatic notes     Green sounds the most right.

chromatic resolution

These are recommendations.  The orange resolutions sound more intense, but they're still resolving .

Wrong notes

Chromatic notes are often called wrong notes.  But great musicians throughout the ages have used them.  They can't be wrong.  They're simply tense or harsh.  Without them music would be boring.

wrong notes   

Making wrong notes right        

Slide or bend to the next stable note.   The faster you move to a stable note, the better it sounds.

Play it twice. 
If you play it once, it's wrong.  If you play it twice they praise your chromatic choices.

Know the way out.
 Every chromatic note has a sequence that makes it sound good.  These sequences vary depending on the style of music you're playing. 

Play it like you mean it.

"Audiences are conditioned.  Only the true artist and enlightened listener are non conditioned."      -John McLaughlin                                                                            

symmetry in melody writing

(sameness) and asymmetry (difference) combine to create form and structure in music.
Balance between the two is the ideal we strive for.  Music that is too symmetric is stiff.  Music that is too asymmetric has no form.

The number of phrases.
The length of the phrases.
The rhythm of the phrases.
The order of the phrases.

Number of phrases

Balanced   (closed)     
An even number of phrases the same length


Unbalanced   (open)  
An odd number of phrases the same length.


Balanced   (closed) 
A group of three phrases can be balanced by a second group of 3 phrases. 

2 groups of 3

Length of phrases

Balanced    (closed)  
A phrase followed by another phrase with the same number of measures.  

balanced length

Or a phrase followed by two or more phrases that equal it's length.

balanced 2 4

Unbalanced      (open)

A phrase followed by a phrase of a different length.  Or multiple phrases of different lengths.

unbalanced length

These phrases could be balanced by allowing them to repeat.

Rhythm of the phrases

Matched       Inexactly matched       Outer       Inner       Unmatched

The rhythm of the phrase matters when analyzing symmetry.

rhythm 1

Phrase length    =  symmetric   (each phrase is 1 measure long)
Phrase number = symmetric   (there are 2 phrases)

The rhythm is not symmetric.  Measure 1 is different from measure 2.
To make the rhythm symmetric you can re-write either measure using the same rhythm.
Or we could repeat both phrases.  Now we have two, 2 measure phrases.
rhythm 2

Symmetry isn't always what we want.  Variety (or asymmetry) is nice too.

Matched phrase

Matched phrases have the same rhythm.
Matched phrases are labeled with the same letter.

matched rhythm

Phrases can be matched, even if notes are tied together.  
The last two beats in each phrase are equal to quarter notes.

matched rhythm 2

Inexactly matched

A' has a different rhythm in the first measure, but the second measure is the same as phrase A.

These phrases are labeled with the same letter, plus an apostrophe.   A  and  A'
inexactly matched
. Here's another version.
inexactly matched 2

Matched rhythms are a good place to use rhyming words in the lyrics.

Outer matching

Two short phrases can be balanced by a long phrase. 
Outer matching occurs if the outer rhythms match.

The long phrase is labeled with a new letter C, and the matched phrase is letter B.

outer matching

Or you could put the long phrase first and balance it with two shorter phrases.

Inner rhythmic matching

A second phrase can have an internal rhythm that matches the first phrase.

inner rhytmic matching

Inner rhyme is effective over matching inner rhythms.


Phrases are unmatched if the rhythm is different.
These phrases are labeled with different letters.


Phrases with different lengths are unmatched.

.unmatched 2

Outer rhythmic matching

Phrases with different lengths can have matching outer rhythms.

outer rhythmic matching                                                                                                                    
structural notes

Melodic outline       Contour          Starting with structural notes

Structural notes form the melodic outline.

Structural notes are the essence of the melody. 
Sing or jam the song and simplify the melody until you can't cut anything else away.

Signs of structural notes.

Structural notes are found on:

Strong beats of the measure (beats 1 and 3)
Sustained notes
The beginning note of a phrase
The ending note of a phrase
The highest or lowest notes of a phrase

They're also found on:
Accented notes that stand out.
Strong syncopations (offbeats) or anticipations (notes that lead into longer notes).

Melodic outline.

The melodic outline is a simplified version of the melody.   It helps you add harmony (chords) later. 
Break the melody into whole note or half note (rhythm) sections.  Decide which chord is happening in each section.  
Often the longest notes are the best choice for the melodic outline.

You can use triads to suggest a chord.   (Major = 1 - 3 - 5)  (minor = 1 - b3 - 5) See Major - minor
If a power chord (1 - 5) is occurring, that also suggests a chord.

The easiest melodic motion is conjunct (by scale step).  This is true for the melodic outline and for individual melody notes.
Disjunct motion jumps to any scale step.

For simplicity I'm using a new notation system.  This shows a C major scale without sharps or flats.  I'll add multiple sheet music
examples for music majors.  This is simplified for beginners.  If rhythm notation is confusing, click here.

The jump from C to F is disjunct.  The jump from F to G is conjunct.  The jump from G to C is disjunct.
This melody is NOT meant to be good.  It's an example.

melodic outline 1

Example 2:
This chart shows a complicated melody.  The numbers at the bottom of the chart show intervals in different chords.
If that's confusing, see music theory, intervals, chord building, modes 

melodic contour 2Measure 1 is a C Major triad 1 - 3 - 5.
Measure 2 is a E minor triad 1 - b3 - 5.

Measure 3 is complicated.  You have a choice.
It could be a D minor chord (red). 
The scale fragment suggests a Dsus2sus4 (purple intervals). 

It could be an E minor chord (tan).  The scale fragment suggests a Em7sus2 (green intervals). 
Dm-sus2sus4 sounds different than Em7-sus2.  You decide while writing the song. 

Measure 4 is easy.  The first half note is E.  The second half note is C.

This analysis is my opinion.  You might disagree.
 If you're making a song and any note or chord feels wrong, change it.


Your melody should go somewhere.  A melody that stays in one place is boring.

The contour tracks the melodies movement.

There are five basic contours.  This chart shows phrase contour.  The phrases are 4 measures long.  Phrases can be longer or shorter.

melody contour chart

Too many phrases with the same contour is boring.  

boring melodic contour

We can examine the overall contour of several combined phrases.

overall melodic contour

The arch contour is very satisfying, musically.

Starting with structural notes.

If you start with a melodic outline, you'll want to enhance it.  There are several ways to do this.

The best way is to sing and record variations
Sing until it feels right. 

You can use the academic approach.   There are many ways to embellish structural notes.

Repeated tones  
Repeat the note rhythmically.

melodic repeated tones

Neighbor tones  
This note occurs between a structural notes and it's repetition.

Lower Neighbor
occurs below the structural note.
Upper Neighbor occurs above the structural note.

neighbor tones in a melody

Changing Tones  
A two note embellishment that uses both the
upper and lower neighbor.

changing tones in a melody

Scalar Pattern links structural notes with a scale step motion.
Passing Tone links two structural notes a 3rd apart.

scalar pattern melody

The Anticipation leads into the next structural note.
It's shorter and is often found on the weak part of the beat.

I left out the 8th note rest for simplicity.

anticipation note in a melody

Leap:  jump to the next structural note
Leap 2:  jump to any note, then jump to the next structural note.

leap melody note

Combine these tricks however you like.  

Learn how they work and use them while singing and playing.   With practice, these embellishments will happen naturally.          

controlling the speed in a melody

Phrase acceleration
Phrase deceleration
Rhythmic acceleration
Rhythmic deceleration

You can change the speed of your song without changing the tempo.

Change the length of the phrases
Change the rhythm within the phrases.

This creates contrast between sections.

Phrasal acceleration

The length of your starting phrase establishes a pattern.  
If the following phrases remain the same, the phrase acceleration is constant.

Longer to shorter creates acceleration.
This highlights a section.

acceleration phrase

 If the phrases return to the longer phrase it relieves the tension.

acceleration phrase

Phrasal deceleration

Shorter to longer creates deceleration.

phrase deceleration

These two tricks can highlight sections of a song.  
They can focus the listeners attention (perhaps on the title line).  
They can provide contrast from one section to the next.

Rhythmic acceleration

Speed up the rhythm using rhythmic strikes, while maintaining the same rhythmic pattern.
Or you could say: move from a large rhythmic division to a small one.

rhythmic acceleration

Rhythmic deceleration

Move from a small rhythmic division to a large one.  
Play slower, keep the rhythm.  Get to the essence.

rhythmic deceleration

Rhythmic acceleration and deceleration creates a tension that is resolved when the music returns to it's original rhythmic pattern.
This could be used to highlight a title line.       

melodic placement in a melody

The placement of the melody in each measure is important.

Phrase endings & cadences         Phrase beginnings         Weak part of the beat

Phrase endings and cadences

The best stopping point for a phrase is at a strong cadence.  
Cadences are areas in the song where rhythmic activity comfortably stops.

The strongest cadence is the first beat of the last half of the phrase.
On that beat, the first half of the phrase just heard could be repeated.

strong cadence

cadence strong

The 2nd strongest cadence is the first beat of the last fourth of a phrase.

2nd strongest

2nd strongest

You decide how strong of a "stop" is needed
in each phrase and section of your song.

Don't use the same cadence in every phrase or section.  It makes the music sound stiff.

You can stop at a non-cadence point.  This focuses the listeners attention because it isn't expected.

Phrase beginnings

Most phrases begin on the first beat, or soon after it.

Pickup notes are shorter notes that lead into the first beat.  
They highlight the first melody note.  

The weak part of the beat

The first half of a phrase is stronger than the second half.

weak group 1

weak group 2

weak group 4

A phrase can start anywhere

Starting on a weak beat creates interest by focusing attention on an area not usually emphasized.

You're using two measure phrases.  
You start your next phrase on a weak beat (the second measure)
and for added emphasis you start on the weak part of the measure (the second half).

weak beat

Try starting your phrase a few beats before the chorus.
This highlights the title line on the first beat of the chorus.

weak verse chorus transition

Examine the starting point of each phrase in each section.
You can create contrast between phrases, either within the section, or with a different section.

Melody styles.

Rock and roll

Melodies are often simple and mono-tonal
They often use one or two notes.

To avoid monotony: 
Change your vocal tone.
Use rhythmic acceleration or deceleration. 
Change the chords behind the melody.  This gives each melody note a different harmonic effect. 

Rock music can have strong melodies, it depends on the band and singer.                    
Some Rock songs use aggressive rap-like verse lyrics and melodic chorus lyrics.


Listen to the Beatles.  They are pop.
Work on your vocal tone.
Find (or be) a sexy singer.
Listen to top 40 hits. 


Melodies are rare in rap songs.
Most melodies exist in short interlude segments.  
Rap is very attitude based.
It flows with word rhythms, instead of vocal tones.
Melody can be used effectively in the chorus.


Listen to hit country songs and sing along.
The patterns will get stuck in your head.  Many country songs are very similar.

It will be in a Major key.

Melody by section.

Verse melody

The verse melody sets up the chorus melody. 
If it sucks, the listener will stop listening.

Keep it simple, but never boring.  Don't distract from the lyrics.  

Don’t steal attention from the chorus.
The chorus melody has to be better than the verse.
Use less melody in the verse.  Use more images and poetic devices. 
Use intervals that reinforce the mood.

Use spaces between phrases 
This lets the listener think and allows the singer breathing time

Pre-chorus melody

The pre-chorus sets up the chorus. 
The pre-chorus often starts on different chords (vi minor or IV Major).   

The notes are higher than the verse,
and lower than the chorus.  
It often has a new word rhythm.

Pre-choruses give a song more build.
They anticipate the chorus.   If the the pre-chorus sounds like a chorus, make the chorus sound even better.

Chorus melody

It has the highest notes, and the widest intervals between notes.  
You can also try the opposite.

Make the chorus melody different from the verse.
Use acceleration or deceleration (speed control).
Use key changes.
Major to minor changes.
Parallel mode changes.
Drum acceleration, instrument changes.

If your verse is stronger than your chorus, switch them.

Bridge melody

A bridge provides contrast
The bridge melody depends on the rest of the song.

Change the:
Rhythm               Chords 
Accelerate          Decelerate     
Key                     Mode 
Tone                   Point of view

Re-use any chords from the verse or chorus.   Use different chords or chord substitutions. 

An instrumental bridge. 
It uses an instrument to restate the melody musically.  

It’s your last chance to say something lyrically, with chords or melodically.
If you have nothing left to say, you don’t need a bridge.  

This section is truly optional. 
If it works, the listener waits for it.  If it doesn’t, it’s extra baggage.


Melodies “come into your head”
Guitar players also say this about their playing.

The secret is to be in the zone.   
See meditation or athletics.

Write simple melodies.  Learn what makes them work,
and listen to music.  Eventually you'll hear melodies all day long.

Improvise on an instrument.
Melodies are simple.  They're easier than chords, riffs, licks or solos.
Play and sing a scale.   Make the scale notes into a simple melody.   Simple things can sound good.

Play a single chord with a rhythm.  Sing a melody over it.  Record it.   Substitute chords.
Change the melody to fit the new chords.  Change the chords if it doesn't work.

Write random notes on sheet music.  Play them. 
This develops sight reading and singing.  Change notes that don't sound right.  That will be most of them.  Give it a rhythm.

Use software like Finale or Sibelius.
Finale helps you make sheet music for melodies.  You can listen to it as you create it.  You can save it as a WAV or export it as a midi file.
Another popular program is Sibelius.  I am trying both right now. 

Record it all.
First takes are often the best.   If you don't record them, you're missing out.  Any simple melody can inspire something later.

Buy sheet music for your favorite songs.  
Sing the melody over the chords.  Study how the melody interacts with the chords.

The intervals between melody notes.  The range of the notes (high and low).
How does the melody change between sections?   How does major or minor emphasize the mood?

Create melody's.
Record a chord progression.  Play it over and over.  Take it on a walk and sing over it.  Record your ideas if they're good.
Melodies can come to you at any moment.  They are all around you.  Listen for them.  
Let the sounds of the world inspire you. 

Singing gets melodies in your head
Sing and use the ear training exercises

Remember melodies.                    
Buy a portable recorder.  Call home and use your answering machine.  Call a friends phone.
Write sheet music.  Sing it until it's stuck in your head.  Believe that you'll remember it.
A Zoom H4N is about 70$

Zoom H4n

Make melodies into songs.
Start simple.  You can get more advanced later.
Apply any principle.  Choose.  Options will hold you back if you can't decide on one.

One person can create the song structure with chords, or produce it in a DAW.  
The melody writer can record melodies over top of it.  Or you can write the melody together as a team.  Or you can split up verse and chorus duties and see what happens.

In the car or walking.
Make a CD of chord progression variations, or DAW backing tracks.  Play it and sing melodies.  Record with a separate recorder.
Or, have one tape player playing and another one recording. 

Best trick:
Play the chord progressions with an mp3 player and sing into a headset mic.  Plug both into a dual line recorder like a zoom H4N.
You can analyze the audio in Ableton or FL studios and extract the midi information from the notes.  You can open that midi file
in Finale or Sibelius.  See above.

singing trick

Tune in to the universe
Every instant someone is dying, making love, getting crippled, killing themselves, having a birthday, winning, losing etc.
A star is getting eaten by a black hole, right now.  All energy manifests.  Tune into that energy and write your song.

Move beyond your standard cliches.
Tune in and become one.  The universe is making music right now.  People are rocking out right now.
Listen close and you'll hear it.

See meditation.  Remove the distractions of the world.  If you want to hear the quiet music inside you, you have to be quiet.

Melody writing is technical and inspirational.

Technical:  change the chords, try note combinations, rhythm variations.
Inspirational:  improvise variations.  

Analyze and develop the best variations.  If you know what you want, find the notes.
If you don't know, experiment.  If you can't find a melody you like, don’t try to force it. 
Wait and let your brain process it a few days.

The best melodies focus on the music.
Don't try to be memorable.  Try to be good.

The listener feels the songwriters mood.
If the listener feels something it’s good.  If they get goose bumps on their skin or cry, it’s great.

Use a complex melody if the chord progression is simple.

Use a simple melody if the chord progression is complex.