How to make a melody, step-by-step:
Now let's take a look at the basic steps you might take to craft your melody in a Digital Audio Workstation...
1. Decide on an instrument or sound source to write your melody with
You can of course write your melody on an instrument like a guitar or piano if you know how to play and have your instrument handy.
Many producers like to start with a basic piano plugin and then switch it over to other sounds later on in the production process. This is completely up to you.
So, if you want to start with a synth or sampler preset because it helps your vibe while writing then go right ahead.
2. Select a key to write your melody in
Different keys will evoke different feelings. This is something you learn the more you analyze different songs and styles music.
The reason you want to select a key to begin with is because, not only will you set the overall mood but it will also guide your chord progressions and melody writing by providing parameters to work within. So, think of your key as a framework to hang your melodies on.
Find out which chords and notes work well with the key you’ve chosen.
Check out this great post by Jared over at Ledgernote for a breakdown of the different characteristics of various keys.
3. Start to experiment with notes
Now you can start to play around with different melodies. Just have fun with it and don’t worry too much about the melody being “correct” in any way. This is one of those places where if it sounds good, it is good.
Use your MIDI controller if you have one or simply draw the notes in on the piano roll editor of your DAW.
Try different scales or modes that work with your key and let your experimentation run wild. Make room for happy accidents to happen and just go with the flow.
Your main goal here is to simply come up with a sequence of notes that work together well and create a movement you like.
4. Develop the rhythmic aspect of your melody
The note pitch we mentioned above is one aspect of what makes a melody. If you want to know how to make a melody great you also need to focus on the rhythm of your notes. So, play around with different note lengths and the timing of your notes to carve out a rhythm that works for the track or song you’re writing.
The combination of these different lengths of notes and silences creates the rhythm of your melody,
5. Remember to use dynamics
While pitch and rhythm are the most important aspects of a melody, the loudness and softness of each note, also referred to as dynamics can make a difference to the way your melody sounds. Experiment with making certain notes louder for emphasis and others quieter to create a flow thats makes the melody more interesting.
6. Add some expression
Great instrumentalists have the ability to play a melody in different ways. Same notes, same rhythm, just different expressions. This can be achieved in many different ways in your DAW with virtual instruments and synths. The main 2 ways are through the use of automation and audio effects.
Some virtual instruments have expression built in. So, for example, if you increase the velocity of a note it may sound different to the same note with a lower velocity. Playing around with automation or randomization of your synth patch parameters will also help you create a more expressive melody.
You can also use effects like automated vibrato and pitch bend in subtle ways at certain places to create more expressive melody lines.
7. Remember to use repetition
Repetition is crucial for good melody writing. Whether it’s an entire motif that repeats itself or simply two or three of the same notes that follow each other. Work repetition into your melodies to help make them more memorable.
8. Play around with the range
Great melodies often incorporate leaps, sometimes even into different octaves. So, while you want to keep the most of the notes of your melody at closer intervals to one another it doesn’t hurt to sometimes add a note or two in a different range to your melody line.
9. Try your hand at counterpoint
This simply means writing more than one melody line and having both playing at the same time. The harmonies and call and response created by two lines will often create a much more pleasing effect, not possible with a single melody line.
10. Keep on crafting
Don’t just settle for the first draft. It may be that the melody works better in a different key. One change of note or note length can make a world of difference to your melody. Same goes for switching up the rhythmic structure of your melody line.
11. Learn and use basic music theory concepts to improve your melody writing.
You don’t have to learn music theory to know how to make a melody that works. That said, a basic knowledge of some music theory concepts like scales, modes and harmonic theory can help a lot to get the results you want faster.
I always recommend the fantastic tools provided by Hooktheory because, not only are they addictively fun to use, they also teach you the basic music theory concepts that will improve your melody and chord progression writing a ton.
Top tools for crafting melodies:
The 4 plugins listed below will all help you to craft world-class melodies quick and easy in next to no time, even if you don't know anything about how to make a melody.
1. MIDI Madness 3
This AI-powered plugin allows you to enter a few settings and then produces chord progressions, melodies and sequences to jump-start your writing process.
2. Scaler 2
This award-winning tool has become a firm favorite among composers and producers. It can tell you which key and scale your currently working with and suggest chords to match it. It'll also help you find the perfect melody with performance expressions. Try it. Your mind will be blown.
3. Melody Sauce 2
This new plugin is a complete melody production tool that allows you to generate melodies in a huge variety of different styles and hear it played back with a selection of various instruments in just a few clicks. The melodies are created on the spot with an advanced algorithm, so no pre-programmed melodies. No music theory knowledge required.
4. Harvest Mini
This free VST plugin is a MIDI sequence generator that can produce melodies, chords and drum patterns. Perfect for all types of melody tweaks and mangling. Oh yeah and you read right, it's free!
Top Course: How to Write Melodies
François Rengère's course "Melody Foundations" is brought to you by the excellent team over at Production Music Live.
This course will help you get well-versed in the basic concepts and techniques of how to make a melody. It's created for electronic music producers which means you'll be able to apply the knowledge and skills you gain straight away in a practical way.
Production Music Live courses are extremely high quality and great value for money which is why I recommend them to producers here at RenegadeProducer.com.
If you decide to grab this course through my link I'll receive a small commission so you'll help keep this site going. Thank you for your support!
Conclusion: How to Make a Melody
This post is meant as a brief introduction to the art of melody writing for newer producers.
Now, while melody writing isn’t rocket surgery, you can probably imagine that there are tons of little tricks and methods that contribute to the fact that some melodies just stand out as great.
While learning the theory behind what makes great melodies work can help, a lot of skill comes from writing as many melodies as you can.
I trust this brief guide on how to make a melody has given you the basic idea of the different components and aspects involved in the process of writing melodies.