I'll try to use definitions from writing speech, in order to explain my question.

In order to write an essay, you need to know the alphabet, some vocabulary, grammar, syntax and combine the words in different ways.

Following the same pattern, in order to write (top-line) music you need to read the notes, phrasing, music theory and harmony.

If someone wants to move his top-line writing on further than some logical sequence of notes and phrases, what is the factor that distinguishes the writing style of one top-line writer from another?

And lastly, how could someone develop his writing style or his "voice" in music?

  • 3
    My guesses so far (just guesses, not solid enough for an answer): Listen a lot and think about what you're hearing. Practice writing a lot and think about what you're writing. And then relax and see what comes out of you and be open to whatever your heart speaks. Don't pick your style or genre, look for it deep inside you and allow it to come out. Jan 16, 2017 at 9:15
  • @ToddWilcox thank you so much for your asnwer. Though I am a little confused here. What should I "see" when I hear a song or practice writing. Where should I focus my thought? In note succession, In scale use...? Jan 16, 2017 at 10:12
  • 1
    Problem is, you're looking for something that right now doesn't exist. You have not developed a style, so you can't recognise one! Apart from that, why should there be one style from one compser? The best is to write stuff with no pressure, and the best of it will rise above the dross. You may well then see a sort of style developing, but then maybe you'll be thinking 'this is all samey'. So then you change things. That's how it works. There are no magic formulae.
    – Tim
    Jan 16, 2017 at 10:20
  • I'm a 100% with you on that. I also believe that we have a lot of styles as composers. But unfortunately the industry demands "specialization", in order a songwriter to be defined as an artist. Jan 16, 2017 at 10:41
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    "in order to write (top-line) music you need to read the notes, (some musical phrases?), music theory and harmony." No. Those things are only about writing the music down. First you have to invent something that is worth writing down, and there are no rules about how to do that. In fact, attempting to carefully follow a set of "rules" often leads to something that is boringly predictable, even if it is "theoretically correct". You can be the world's expert on associating modal scale patterns with harmonic progressions but still be totally incapable of actually doing jazz improvisation!
    – user19146
    Jan 16, 2017 at 13:04

3 Answers 3


Listen to other music. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice full stop. In order to develop your OWN style, you must listen to many different types of styles by different artists as this allows you to 'blend' other styles. This is what all successful composers and artists have done, for example the Beetles were influenced in their later years by Ravi Shankar, a sitar player in the style of classical Indian - very different from their usual.

Listen to other's music, both for enjoyment and analytically as well as composing your own as much as possible; from here on, your style will develop.


[Aside: Assuming by "top-line" you mean melody, there really is no such thing as a top-line-only writer. The melody is pretty much always in context.]

As to distinguishing the melodic style of writer from another, there is no single factor, it's a blend. Beyond the formal "vocabulary" elements you've mentioned, you can look at melodies through a variety of lenses:
- Genre and cultural background or inspirations (i.e. a country love ballad or a morning raga?)
- The artist's creative process and self-imposed constraints (e.g., the "one-note guitar solo" on Neil Young's Down by the River)
- Instruments used while composing, and in performance
- Harmony and arrangement elements
- Lyrics and prosody, or the "story" inspiring the music (i.e. this is a sad song about my dead dog, or an angry political screed?)

So in addition to the excellent advice provided in previous replies, especially the "write alot" point, I'd add: clarify where you stand on the above, and then take the resulting constraints as a means of generating melodic ideas.

Now I'm going to go pick up my clarinet to write a morning raga about my pickup truck, and see where it takes me...

  • (My understanding: topline refers to melody and lyrics, generally composed over an already-given accompaniment to make a pop song. blog.sonicbids.com/… )
    – Owen S.
    Nov 9, 2017 at 0:46

This is definitely a good question.

One thing to note is the principle of prosody and how it applies here. If you're writing top line melodies, I'm assuming there's an instrumental track already laid out? If so, that's going to have a huge impact on what kind of melody you ought to write.

When a song is harmonically complex, with frequent chord changes, you'll very likely want to write a more static melody (Not moving up and down that much at all). (Lots of John Lennon songs are like this... I Am The Walrus, etc.)

Also, melodic lines should be written with language in mind if melody is coming first, just like if words are coming first you should keep the rhythm and tones of the future melody in mind. This overall cohesion and balance is prosody on multiple levels and dimensions. If you find this helpful check out my post on an expanded understanding of prosody.

So in that sense, if you feel like you're struggling with writing melodies, it may have at least something to do with the

Like any other kind of creative endeavor; you start by stumbling around, and you practice, you copy things you like, since what you like is already what's resonant with your own creativity, and your own style will emerge.

  • Additionally, you could also just make a conscious decision as to what kind of melodies you want to write and sort of just take charge of your development in a purposeful way.

Lots of interesting possibilities though.

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