Category Archives: Melody

Power of Pentatonics

Pentatonic scales are a fantastic starting point for melody writing. The pentatonic scale has two forms: MAJOR and MINOR. See the chart below to see how A minor pentatonic is played on the keyboard, this also shows how the scale overlaps with C Major pentatonic.

So, an A minor pentatonic scale contains these five notes:

A – C – D – E – G – (A) – I’ve included this top A because the scale sounds incomplete unless you go up the octave above the root note.

C major pentatonic is:

C – D – E – G – A – (C)

This is the most commonly used scale in rock music for improvising, guitarists know the scale well!

Many, many songs use pentatonics for melody, they are especially popular in contemporary R’n’B.

Melody writing 3 – using a MOTIF

A motif is a small melodic fragment. It can be a great way of developing melodies that hang together and have a feeling of unity, as the ideas all come from a single simple phrase.

Take a listen to this simple and effective use of a repeated and developed melodic motif. Consider how a longer melodic phrase has been created from a single motif – clever, effective and mades tons of cash!


Your task today is to compose a melody using a motif. You will work in pairs and do the following:

1. Create a simple melodic motif (only a few notes long)
2. Person A writes a one bar melody using the motif
3. Person B writes a the next bar of melody, developing the motif.
4. Person A writes the next bar of melody further developing the melody
5. Person B finishes the four bars of melody line.

Once you have done this you could try using any of the other techniques for melody writing we have discussed recently to develop the melody line for the next four bar section, using the pass-it-on method as above..

Melody writing 2 – using outlines

One approach to melody writing is to use an outline. In this approach you decide on a few important notes (safe choices are CHORD TONES) that fit with chord changes and then fill in the space around them to create a melodic phrase that you like. Take a look at the example below:

Melody writing 2 (outline) GCSE yr 10 Unit 4

The above idea would sound something like this when played on guitar..

Once you have chosen your outline melody notes you can then add notes to link the outline notes together. You could use some of the following ideas:

  • SCALIC – adding DIATONIC notes that move up and down within the scale – often leading up/down to the next outline melody note. Melodies that move up and down in a step by step direction in a melody are described as CONJUNCT melodies.
  • TRIADIC – using other notes from within the given TRIAD (3 note) chord.
  • CHROMATIC – this is when the movement is up or down (ascending or descending) in SEMITONES. This can be much harder to use without sounding as though there is a clash with the chords – short chromatic phrases that quickly move up/down to an outline note can work well though – quite common in jazz influenced styles.

Using the Melody Backing garageband projects that you worked on in the last lesson, now create a melody using this approach for the next 4 bar section.

Writing Melody Lines

Writing melodies is often the aspect of composing that the new composer finds a challenge. For some people melody lines just appear in their musical minds and the process is very “natural”, for most of us though writing effective melodies involves a bit of brain power too..

First we need to define what a melody line is and how we recognise them? Take a listen to Mr John Coltrane…what instrument is he playing the melody on? How do you know it is the melody, what makes it stand out from the harmony?

The sheet below outlines the keys of C major and A minor (and their relevant pentatonic friends). As discussed previously this is a good place to start writing melodies from, largely because we can avoid troublesome black notes on the keyboard for those non virtuoso keyboard players.

Here is a great example of a simple but effective melody. Great use of rhythm here:

Remember most melodies, like this one are a collection of short phrases that are repeated and then slightly changed (DEVELOPED). Wonderwall has a two bar phrase that is repeated (with different words) and then develops into a slightly higher range to finish off the first half of the verse melody – this is a very common melodic structure in songwriting.