Posted by: Corey | February 6, 2012

Learn Music Theory 4 [Melody Rundown]

Hamburg Steinway D-274

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t normally delve too deep into melody, because to me it’s a very subjective topic. But what I do tell people is that the functions are completely different between when a note is being used for a chord, and when it’s being used for a melody.

For instance, the IV chord is one of our easiest to use chords. Remember? But as a melody note, it’s one of the most difficult!

Before I go into the full breakdown, let me explain a little musical idea called tension. If something is unresolved or tense, that means it generally wants to go to a more resolved, stable place. Sounds a little fancy, but you can hear it naturally. Sing Old McDonald out loud. Right now. Do it.

“Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I….” now just leave it hanging without going to that last “O”. Right now you want to hear it “resolve”. Bam.

Now for the full rundown. Melody notes are kinda too vague to try and categorize, but generally it goes kinda like this:

1 – A very resolved sounding note. It sounds at rest. A very basic and simple sound.

2 – A note that adds a sort of heavenly pull in major keys, or a dark flavor in minor. I love it.

3 – Sounds at rest, but not as much as the 1.

4 – Extremely tense sound, hanging on this one too long is dangerous! But don’t neglect it either.

5 – To me, this has a lifted sound. Like it’s soaring almost.

6 – Can be used for dark sounds. But also has a lot of other uses.

7 – Also extremely tense, but that just makes resolving it all the more beautiful!

There you go.


Now, using all of this is a little harder. With the chords, you can pretty much just slap them together in any order that sounds good to you, play them for a measure or two each, and you’ll have some workable stuff. But with melodies, it’s not quite that simple.

At this point, people get very into a lot of things that I don’t care to delve to deeply into. We get into strategies that are supposed to help us develop our ideas and focus a song together. Ideas like taking a melodic phrase, and reversing where the high and low notes are (inversion) or trying it backwards (retrograde) or both (retrograde inversion). There’s so many more. And people will look at a song, and pick apart every 3 note strand and categorize what’s happening.

I don’t get into any of that as a part of my personal process, and I’m not really going to get into it on my blog either, and I’ll tell you why. I think that when these great songs are being written, the artists are focused on channeling an emotion, or expressing something, or feeling something. I doubt they’re sitting there analyzing every note that comes out. Now, if you get into a rut, or if you want to give it a spin for kicks, go crazy and try some of that stuff out! But I’d say don’t usually sweat it.


Next time, we’re going to get into how I think you actually should write melodies.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!



  1. […] Phew. We’re almost there. The last element in our music theory crash course is: melody. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] Learn Music Theory 4 [Melody Rundown] ( Share this:TwitterFacebookRedditDiggMoreTumblrStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tagged Arts, Chords, Major scale, Multimedia, music, Music theory […]

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