Creating Melodies – Basic Types


in Composition

In the beginning music students learn what other composers have created for melody lines. After a time the student wants to create their own melodies. This was and still is a problem for me as creating melodies doesn't come naturally.

I think this was because I didn't have a clear picture of what a melody was going to accomplish or convey. Sure I've had luck with some short pieces here and there, but most of my improvisation revolves around percussion aspects of the keyboard. That is moving around a harmonic system of chords and using both hands to play off the chord notes back and forth.

Essence of Creating Melodies

Let's take a look at basic melody types. All melodies are based on skipping motion through the chord notes or step-wise motion through scales. Examples of a skipping motion in a chord are playing a broken chord as in an arpeggio or alternating notes such as playing a 1, 5, 3, 8 pattern of a 4 note chord. In these two measures you see an example of each. Notice the duration of the notes change the delivery of the melody.


Examples of stepping motion is playing a scale in sequence up or down and even repeating a note within that sequence. In this example I've used just 4 notes of the F Lydian mode (F scale with a #4, or C major scale played 4 to 4), more on this in our next post.


Mixing these two basic methods of creating melodies is what is done most of the time in composition of songs.

Melody Lines and the Scale Application

So lately I've been experimenting more with scale applications to help improvise melody lines. When your playing around and just experimenting you can improvise by understanding scale application.

That means you can skip and step through a specific scale applied over a chord. The thing that will stump you will be which scale to use. The easiest way to start is to pick a chord and play a common scale that comes to you. Let's take an example of of a F major chord. The most obvious scale to use with this is the F major scale. In this example you can now improvise any of the scale notes as you play in rhythm.


Try playing a F chord or portion of it or even better a FM7 (F A C E) and playing with the various F major scale notes. You will find that all the notes work with this chord, except that you will likely be avoiding the Bb. This is known as the avoid tone due to the combination the A and Bb make up as a minor 9th interval and has a sound that we normally don't care to hear.

Try this also with a minor chord and scale.

melody-on-Dm-scale-notesWhat we've covered is a start on learning to compose and improvise melodies. There is a lot more to cover, but this is a start on becoming filimiar with music theory and working chords, scales, and creating a melody line.

One additional experiment you can do is work in the key of C, play the various chords in this system using only the white keys on your keyboard. As you play any of the chords such as Em or G or Am you play only the white keys. This is playing a mode or a C scale starting on the root note of the chord. For G it is playing the C scale from G to G known as the Mixolydian mode as shown here. Using this mode you can then apply skipping and steps as before.


In the next post we'll go over alternate scale choices to expand your available note choices. This will apply to both creating melodies and in re-harmonizing others melodies. That is working the other way to add jazz chords to fit a melody.

badmash October 23, 2010 at 6:30 am

I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

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