It’s a long time ago now, but the secondary school I attended was fairly small.  Within my year there were established groups of friends.  Although everyone did pretty much get on with everyone else and mixed with the other groups, the established groups of friends tended to stick together.

This particular year we got a new girl called Melody.  She was pretty, funny and a bit unsure whether she would fit in.  She was quiet to start with but soon found her place in the group and got on really well with everyone.   As you’d expect, her arrival caused a lot of interest from some whilst others were happy to let her get on with things herself.

You might be wondering where this is going but the point is this:

Chords are like your mates, solid dependable and get on perfectly ok most of the time, if the right group is together (Key).  Sometimes new friends come along and things don’t work out or you try different groups for a change.  Ultimately you tend to end up sticking to what you know.

But sometimes you need a Melody to liven things up a bit, to add a bit of interest.

Chords are great and I’ve played many, many songs only using chords but adding melody lines or solos is the next creative step.

Because I’m not a music teacher, this is the part where I’ll probably use all the wrong terminology and to be honest that fact has stopped me writing this for a while.   But hey, if I can demonstrate the rudimentaries to get you started then that’s a success for me.

For instance, I’m not really sure how to define melody. I think of it as the tune of the song but this doesn’t really help.  I read somewhere that defined the melody in a song as the vocal line. That’s quite useful and got me thinking. A bassline could be considered a melody in a lower octave and solo parts are like a ‘super melody’.  Of course if you are writing an instrumental you are not constrained by writing a melody that suits a vocal line.

If you’re looking to write lyrics in your song then keeping the melody simple is always a good starting point. Catchy is good too – how many times have you heard a song on the radio and then hummed it all day? Usually a melody will have a fairly narrow range, say 2 octaves which I’ve read is to make it easier for virtually anyone to sing.

One thing I’d say about arranging and writing songs is that it’s more about the silence than the notes.  That may seem contradictory but too many notes at the same time can make a song sound crowded, especially if they’re all at the same sort of volume level and in the same octave range.

I’ll also say from the outset there aren’t any magic formulas, sometimes a few notes will come whilst playing, sometimes you will need to experiment for ages.  You’ll probably screw up loads of sheets of paper and throw them away, then leave it for a while and probably end up leaving a few notes out if you can’t quite get all of the intended notes to fit.  Sometimes arranging different parts of the song in different ways or layering sounds can create some very interesting harmonies.

One of the simplest ways to get started is to play arpeggios.  This basically means that you play each note of a chord in sequence rather than all at the same time.  I tend to think this is easier on guitar because there are lots of different voicings in different positions and you can really experiment with picking patterns.  It’s very easy to sound a bit mechanical and to be honest, dull.  So try different rhythms, skip some notes etc to keep it interesting.

You can make a bassline as simple or complex as you like.  For example walking basslines are common in jazz and can be really complex or you can keep it really simple and just use the root note of the chord.  Ultimately you’ll probably end up with something between the two as using root notes all the time can sound a bit boring.

I’ve created an example of a simple melody line.  This is in the Key of C Major and I’ve created the melody from the C Major scale.  I’ve used a very simple 4 bar pattern of 2 bars of Cmaj and 2 bars of Fmaj.   I have added a very simple drum pattern but deliberately left the bassline out so that you can hear the melody more clearly.  The melody has a note on each of the syllables as if someone was singing the vocals ‘In the summertime’, ‘summertime’, ‘summertime’.

The file can be downloaded from here:

The first pattern is as follows:

In the summertime, summertime summertime
C  C     C       C     E         F      F     F        F      F      E
The second pattern is as follows:
In the summertime, summertime, summertime
C  C     A      G     E         F      G     C         F      G     C
You can see and hear that the first pattern doesn’t have much variation in the notes used and according the melody; the second pattern has much more variation in the notes and I’d say creates a more interesting melody – you can hear the difference.  You can freely experiment with different notes, different note lengths, timings etc and hear how the melody changes.

This is clearly a very simple example but hopefully gives you an introduction into creating melody lines.  We’ll expand creative opportunities in forthcoming posts….

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