How to write a song: Melody & Music
How do you write melody? This is a key concern for many musicians and songwriters, as it’s such an intangible topic. It’s always easier to write and hear the melody in your head when you’re feeling inspired, but putting it down on paper, (or recorded or however you write your music) can be much harder. So we’re here with our next blog in the How to write a song series to make your life a little easier.
Rhythm is such a key element in music and melody which can sometimes be over looked, keeping your melodies simple and playing with the rhythm is a powerful way to expand your ideas and is a great way of keeping your ideas varied and interesting.
Accents are really important as well when thinking of rhythm, these are notes that are slightly louder that stick out of the melody, and where a lot of the rhythm and feel hangs around. An example is Pharrell’s ‘Happy’
“Clap along, if you feel like a room without a roof”
By varying the syllables that are accented he changes the rhythm of the melody from on beat to offbeat, as well as changing the length of the notes sung, this creates interest in the rhythm. Another thing is to very the pitch with accented notes, such as in “if” the pitch jumps up creating unexpected excitement.
Experiment with length of notes, and frequency of notes, such as having lots and lots of really short notes next to each other, or very spaced out short notes, or long notes, and everything in between.
Try repeating the same phrase over and over with subtle differences in the rhythm, keeping the melody the same each time.
No doubt you’ve heard a lot about ‘the hook’, if you’re still confused let me simplify it for you. The hook is a short musical phrase. It can be anything, a vocal, an instrument, a drum fill, it could be a sample, but you will know it’s the hook because it will repeat at just the right times, and if done right it will stick in your head for days, following the Pharrell example, the hook is actually the backing vocal in the chorus “because I’m happy”.
In the verse it’s the bass-line that follows each vocal phrase.
Hook writing is actually easier than it seems, the trouble is a lot of people get too carried away with it and end up writing another melody. Keep it simple; this is the No.1 rule when writing hooks. A long complicated hook won’t stay in your head long, and no your song doesn’t have to be catchy, but your hook does. It’s a hook for god’s sake.
Harmonies are really just musical relationships. This can be between two simultaneous notes, or between a topline and a sequence of chords, but experimenting with different musical relationships is a powerful tool in the arsenal of the writer.
One thing you can try is keeping the same melody going over different chords underneath. Notice how each chord under the same melody adds a different emotional context to the topline.
Like what you heard? Try swapping it around, keep the same chord over and over, and change the melody that goes over the top of it. Remember to keep it simple, and use elements of repetition here in the topline to make things recognisable and give that contrast of one against the other.
Up and down harmonies are always interesting, try having a lower melody move up the scale, and the high melody move down the scale, see how that feels. Now do the opposite.
Synchronisation can sound amazing when done right. Having the top melody and bottom melody play at the same time is good, and having them play out of sync with each other is good too. But switching between the two both can really add interest, and keeps the listeners brain guessing. It’s all about finding the balance between familiarity and unexpectedness.
Knowing music theory isn’t 100% necessary when writing music, I know lots of musicians that just picked up a guitar or a synth and just got stuck in, however it does help massively. Knowing what notes are in which key, and where your relative minor is can give you options you didn’t know you had when writing. If you’re interested in theory, there are plenty of great tutorials on youtube; we will probably doing a Music Theory blog at some point in the future, so keep an eye out for that.
There is a lot of theory about the ‘feel’ of each Key, check out what this site says about it, or do your own research if you’re interested
At the end of the day, all that’s left is how you feel about it, so if you’re writing in one key, and it doesn’t quite feel right, or you’re having trouble finding the next part of the song, try moving the key around, or playing with the tempo, slow it down, speed it up.
Tips and Tricks
Here are some ideas for you to play around with, as with all music practise, keep writing, and adding to the time you’ve spend honing your craft. Try these out, see what works for you.
- Write in your head, hum the melody and get it sorted out up there before you start messing with any instruments.
- Listen to yourself talking. When people talk to each other the words often come out in little unintentional melodies, listen out for them, and see if you can make a tune out of it.
- Change your environment, if you’re writing in the same room every single day, your brain can get a bit tired of the setting. Try writing in the next room, or out in a park or your garden, you might be surprised.
- Don’t write. By that I just mean go do something else for a while, let your subconscious mull over the musical info while you’re cleaning your room, getting some exercise, or driving a car etc.
- Get some sleep, this is not really a writing technique per say, but it’s generally great for creativity. Plus if you have been writing all day, and you go to bed with a melody in your head, it’s possible you’ll dream about it, and if you’re lucky you can wake up with great ideas in your head. I’ve done this myself, unintentionally, but still had some great songs come of it.
- Noodling, this is a term used by one of my music tutors when free-styling, make sure you can record yourself to capture any great ideas that come from it.
- Download Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ App, a great little tool that gives you hundreds of creative prompts such as “Emphasize the Differences”. Which could mean anything in the context of your music, it’s just how you interpret it, and implement the idea into your writing.
I hope this has helped. If any of these have worked for you, or if you have any tips and tricks yourselves, please let us know in the comments.