Welcome back! Today, we will be focusing on how to effectively construct a meaningful melody that both guides the listener and surprises them as they engage with your music. Let’s take a look at 3 factors that will help us shape our melodies: establishing a home base, step-wise vs. skip-wise motion and resolution. Before we begin, keep in mind there are no rules that are set in stone for shaping melodies, just tried and true principles to add to your repertoire.
Establishing a Home Base
Before we start to construct a melody, we need to establish a starting point so we know where we are heading. In basic music theory, the first note of the scale is also known as the root note, because it is the strongest and most resolute note in the particular scale. That being said, the root note can be a great place to start a melody, especially if you are newer to the process and want to go with a tried and true method. However, there is no rule that says we need to start on the root, and you can certainly start a melody on any note in the scale as long as you establish a home base to give your melody a common thread throughout the composition.
Many of the best melodies work well because they travel the scale, while simultaneously returning to the established home base at key points in order to make the melody feel ordered and logical. In this way, your melody has a home and the listener can easily follow the pattern you have established. Once you have established a home base for your melody, you need to decide how you want your melody to move, and where you would like to lead the listener accordingly.
Step-wise and Skip-wise motion
Some of the best melodies are incredibly effective because they are very straightforward and easy to follow, while others are equally successful because they keep you guessing. This is mainly due to two key factors that dramatically affect how you shape your melody: step-wise motion and skip-wise motion. Step-wise motion is just as it sounds… you move from one note to the next note up or down the scale one step at a time. This will make your melody easy to follow and the listener will be able to predict where they are being led accordingly. Skip-wise motion, by contrast, is the movement from one note to another in the scale while moving in intervals of at least a third or more. For example, a skip-wise melody in the key of C (C D E F G A B C) may move from C to E to A, leaving the listener to wonder where the melody will take them next.
Many of the most effective melodies employ both step-wise and skip-wise motion together in order to engage the listener in familiarity, while simultaneously keeping them guessing as to where they are being led. The key here is to not get too carried away and crazy, or else you may lose your listener completely. This is why establishing a firm home base is so important, and leads me to my last point of melody resolution.
After you have established a home base for your melody and started incorporating step-wise and skip-wise motion to your liking, the next thing you need to do is figure out a way to resolve your melody. One easy way to do this is to lead the listener back to the home base, signaling the end and closing out the melody. You can also make a choice to leave the listener hanging by ending on an unexpected note in order to jar them. The main point here is to make a choice as to how you want the listener to feel at the end of the melody and shape the melody accordingly.
I hope these techniques help you in your pursuit of shaping memorable and meaningful melodies. Keep in mind there are no hard and fast rules in music when creating a melody, but certain techniques are proven to work effectively and you don’t always have to re-invent the wheel. Make sure to follow us on twitter @iamjambot and @_signaturesound to keep up with everything we are doing here at the studio.