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How to compose an original melody

Updated on June 23, 2013

One of the most difficult things in music production or song writing is coming up with original sounding content. If you get involved with too much theory then your music will sound too common since it will follow the rules. e.g. 1000's and 1000's of track and compositions will follow the famous 2-5-1 sequence.

The 2-5-1 means the 2nd, 5th and the 1st chord in a key. In the key of C it would be as follows.

  • 2nd - D min
  • 5th - G dom/7
  • 1st - C maj

This is what we learn in theory and if you play the above chords they will sound very correct together. There are 7 chords in each scale and it's good practice to learn them all but your production may sound unoriginal if you stick to the same one scale. Hooks and phrases need to be remember-able for it to be popular. The above example although correct will never stand out in any track you make, and the singer will be very limited in ways to express themselves.

See below for an example video

2-5-1 on the Piano

Be adventurous

The melodies you play will normally be within a given scale, but that may sound boring in certain genres. Notes outside the scale are technically incorrect but they can be slipped in like jazz. i.e. instead of F->G, do F, F#, G. Never end a phrase or linger on any key outside the scale because it will sound wrong. e.g. G, G#, A is okay, but F, G, G# will sound wrong.

For composing an original melody it is essential to be able to step out of the scale and come back in at a smooth point. The C scale is probably not a good scale to start hopping in and out, try some of the other scale with some back keys.

Many nice chord sequences are found by trial and error. A melody will normally follow the chord so trial and error chord patterns will normally have some interesting results. Learning the theory is good for building a platform and framework for your playing but you need to branch outside for anything to stand out and sound original.

It may sound weird if you play a C minor chord followed by an E minor chord but it all depends on what the third chord is which makes it wrong or right to the ear.

Work on the voicing

For guitar and keyboard, once your fingers are in a chord position learn how to voice the chords instead of simply strumming or playing a simple chord. E.g. Cmaj7th. Use the C as a bass note and practice creating melodies using E,G and B until you find something catchy. As I mentioned before, the phrase must end on a key in the scale but in mid melody don't be afraid to brush over non-scale keys for more of a jazzy sound.

Circle of 5th's chart

The magic circle of 5th's

This is very useful without getting into too much theory. It's simple a chart which shows the relationships between each Major and Minor chord. Going clock wise each chord is a 5th apart, going anti-clockwise each chord is a 4th apart. Referring to this chart you can create some interesting melodies since you chords will be jumping into different scales. A new scales means more variations in melodies. You will only be able to get that tension by borrowing chords from other scales then snapping back into the original scale.

Feel the tension when chords are borrowed from other scales


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    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 5 years ago from Japan

      Robert, thank you very much indeed.

    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      This is a great description of what is needed to improvise and compose. Thanks for writing - this is exactly what I was looking for. Voted up and shared!