Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
A song works best when all elements work together. No lyric, chord progression, or melody exist in a vacuum; they are like partners that complement each other. That means that all good songs are better than the sum of their parts. Your job is to find ways to relate one element to the other. One way to make sure your melody works well: have it work in tandem with your bass line.
This method of composition implies that you’ve come up with a chord progression that you like, because it’s the chords that will give you that bass line. So let’s use this progression as one for our chorus:
C F C F Dm G Am G C
Assuming that you use all the chords in root position, you’ve got a chord progression that works well, comprised mainly of strong root movements. But for this technique we want to create a bass line that, in a certain way, actually emulates a melody. So to do that, you’ll want to invert some of those chords, which will smooth out that jumpy bass a little:
C F C/E F Dm G/B Am G/B C
You’ve now got a bass line that uses the following notes: C F E F D B A B C. It’s a nice shape to use, because it moves upward at first, then descends before rising again to the tonic (key) note.
To create a melody that goes with this, try using contrary motion: as your bass line moves in one direction, try to move your melody in an opposite direction, while still conforming to the notes suggested by the chord progression. This contrary motion may not work for each and every bass note, but here is one sample melody that works as a nice partner to that bass line:
G F G A A G E D C
That’s only one possibility; there are many others. In this case, as the bass line moves up at the beginning, the melody descends. Then as the bass line descends, the melody in general moves higher.
This kind of contrary motion creates a nice musical shape. Listeners won’t necessarily be aware that there is this kind of symmetry being created between the melody and bass, but creating a relationship in this manner creates a balance and an evenness of proportions that really work.
As with all music, you’ll want to create the melody with the lyric in mind, ensuring that words that carry the most emotional meaning get prominent placement in your melody.
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