Music Theory Basics: Writing Melodies
When it comes to writing melodies, it’s generally assumed, the only guideline that applies is that you must remain within the chosen scale your track sits in. There are however a few nifty principles that can bring you better results faster.
The first principle we’ll discuss is that of skips and jumps. We use relative notation to break down every Western scale into the numbers 1-7. Since all the scales compromise of seven notes. In this sequence 1 always represents the root note and 5 always represents the perfect fifth.
Using this we can transcribe melodies from one key to another. For example the melody (1-7-6-5-3-4-4) can be transferred across any chosen key.
A skip as it’s name suggests is a short skip across fewer semitones. For example (6-5) or (3-4) and a jump is the movement across a larger set of semitones within the scale. For example (1-7)
While a skip gives the melody a forward moving motion and gives the melody stability, a jump gives the melody that much needed break from monotony and creates tension.
Breaking down these notes into numbers gives us a uniform methodology of viewing different note names and different scales with ease and helps us predict the contour of the melody. The contour is nothing but the overall shape of the melody or in other words where it peaks and where it dips. You can choose to spread this across any number of bars before it repeats again.
In a 4/4 time signature beats 1 and 3 are considered strong, while beats 2 and 4( generally emphasized with a snare or a clap) are considered weak.
This helps us with the contour as most of the time the strong notes of the melody will fall on 1 or 3 and the less defining notes on 2 and 4 or in between.
You can experiment with these different forms in your own compositions and production. Feel free to mend, bend and break these guidelines as long as you enjoy the results.