We have already looked at what makes a good and bad melody, and listened to some well-known, successful tunes. So it’s now time for us to get composing. Before we launch straight into writing a melody, we’re going to do a couple of short tasks called “Continue the melody”. This is a good starting point, as you don’t have to worry about the notes to start off your tune. You simply, keep going with the tune you’re given. It kind of takes the pressure off.
This lesson is a little longer than the previous lessons, so you might wish to tackle it in two separate sessions.
Have a look at and listen to the example below. There are two bars of melody, and you need to add another two bars to make it a four-bar phrase.
Example 1 with possible answer
Good or bad melody?
What do you think?
Well, it could be better! Here are the reasons why:
- Bar 3 doesn’t bear any relation to the previous 2 bars
- Sometimes a leap of a fifth works, but in this example it’s a bit out of the blue.
- The final note is an F sharp. Given that the key is D major, F sharp isn’t the strongest note to finish on. The tonic (D) is usually the best note to make the phrase sound complete. If you want the tune to feel like it is unfinished and is going to continue, try ending on the dominant (in this case, A)
Now, have a look at and listen to this answer:
Example 1 with a different answer
Why is this answer better?
- Bar 3 uses the same rhythm as bar 1
- There is a better melodic shape – Bars 1-2 ascend, then bars 3-4 descend.
- It finishes on the tonic, D. This makes the phrase sound complete and also gives us a clear sense of key.
Here’s another answer:
This is still a melody that works well, with a good melodic shape, but perhaps it doesn’t open up the range quite as well as the first answer: bar 3 starts on a B rather than going up to the D.
Here is another example for us to do together.
What do we need to know first?
In the first example we learned that establishing the key is important. So we need to identify the key of the melody, before we begin. If you’re not confident with your key signatures, don’t worry you’re not alone! Click on the box below for a key signature chart. Remember that each key signature has a major and minor key.
Click here for key signature chart
By looking at the chart we can see that the key with 2 flats is B flat major.
How do we know that it is not G minor, which also has 2 flats in the key signature?
To work out if it’s a minor key, you might be able to tell by listening to the tune. But the easiest way to tell is if there are accidentals. These are flats, sharps or natural signs written against the notes, which are not part of the scale indicated by the key signature. In a minor key you would expect to see the 7th degree of the scale sharpened. So in G minor, there are usually F sharps present. This melody also starts on B flat and outlines a B flat major triad in bar 1.
There are no F sharps in the melody, and so we can deduce that the key is B flat major.
Here’s a possible answer:
Example 2 with answer
Here we are in B flat major. This answer ends on the dominant: F.
Example 2 with alternative answer
This answer ends on the tonic: B flat, making the end of the phrase sound more final.
Now it’s your turn!
Here is a mini-exercise for you to try. Feel free to go back over any of the previous material in this lesson, if that’s helpful.
Remember the things that make a good melody:
- Clear sense of key (aim to finish on the tonic)
- Good melodic shape (think about the direction of the tune)
- Repetition (what can you use that has already been given, e.g rhythm?)
You’ll need to copy out the given bars on manuscript paper. If you haven’t go any, click on the button below to download some.
Student task 1
If you’re writing in a minor key, there are a couple of considerations which we have already touched on earlier in the lesson.
- Remember to raise the 7th degree of the scale when working in a minor key.
- Beware the augmented 2nd! This interval is characteristically used in gypsy scales and isn’t usually the sound that we’re after. It can occur without us realising it, as it looks fine on the page.
The shaded blue areas show where the augmented 2nd is placed.
Because we raise the 7th degree of the scale (in this case, we’re in A minor and so G is sharpened), when placed next to the F natural it creates an augmented 2nd.
Still unsure about the augmented 2nd interval? Read the information below.
Explanation of 2nd intervals
When working out an interval (space between 2 notes), first find the number between the notes, counting the first note as ‘1’. E.g C to G would be C-D-E-F-G = 5 notes = a fifth (of some kind).
So in our example below, C-D is a 2nd.
Then we take into account any sharps or flats, but regardless of these, the interval is still a second.
The diagram below explains this clearly:
Try it yourself
Remember that you’ll need to identify the key before you begin. Use the key signature chart from earlier in the lesson if you need to.
Student task 2: minor key example