One of my favorite topics to talk about in music is the art of writing melodies. I think this is such a fun and important skill to develop that every musician should try and work on eventually. This is definitely a broad subject as there a few different points to cover with writing a melody on the piano.
My personal belief is that everyone has the ability to develop the creative side of their brain by engaging it. I believe the most important part of writing melodies on the piano is experience and knowledge. The two definitely go hand in hand and I want to discuss the ways to go about gaining the experience and acquiring the knowledge.
How To Start
I suggest starting by sitting down at your piano and playing simple chord progressions. Try to play notes in your right hand that would sound like the songs you hear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being influenced by your favorite artists and bands, so use them as your teacher.
It is my belief that you don’t have to follow any guide to write YOUR own songs, but if you have never done it, here are a couple of easy tips you can start with.
Start on the 1,3 or 5 of your chord. For example, if you’re playing a C major chord in your first chord, try starting your melody on either “C” E” or “G.” You by no means have to do this and you will learn to break this, but this is a nice guideline as you start.
Use passing tones in your melody. This means to use notes that aren’t in a specific chord. For example, you would use notes out of “C” “E” and “G” as passing tones as part of your melody.
Let your brain take you to where it desires. If you think what you’re playing sounds good, go for it and follow it down any rabbit hole it takes you to.
Notice how the melodies in your favorite songs work. This will take you a long way in your own writing.
Experience Writing Melodies
If you talk to songwriters some of them will tell you that yes, there are definitely rules to follow while writing melodies. I have the belief of yes, and no. It depends what you’re writing the melody for. For example, trying write for TV and film placements or commercials is an entirely different animal than writing your own brand of songs.
Using Your Voice And Figuring Out The Notes On Piano
This was surprisingly the most effective technique that I have found in my personal experience be I am by no means a singer. Even if your purpose is to never sing and just and the piano do the talking, you can find certain notes by finding pitches with your voice.
This is a very fun and freeing experience because you never know what kind of intervals are going to come out of your mouth. You can use this to then find the notes on the piano and start going off a couple notes that you sang.
Rhythm is a huge part of writing melodies and it should not be overlooked in any way. Having a catchy rhythm, in my opinion, is the single most important thing, you can then dial in the melody of the notes with a catchy rhythm.
Think of all of your favorite hits, I would bet there is something unique and clever in the rhythm of their melody to hook you in. This is where using your voice can help spark your idea to the next level. I know you’re thinking, well I’m not a singer and I hate singing. That’s okay, but at least give it a try and see if you find yourself being like, “hey, this is actually cool.”
Quantity VS Quality
Ah yes, the good old debate about quantity VS quality. I have a very simple viewpoint on this. Don’t sit on the same thing and grind away on trying to find a chorus for your song for days on end. Revisiting it is a different story. I simply mean, don’t hold every other idea you have up or stop your brain from creating other songs because you’re hung up on making your one idea.
I suggest moving on and coming back. I often find that after a day or two away from an idea I will look back and either be inspired or I’ll simply think, “hey, this isn’t very cool.”
Quantity to me is what takes your game to the next level. Always focus on doing your best work at the time and try to beat what you previously did. Most musicians I know typically feel like they are doing their best work with each new song they do in some way or another. With quantity comes quality in my honest opinion.
The more ideas that you rack up and challenge your brain with, the better you will get at finding the perfect melodies for your song.
Knowledge Of The Piano And Music In General
There are misconceptions about songwriters. Some of the most creative songwriters I have met don’t have the ability to play the piano. They simply just hit notes until they hear what they want and it turns out great. This comes from them just having creative ability, but also spending countless hours and days developing the skill.
Developing your ear is extremely important and I recommend doing a lot of ear training if you are serious about learning the art of melodies. Check out the post above where I break down the best ways to develop your ear.
In my honest opinion, music theory will help you, in the long run, understand why what you’re playing works. I think a well-rounded musician or writer is always the best because they have the ability to take ideas and transpose them whereas some just don’t.
Have fun creating music. If you’re having fun, the chances are, the better you will become with your melodies and songs. Let me know if there’s anything you think I missed in the comments below!