Music Foundations Tutorial Pt 4 – Theory Basics: How to Compose a Strong Melody w/ Max Wild

In part four of our ongoing Music Foundations video tutorial series, Dubspot instructor Max Wild demonstrates how to compose a strong and catchy melody using Avicii’s “Levels” as an example. If you’ve missed the previous tutorials in this series, check out parts one, two, and three!

Writing a melody that sounds unique and memorable isn’t always easy, but there are a few steps you can take to make this process go smoother. I will be using four bars of Avicii’s “Levels” as an example. In my opinion (regardless of whether you are a fan of Avicii) this song has a very strong and catchy melody. When analyzing great melodies it seems that these all share certain characteristics. All strong melodies seem to have:

Pitches taken from a particular scale:

  • Shape
  • Rhythm
  • Repetition
  • Call and response

Upon analyzing the pitches Avicii uses, it seems that they make up a five-note scale called the pentatonic scale, in this case the E major pentatonic scale. The major pentatonic scale is a five note scale, which uses notes 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the major scale. The pentatonic scale has been used in music cultures all over the world and has a strong sound that we are all used to hearing, which is why it is a great scale to compose melodies with. Next we look at the shape of the melody, meaning do the pitches go up or down. We see that Avicii’s melody stays around the root ‘E’, it then jumps up to C# and plays the pentatonic scale downwards note by note back to E. (The only exception is the D#, which is taken from the E major scale.) For rhythm this melody primarily uses eighth notes, which propel the melody forward and keep it moving. There are several accounts of repetition: First of all the note E is repeated several times in bars 1 and 3. In addition, bars 2 and 4 are identical, and bars 1 and 3 are also almost identical. This brings us to call and response, in which repetition plays an important part. Bar 1 can be seen as the first ‘call’ or ‘question’, with bar 2 as the ‘response’ or ‘answer’. Bar 3 then ‘asks’ the same ‘question’ with a slight variation, and bar 4 represents the same response as bar 2.

Using this formula as a guide we will now construct our own original melody. I will be using just a simple piano sound to do this, since my objective is to focus on the pitches of the melody, and not the sound design. Once I have a melody I like I can transfer the MIDI notes to any sound of my choosing.

So I start by finding the notes in the E major pentatonic scale. With these I jam along to my drum beat until I have a simple melodic idea with an identifiable shape. By jamming along to my drum beat I also ensure that my melody has strong rhythm that fits with the rhythm of my song. I try to use repeated eighth notes, just like Avicii did and create call and response by creating a response melody in bar 2 to the first melodic idea in bar 1. In bar 3, I repeat my first melodic idea from bar 1, and then I finish my four-bar melody by responding to bar 3 with a slight variation and resolving my phrase on the root of the key, E. Finally I add three pick-up notes to give the melody a more rounded shape and better flow, letting it lead into the beginning of the phrase.

This particular melody is only four bars long, however these concepts can be applied to any length of melody. Quite often, the shorter and more concise a melody is, the more memorable it becomes, so limiting yourself to four bars is a good starting point.

I hope this tutorial gave you some insight into melodic composition. In my experience most melodies draw upon most of the musical elements we discussed, and I’m sure that by making a conscious effort to use some of these you will be well on your way to composing great sounding melodies. Good luck! Max Wild

The best producers, DJs, and musicians in the world strive to be well-rounded. So should you. In Dubspot’s Music Foundations Program, you’ll explore three major aspects of music: rhythmic theory, melodic theory, and critical listening.

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  • How to write melodies | Allen's Music Blog
  • 11/19/2013