I have been singing since I was three years old and since then I cannot recall a single day I have not sung at least a few minutes.
I have also learned the guitar (classical 3 + electric 12 years), bass (5 years), piano (3 years) and drums (3 years).

I have sung in quartets and choirs and solo everything from classical through opera and musical to swing, pop and rock. I have even been awarded some prizes for it ( - even though uncomfortable mentioning that, I do so to show that it is not just me thinking my singing is okay).

Now here's what has bothered me for years now: All I have ever done in that area has been reproduction, singing along preexisting vocal lines or notes or recordings or my ear and so on.

A few years back on a quiet day in the studio when I was thinking about that I sat down at the piano and recorded a simple "backing track", a few chords in a single key, and tried creating a new vocal line and failed miserably. Without the orientation I was so used to I could not find a note that sounded "right" to me apart the base note. My voice was swaying up and down looking for that hold I usually have with thar orientation note in my head.

Now for the question I have been thinking about asking for months: While I am aware I may just not have any talent for that, what are good ways to create a vocal line, how can I be more confident in finding notes when your ears and brain is highly accustomed to having a firm orientation?

Thank you

Edit: Thank you for your great and constructive answers. So much in fact I am hard pressed to pick which to accept

  • 1
    You probably don't remember when you started singing but think about your first day on the drums. You weren't that good, were you? Now your first time creating a melody didn't go so well, but why should it have? But you kept playing drums and now after three years you can play pretty well and if you keep practicing you'll be amazing after ten years, right? So practice inventing vocal melodies every day. Maybe start with one every day. Three years from now, you'll probably be happy. At this rate in ten years you might have a Grammy! Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 14:08
  • Are there any special techniques, maybe making use of the piano? Creating the line in key with the piano and then singing past it or is it more something coming naturally? How do songwriters do it?
    – Halest
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 14:17
  • I would try learning to improvise solos on guitar and also improvise wordless solo vocal melodies. Learning to improvise is a very important and useful musical skill that you'll want to have no matter what. It also helps with the brainstorming part of the creative process. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 14:27

5 Answers 5


Some folks just have an ear for what to sing over a chord progression. But if your ear is failing you - I offer a formula below that you can use - even if you are unable to pick the notes intuitively.

Creating a vocal line is pretty much the same as creating a melody line and can be done with the aid of any one of the instruments you play. You might want to start by using an instrument to play the melody notes as you derive them from the methodology outlined below - and write them down and then you will be able to play the melody and sing the melody notes that you played.

Here is a simple formula that will enable you to write a melody that works for any chord progression you create or use.

Start by limiting the notes you use to the notes that are in the key of your song. That is not mandatory, but will always keep you in safe territory. This would limit your note choices to 7 notes but any of those could span one or more octaves.

Next (as you have mentioned that you have done) create your chord progression in the key you are composing in. Then for the melody notes that are sung or played over a particular chord, start with one of the 3 or four chord tones (notes used to form the chord) for that chord. The first note sung on a chord change does not have to be (but can be) the root note of the chord, but you will find that most melody lines will have a chord tone as the first note sung over a new chord at (or right after) the chord change. This is not an absolute rule, but will serve you well as a guideline.

Any of the chord tones will go with the chord but to give your melody more interest, you can add a few other notes to sing over the chord. To be safe, try to make most of the notes (maybe at least every other note) sung over a particular chord one of the chord tones.

One way to narrow your choices for notes to sing over a chord that are not one of the chord tones - is to choose notes from the key that corresponds to the chord but that also fall within the key of your song.

So for example if we are composing in the key of C major our major chords are C, F and G. When playing over a C chord we would choose one of the chord tones as the first note sung over that measure of C (C, E, or G) and the non chord tone notes we sprinkle in could be any note in the key of C which is any of the 7 notes we already narrowed it down to in step one.

Let's say the next chord in our progression is F. The same principle will apply for using one of the 3 notes in the F major triad (chord) as our first note in this measure. That gives us a choice of F, A and C. The same guideline applies to make most of the notes in that measure either an F, A or C (any octave).

The other notes available will be derived from a combination of the F major scale and the C major scale. We want to choose from notes that are common to both scales. We want to keep our notes within the C major scale because our song is in the key of C and if we are singing or playing melody notes over an F chord, they will sound better if they are in the key of F.

The notes in C major are C,D,E,F,G,A,B. The notes in F major are F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E. So the notes we should not use while playing the F major chord is Bb because it is not in the key of C and B because it is not in the key of F major. This leaves the notes common to both the C major scale (key of our song) and the F major scale (the chord we are now playing) which would be F,G,A,C,D and E.

The same logic will apply to the other chord sequences. Again, first note played after the chord change should be one of the notes that form the chord. If it's a four note chord (7th, augmented, etc.) you can use any of the four notes and often the note that makes it something other than a triad will be suggested strongly as a melody note or two while playing that chord.

If you must use a formula, a safe bet is to choose the notes that are common to the chord being played AND the key of the song. In other words choose from the list of notes that are common to both of these two scales. There are exceptions that will work in some circumstances, but this will keep you in safe territory.

For the minor chords, choose notes from the minor scale corresponding to the chord and use the process describe above to boil it down to the notes common to both the key of the song and the key suggested by the chord.

To summarize (TLDR)- the chord being played in a particular measure will give you a basic framework for notes to sing with that chord. That framework is supported primarily by the chord tones of the relevant chord and can be decorated by a few other notes common to the key corresponding to the chord and the key of your song.

Hope this helps.

  • In addition to this answer I wish to add: Don't build borders and instead experiment a lot. Try building a melidy first and tgen the chord progression. Don't just try a 4/4 time signature, go for 3/4 or 6/4, 7/4, 5/4 or any other. Try to singing in different durations not just simple ones but triplets and dotted notes and combine them. Try playing in different scales and switch them. Say you play a melidic minor and then go for a dorian scale and then to a blues minor pentatonic. Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 14:40
  • @SovereignSun You make some excellent points. Perhaps you could add an answer to this question on Stack Exchange Music (music.stackexchange.com/q/30210/16897) Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 19:17

I'm no composer, but I think I have an idea as to how to help with 'finding a grip'. Start by taking a song you like and can sing well. The first time, go for an easy song with no more than two parts. Now, change some notes (pitch and rhythm) - it doesn't have to be a lot for the first time, but try to go for at least one note per measure. Play it on the piano (or any other instrument where your mouth can stay open) and sing along with it. If it sounds good- perfect! Change some more notes, eventually trying to get away from the original as far as possible. If some intervals don't sound good or hurt the ear, try to find a note somewhere near that sounds better.

Another way to start is more fun, I believe, but you need to already be more or less musically 'independent'. Play three-five random notes. Think about how they sound- is this a march of an army going into battle, a couple in love singing to each other, or a lullaby? It's better if you already have the words for this method, because then it's easier to eliminate some choices right away. Once you find a good combination, play a few more random notes and attach them to your first pack. Listen to see if they sound good together and whether this melody carries the meaning you're trying to achieve. Continue until you have a phrase. Then, sing it while playing it and see how you like it. If you do, keep going like this until you finish the whole song. If you don't, change something until you do.

Remember, it all comes down to practice. The more you try this, the easier it will be. Good luck and have fun!


you should sing what you think sounds good, music is not robotics or a food production, not a heavy lifting or a military operation, if you feel it is a good music and it makes you high and feverish 100% someone in the world will appreciate your efforts and passion. Otherwise you should read scores from a songbook of your chosen style and you`ll see that notes usually in consonance with chords, in a third or an octave higher/lower, however music can be dissonant and unpredictable in lines and chords.


While not being a very good singer myself I can tell this:

I've been making different arrangements and composing a lot, especially solos for voice, keyboard, guirar, sax, flutes and etc. The hardest thing is to come up with the main melody. You have to try different ways, test different intervals and even sometimes throw it all away to start all anew. Come up with a simple melody, just sing and record. Once you have that write it down. After that you might want to try singing to a chord progression to establish an interesting harmony. Just improvise, keep testing different chords. Once you have that record it and write down. Try removing the vocal line and think up another one and another, write them all down. Thys you'll have a variety of choices. After that you can blend them together to see which phrase is good to your ear or sounds interesting. Often after that I start composing back vocals that might either mix with the lead vocals or be a really separate part. Arranging this way gives a variety of choices from which you can build up a good and interesting song. Sometimes I change some chords according to the back vocals that don't go too well with the lead vocals creating a very interesting harmony in result. It also depends on what you wish to get in result.

A good way of making up an interesting vocal line is too record multiple takes, take the best sounding parts or change some that seem right and blend them all together

Sometimes I make up vocal lines. or solo lines on the piano instead of singing. Not always do I have a text at hand to start.

For instance: I take an F chord (F,A,C) and start the melody not in any of those notes but in, let's say, E or G or even D and start experimenting. Perhaps the next chord I take is Am (A, C, E) then while most would fall on any of those three notes upon hitting the chord I try a G, D, F, A# and see how interesting that sounds. If I wanted I might play an A,C,G chord and play an E in the melidy to make it an Am7 chord. There is also a good way of changing chords while keeping the same note in the melody. First you start with C (C,E,G) and sing B and then while still singing B you try Bm or Am or G or D or A or F or Em and see how everything changes.

  • 1
    This is a very interesting approach. Trial and error is very time consuming.
    – Abel Tom
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 12:19

Good comments by every body. How ever, I think I find it very easy. Mine is talent. But I also learnt. There are two ways of composing for me. 1). Tune before the lyrics. Just like you said you came up with a backing track, one of the persons who commented said you could solo with the guitar. Just keep playing it over and over you would see that with time, you would keep repeating some lines, write down the notes for each progression until your satisfied. When u finally get the lines right, try to introduce some lyrics, ensuring that your notes does not change the meaning of the words (I.e emphatic stress). 2) second method is to write down your lyrics as it best expresses the message you want to pass. Once ur done, pick up you guitar or go to the keyboard, try to put some notes to the lyrics. It might be embarrassing at first, but keep at it. Finally, analyse some of the best songs you've heard. See how they were composed. It would help teach you how to go about it. I hope this helps?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.