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Melody: A Memorable Series of Notes
Posted on December 27, 2022
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What comes to mind when you think about one of your favorite songs? In most cases, one of the main melodies of the song begins to play in your head. It’s no wonder that a successful songwriter needs to know how to write a melody that both captivates and leaves a lasting impression on the listener. Keep reading and learn more about melodies and how they are used in songwriting.
What is a melody?
While harmony refers to the way individual notes are played together simultaneously and how they sound, melody is how notes are played in succession in a linear manner. In other words, harmony is how notes are organized vertically, whereas a melody refers to how they are ordered horizontally. In a melody, also known as a tune, the notes that constitute it are recognized by the listener as a single entity instead of just individual notes played without clear cohesion.
One element of a melody is pitch. A single melody doesn’t need to contain many different pitches to still be memorable. A more complex melody, on the other hand, will most likely experiment with multiple notes of varying pitches. Another important element is rhythm. A handful of notes in varying pitches can sound quite different depending on how fast they are played and how much space there is between them.
What are vocal melodies?
Unless a song is instrumental, there will be vocal melodies in it. Simply put, a vocal melody is written to be sung by a human voice. Vocal melodies can be simple or complex. They can also be performed by a solo singer or a group of singers. Especially in contemporary pop music, the vocal melody is likely the most memorable part of a song and the part that people sing or hum along to when they hear it.
Unlike instrumental melodies, vocal melodies are constrained by the range and capabilities of the human voice. Because of this, creating complex and intricate vocal melodies requires a skilled and experienced vocalist to pull them off. However, vocal melodies have the advantage of being able to convey emotions. This is more difficult to accomplish with instrumental melodies alone.
How to write a melody
As a beginner songwriter, it’s not easy to put all the different musical terms into practice. When writing melodies for a song, remember these things:
- A melody cannot consist of a single note. Instead, it’s an entity consisting of multiple notes played one after the other. Harmony, on the other hand, refers to how individual notes are organized horizontally.
- Writing a successful and memorable melody isn’t just about the number of notes. Many iconic melodies are quite simple and don’t require excessive complexity.
- Similarly, it’s not about how many notes your melody contains. The space between them is just as important. A long and complex melody may be less enjoyable and harder to remember than a simple one.
- To add complexity to a melody, consider first the range of notes used in it. In other words, what’s the distance between the highest and lowest note used in the melody?
- Often a melody is built around a particular scale. Certain scales can sound moody and sad, for instance, while others sound happier. By using an established scale, the listener will also have an easier time following the melody.
- Experiment: Write ascending and descending melodies by either going up or down in pitch.
- Use recurring motifs in the melodies of your song. A motif is simply a musical element that occurs throughout a piece of music.
- Think about how the vocals and lyrics fit into the melody you are writing. If you’re writing a vocal melody, consider how it would sound when sung instead of played with an instrument, such as a piano. You can create melodies by singing even without lyrics. Just make up sounds as you go and think about the lyrics later.
Learn more about melodies, songwriting, and music terminology
Once you have written your first melody, it’s time to start building a song around it. Make sure to experiment and have fun. To level up your skills as a songwriter, don’t forget to read our full guide about songwriting 101. For more musical terminology, check out the full Musician’s Glossary.
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