Introduction to Melody

What Comprises a Melody?

A melody is structured around two key elements: pitch and duration. In the realm of music theory, each note resonates at a distinct frequency, determining its pitch—whether it sounds “high” or “low.” Duration, on the other hand, denotes the length of time a note is sustained. For example, a quarter note endures one-fourth of a measure in 4/4 time. Additionally, duration encompasses the intervals between notes.

Three Melodic Approaches

1. Chord-Driven Melodies: Some composers initiate the melody creation process by establishing a sequence of chord changes. Subsequently, they construct melodies based on the chord tones—the constituent notes of each chord.

2. Scale-Rooted Melodies: Melodies can emerge from notes within a specific scale or mode. A C major melody might exclusively utilize notes from the C major scale. Major and minor scales typically consist of seven notes, but impactful melodies can be crafted with fewer notes, and pentatonic scales (comprising five notes) are prevalent in pop music.

3. Monotone Melodies: Melodies can also manifest as rhythmic patterns without significant pitch variations. This is observable in certain hip-hop vocal melodies and dance beats in certain EDM compositions. While not every drum beat qualifies as a melody, a rhythmic pattern devoid of layered pitched sounds can serve as a song section’s melody.

Guidelines for Crafting Memorable Melodies

For those aspiring to enhance their melodic composition skills, several established songwriting tips can be beneficial.

1. Harmonize with Chords: Begin by improvising over a set of chord changes, allowing the melody to evolve from the chord tones.

2. Follow a Scale: Construct melodies by combining notes from major or minor scales. Exploring different scales, such as dominant or altered scales, can yield unique results.

3. Plan Your Writing: Consider a holistic approach by strategically planning your song. Develop the chorus melody first and then build the verses and pre-choruses around it. Introduce an intro section with a distinctive melody for added variety.

4. Establish Focal Points: Include a high note as a focal point in your melody, ensuring it falls within the singer’s vocal range. Alternatively, experiment by making the focal point the lowest note.

5. Balance Stepwise Motion and Leaps: Most vocal melodies follow stepwise motion, interspersed with occasional leaps. A combination of both creates a dynamic and engaging melody.

6. Vary Repetition: Repeat musical phrases with slight alterations, introducing changes in notes or rhythm. This approach can result in a more intriguing and diverse melody.

7. Explore Counterpoint: Experiment with intertwining two melodies over a chord progression, offering depth and complexity to your composition.

8. Step Away from Instruments: Break creative barriers by composing melodies away from instruments. Utilize a recorder app to capture vocal lines, then transcribe and develop them further on your instrument.

9. Draw Inspiration: Analyze melodies from your favorite artists and incorporate their techniques, be it specific scales, leaps, or rhythmic patterns, into your own compositions.

Your Assignment:

write & refine a melody to either one of these progressions:

| C | % | G | % | Am | % | F | % | end on C –  use C major pentatonic or C ionian


| Em | % | Am | % | B7 | % | Am | % | end on Em – use E minor pentatonic or E aeolian

use the checklist to refine your melody:

melody checklist

duration: does your melody have long notes, short notes, and rests?

contour: does your melody have ascending & descending passages?  what is the overall shape of your melody?

phrases: is each phrase clear & distinct?  does each phrase logically follow the one before it?

pitch intervals: does your melody have steps and at least one skips or leap?

motifs: are there any thematic devices in your melody such as a certain pattern of intervals, a specific rhythmic, a certain contour, etc. that gets reused or varied?

quality: is it possible you can either change tone quality, the amount of notes (either few or many) or the loudness or softness at a certain spot?


chord tones, scale tones & chromatics:  does your melody utilize some or all of these for intended points of tension & release?

rhythmic variety: does your melody have this?

climactic note / pitch range management: can your melody deliberately lead up to and hold a high note for a melodic climax?  if so, can you come away gently from it, presumably with a descending passage?