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I have a basis in music theory(took an AP course, read a few online texts) and now seek to create melodies, though am never able to start. I'm aware that this has been asked before, though have not been helped by previous answers. What is the most methodical way you can describe your process of melody writing? I continually find it difficult to generate any compelling sequence of notes or rhythms. Thank you for your help.

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One thing you have to keep in mind is: melody is rythmn.

We believe too often that melody is only notes (and a little rythmn), but it's the opposite.

Make the test: you can recognize almost every great melody just by playing their rythmn (without notes). In most cases, you can't or hardly recognize them just with notes (without rythmn).

So, if you want to learn to write melody, keep this in mind, and look carefully at the rythmn.

When I say "rythmn" here, like Grace, I don't mean time signature (4/4, 3/4, etc.). I mean "duration of each note" (half note, quarter note, etc.).

Don't forgot to study melodies you like. Look which chord notes are chosen (in lot of musics, melody is built on chord notes — if you play C major, the melody use C, E, G — see the well-known 545 sonate by Mozart, if you play F major, melody uses F, A, C — with "passage notes": F g A then A bb C for example, where "g" and "bb" are passage notes).

In conclusion:

  • Take a harmonic progression. Say I, II, V, I (an excellent choice).
  • Choose a tune. Say G Major. So: G, Am, D7, G
  • Choose a metric. Say 4/4.
  • Choose a carrure. Say 2 bars with G, 1 bar with Am, 1 bar with D7, 2 bars with G.
  • You can choose a atomic rythmn. Say quarter note and half, semiquaver.

Now you know where to experiment:

  • In the two first bars (G major), you can use G, B, or D. Try one passage note (maybe de A between B and G?)
  • In the third bar (Am), you can use A, C, and/or E
  • In the next bar (D7), you can use D, F#, A, and/or C. Try one passage note (maybe the G between A and F#?)
  • In the last two bars (G), you can use again G, B, and/or D. Try two passage notes.

It could be a good start.

  • Oh, when I said rhythm, I did mean the notes which you would choose - like the half and quarter notes you mentioned about when you said duration. – Grace Apr 19 at 8:21
  • And yes, you did write about the meter or time signature, which I forgot to mention in my answer. Thank you for that – Grace Apr 19 at 8:22
  • Sorry for the misunderstanding, @Grace, I fixed it. – user59242 Apr 19 at 8:30
  • This answer should be etched in gold. +1 – foreyez Apr 19 at 11:58
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    I say this all the time: rhythm is often more important in melody than pitch contour – Michael Curtis Apr 19 at 13:09
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Start from the very basics. First, you need to devise your own rhythm. This could be 4 bars or 8 bars long.

Then you need to start writing the melody to the rhythm you've made. If you have never written melodies before, you should start writing melodies using notes of chords belonging to the key in which you want to write your melody in. Generally, you use chords I, IV, V, which is common in almost all melodies. These are called primary chords. As you go higher in level, you will learn to use chords which are other than these. Like chords, ii, vi, etc.

Always try to have melodies with a cadence - example Perfect, Plagal, Imperfect. Cadences generally appear in the middle & at the end of the melody.

Once you are well versed with the above, you can make the further melodies you write more interesting in a number of ways - rhythmically, melodically, etc.

I hope this gives you a general idea of how to begin with. Good luck!

  • What can you recommend in the way of writing compelling rhythms? I listen to pieces like "Fingal's Cave" or "First Suite in E flat" and notice a handful of simple rhythms, but can't really create anything interesting with them or similar ones myself. – Lysander Cox Apr 19 at 6:25
  • Interesting rhythms is a term which differs for each person. Note that even though I said you should have interesting rhythm patterns, it does not mean that simple rhythms cannot give you good melodies. Take any song for example, say Happy Birthday. It has a very simple rhythm, yet a good melody was created on it. – Grace Apr 19 at 7:09
  • You can start with a rhythm which appears to the best one you can possibly write. Then write a melody to it. As and when you keep practicing, you'll soon be able to create rhythms which are more interesting than a plain rhythm of only crotchets and minims. Also, you can use dotted rhythms if you know about them, & also add rests especially if you are writing music for a particular instrument. For eg. If you write for singers or wind instruments, you need to have rests, which give time for the person to take breaths in between. – Grace Apr 19 at 7:11
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As the other answer show, melody is basically pitch and rhythm.

Regarding pitch you can consider two really important concepts about the flow of tension and resolution:

  • When a melody is based on chords - like @Grace's answer explains - you can use non-chord tones (NCT) to embellish the melody. There are many types of NCT movements and you can easily find descriptions online or in harmony textbooks. For a pop music style you may want to first look at: appoggiatura, suspension, and neighbor tone. NCT's add tension and expressive feeling to a melody.
  • Tendency tones is another melodic concept involving tension and resolution. Within a key certain tones are stable and other un-stable with a tendency to move to stable tones. The tones of the tonic chord are the stable tones. Using solfege the tonic chord tones are DO MI SOL. FA and TI are tones with strong tendencies. FA moves down to MI and TI moves up to DO. RE and LA are sort of neutral, but basically RE moves down to DO and LA moves down to SOL.

Regarding rhythm you should consider the fundamental concepts of meter:

  • The first beat of a bar is normally accented when the music confirms the metric sense. There are various ways to create an accent, but in terms of basic rhythm long note values will create the accent. What naturally follows is the idea of anacrusis (pick up note.) So, a short value before the bar line leading to a long, accented first beat is a pattern that strongly establishes a sense of meter.
  • Any rhythm that runs contrary to the basic metrical pulse is called syncopation. Short values on the first beat can be a sort of syncopation, but probably the most well known syncopations are playing on the 'up beat' - the 'and' when you count "1 and 2 and" - or playing on the metrically weak beat like beats 2 and 4 in common time.
  • Similar to using the pitch concepts of NCT's and tendency tones to control tension and expression, metrical and syncopated rhythm can be used to control the forward impulse and rhythmic energy of a melody.

The above isn't a "how to" method, but instead some fundamental concepts about what gives expression and movement to melody.

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