How to Compose a Melody: The Ultimate Toolkit
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
In this tutorial series, you will learn how to build melodies on the Piano or any musical instrument/arrangement DAW using any existing chord progression.
We have used vi IV I V, a very popular progression using in tons of songs including Toto’s “Africa” (Chorus), Avicii’s “Wake me Up”, Cranberries “Zombie” and lots more.
The key used is the Bb Major Scale (Bb C D Eb F G A) and thus the chords are Gm Eb Bb F.
We play the chords in the Left Hand using inversions with a steady pattern and build melodies in the Right Hand using a variety of techniques
A melody is a sequence of musical notes that are played in a linear manner (one after the other) and follow a specific rhythmic phrase. This guide is designed for all skill levels to show you how you can best explore your creativity when it comes to making a memorable melody.
We play the chords in the Left Hand using inversions with a steady pattern and build melodies in the Right Hand using a variety of techniques have YouTube videos for detailed learning and handwritten notes by our faculty, Jason Zachariah.
1. Chord tones
By following the chord tones of a progression, we can assimilate a set of notes which is pleasing to the ear.
Here's an example of a chord progression within the Bb major scale - G minor, E flat major, B flat major and F major.
Once you have a sense of which chord tones to take, you can jumble them to your hearts content. The rhythm patterns are also open to variety, they can also be generated "organically".
What you might not want to start off with is taking a note which is outside the chord. Start off with choosing notes from the chord and diatonic to the scale (key).
2. Passing and Landing tones
The landing tones are notes of the triad. For example, in the G minor triad - G, Bb and D are the landing notes while the passing tones could be non chord tones - Example: A, C, Eb and F.
Use the passing tones in conjunction with the chord tones (landing) to create a tasteful melody with a lot of character.
Use a combination of Chord Tones as well as other notes of the major/minor scale to create melodies.
The “non” chord tones could be used to add color to the music as tensions as well as to connect/resolve back to the “landing” chord tones as “passing” tones.
3. Pentatonic Scales
The Pentatonic scale could be called as the “anything goes” scale because it pretty much works with any diatonic chord progression in a scale. As the word “penta” suggests, it’s a 5 note scale. There are 2 flavors of the pentatonic scale:
Major pentatonic : 1 2 3 5 6
Minor pentatonic : 1 3b 4 5 7b
To build a major pentatonic scale in key of Bb, we take the root, the major second, the major third, perfect fifth and the major 6th. The tension notes (p4 & M7) which form half steps or semitones are ignored.
Using the notes of the Pentatonic scale, you can develop numerous improvised approaches (mentioned in the video) to compose a melody line for a song.
The arpeggio is among the most commonly used techniques followed by Pianists resulting in “storytelling” progressions and enhancing the dynamics of the music we play. In this tutorial, we take the concepts of playing Arpeggios and apply them to “melody-building”.
An arpeggio can be built out of all the 3 inversions of a triad. The G minor chord is listed below.
It's important to be aware of the top (high) note of each of these chords as that’s going to be your melody line for the most part. A nice way to practice this and train your musical ear at the same time is by playing the chord as an arpeggio pattern starting with the high note, example HLML and singing the top most note.
Once you have a grasp over the “melody” note, you can make it interesting by adding various accent groupings, example 3+3+2 which is very popular. We sometimes call these as Tresillo arpeggios!
You can also change the high note in the vicinity of your fingers (mostly ring & pinky) and create a melody by retaining the arpeggio pattern and floating “just” the top note.
Lastly, you can play “broken” arpeggios which add a few gaps to the time feel and create catchy melodic patterns. This also gives us some much needed space in our compositions.
You can always combine arpeggios with passing tones to make things more interesting and land back on a chord tone when the beat is strong. Learning from other instruments like the mandolin and banjo is a great way to incorporate practice your arpeggio playing.
5. Motif (Building Phrases)
A “motif” is a short musical phrase which repeats throughout a section of music and is meant to be catchy and non-monotonous. To strike a good balance between the two, we use the scale to compose a simple melody and then modify it slightly to serve the chord tones of the harmonic movement.
A nice way to develop a motivic phrase is to make a melodic or a rhythmic pattern and retain is throughout the progression. And even combine them for interesting results.
Take for example the chord progression Gm, Eb Maj, Bb and F major. Keep in mind that whatever the landing note is will ring in the listeners ear significantly more than the others so you want to think of the note and check if it works as an ending or as a transition to the next chord.
To keep things interesting, you can squeeze the motif by taking away some notes and bringing them back. A great way to end a phrase with a melodic embellishment.
Hope these 5 melody writing techniques help you in your music composition journey. After understanding the Theory and the approach, you need to let yourself loose and most importantly have fun!
To download all the handwritten notes for this lesson, support us on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/posts/create-melodies-40380858
You will also get access to MIDI files, backing tracks and staff notation for all the lessons we do on YouTube