Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies - Part 2


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This post is part of a series called Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies.
Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies - Part 1
Seven Steps To Writing Memorable Melodies - Part 3

Welcome to the second part of this mini-series. If you missed part one, I recommend reading that first to get a better understanding of what is going to be covered in the following steps in this tutorial. You can read Part 1 here.

So far we've worked out which notes we should use to get a 'pleasant' sound and avoid random or 'clashing' melody sounds. In the next two steps, we'll learn techniques to add subtle interest to the melody by applying small 'techniques' to the order in which we play the selected notes.

Step 3: Jumping Over The 'Desired' Note By a Whole Tone

First of all I'm assuming you understand a whole tone? Basically, from C to D, D to E and so on. So what do I mean by jumping over the desired note? Well, lets look at the example audio and use this to better explain.

In step 2 of the previous example, we decided that the featured melody note in the second bar would be G. What we can do now, is plan ahead a little in bar 1. As we are playing the notes working up toward the G... we first jump over the G note by a whole tone, to play an A first, before finally landing on the desired G in bar 2.

In other words, we're avoiding the natural instinct of simply to travelling up the scale from E to G, by jumping over the G note by a whole tone first to play a A, and then finally completing the sound by settling on the featured note of the G in bar 2. Remember, if we were playing a melody where the notes were travelling down the scale, we'd jump down over the desired note first before finally going back up to that note.

This technique involves you planning ahead a little, but, once mastered is a very effective way to add some interest to a melody line. The next step again utilises the 'jumping' technique between notes, but this time by six notes of the scale!

Step 4: Jumping Six Notes of the Scale

Another tip great tip for spicing up your melody is to jump six notes of the scale, either up or down the scale. This rather large jump between notes can be extremely effective when used at the right moment in a melodic phrase.

If we continue with the melody from the previous example, one place we could include a six note jump is after the G in the second bar. We jump from the G down the B (from G, we hop over F, E, D, C, and fall on B) before finally moving in bar three and playing the C note.

I hope you notice how this six note jump really adds something special to the melody, and indeed now, with these three bars alone, we have the start of a very beautiful and rather memorable melody line.

We can use the same technique to continue the melody with another six note jump, this time perhaps going up the scale, from the C note that we finished on in bar 4 to an A (at the start of bar 5). We know that this will sound good, because the A note we're going to jump to is part of the F Major triad - which is the chord being played at the time we fall on the featured A note! Here's how this would look and sound as I've then continued in to bars 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Step 5: Repeating Patterns

So why did bars 5, 6, and 7 work so well with the example melody in step 4? Well, firstly, because they make use of the previous steps in this tutorial. But also, they work specifically alongside the phrase in the first three bars, because they make use of the same 'pattern' of notes.

Repeating patterns of notes is a trick which great classical composers often used with great effect. You're not necessarily repeating the same notes (although this is also an effective technique), but you're using the same pattern of notes from a previous phrase, just shifted along the scale, either up or down. If you compare bars 1 and 2 in the score using our example, you can hopefully see that the notes in bars 5 and 6 follow the same pattern, only they're using notes which are six notes of the scale higher.

Repeating patterns of notes like this makes the already pleasant melody become more memorable to the listener, and therefore a little more 'catchy' after only a few listens.

A great example of what I consider to be a fabulous melody line, which uses repeating phrases so effectively is the "Glasgow Love Theme" from the Love Actually sound track (below). Listen carefully to the melody, you'll see how the composer has crafted an extremely moving melody line from only a few basic melodic phrases. Carefully repeated over various chord harmonies and different parts the scale, this is a wonderful example of how to use this 'repeating patterns' technique to great effect!

Review Stage

Using the steps in this (part two), of the tutorial series, alongside those in part one, you should now be able to see how the five techniques learned thus far offer you the basic ground tools for composing a wonderful melody line. By hopping over the 'obvious' note by a whole tone, creating new moods by jumping up or down six notes of the scale, and then cleverly repeating patterns of notes in musical phrases.

In the third part of this series we'll look at the final two steps in this seven step guide, as well as a 'bonus' tip about creativity.