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The most important notes in a melody are the structural notes.  These notes form the Melodic Outline.

The structural notes are "The Essence" of the song.
It's a variation of the song that could be called it's simplest variation.

The easiest way to get to the essence is to "jam" the song (with your band or into your recorder) and simplify the melody until you can't cut anything else away.  The notes that remain are the structural notes


These notes are ussually found on:

   Strong beats of the measure (beats 1 and 3)
   Notes that are held longer than the notes around them.
   The begginning note of a phrase
   The ending note of a phrase
   The highest or lowest notes of a phrase. 

And sometimes found on:

   Groups of notes that have a combined time value longer than the notes around them.

   Accented notes that stand out.
   Strong syncopations, (notes appearing off the beat) or anticipations (notes that lead into longer notes, ussualy off the beat).


Once you discover the structural notes, you can figure out the Melodic Outline.

This ouline is a simplification of the melody that allows you to add harmony (chords) later.  

Break the melody into whole note or half note* segments and figure out what chord is occuring in each segment.  
Often the longest notes in each segment are the best choice for the melodic outline,
You can also use triads (1 3 5) to suggest a chord.  
If  1  5 (power chord) is occurring, that would also suggest the chord.

*Whole note is 4 beats.  Half note is 2 beats.

The most comfortable way for a melody to move is by Conjunct motion (by scale step).  This is true for both the Melodic Outline and the individual melody notes.

The longest notes are used to make up the melodic outline

melodic outline

Example 2:
This looks like an instrumental  melody (it would be hard to sing).
The colored numbers at the bottom of the chart represent intervals in different chords.

countour 2
Measure 1 consists of the same triads.
Measure 2 consists of the same triads.

Measure 3's beat 1 gets added weight, and it can form a triad

Measure 3's beat 3 and 4 are extended so I chose to consider them an outline note.  They could also be an extended 5 (of the triad).

Measure 4 is tricky.  Beat 1 is short, and could be considered a pickup into + (and) (the Blue).  So I gave it to Blue.  The second half of the measure (Green) was extended, so it also became an outline note.


This analysis is my opinion.  You might disagree.
 If you were making a song and any of these choices felt wrong, you should change it to what feels right.


It's important to make your melody "go somewhere",  a melody that remains "in one place" is boring.

Contour allows us to keep track of where the melody is going

There are five basic contours


Too many phrases with the same contour can be boring.  

dull contour

The above examples were Phrase Contour.

We can also examine the Overall Contour of several combined phrases.

overall contour

The "Arch Contour" is very satisfying, musically.


If you start your song with a basic melodic outline, you'll want to enhance it to make it sound better.

There are several ways to do this.

The best way to enhance your melody is to keep singing and recording variations.
Keep developing it until it feels right.

But you can also take the academic approach.  
There are a number of ways to embellish structural tones.

1. Repeated Tones  
    Repeat the tone rhythmically

repeated tones

2.  Neighbor Tones  
     A note that occurs between a structural tone and it's repitition.
          Lower Neighbor    Occurs below the structural tone
          Upper Neighbor    Occurs above the structural tone

neighbor tone

3.  Changing Tones  
     A two note embellishment that uses both the Upper and Lower neighbor.

changing tone

4.  Scalar Pattern     Links structural tones with a "scale step" motion.
      Passing Tone     Links two structural tones a 3rd apart.


5.  Anticipation  
     Anticipates the next structural note.
     It's shorter in value and often appears on the weak part of the beat.


6.  Leap      Jump from one structural tone to the next.
     Leap 2   Jump from a structural tone to any note, then jump to the next structural note.


Combine these embellishments however you like.  

Learn how they work and include them in your improvisations.

It's better to try something new and screw it up, than to never try at all.  
With practice, these embellishments will happen naturally.