Creating a Melody by Getting a Jump-Start From An Existing Song

Use a favourite song to help create a new melody – and no one will ever know!

____________"From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro"

Purchase “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and get this eBook FREE OF CHARGE: “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”.

Musical line drawingYou’re sitting with your guitar, or at a keyboard, trying to come up with your next song, but everything you try just sounds random and aimless. You need help. Here’s a fun exercise that allows you to borrow from an already-written song in a way that will not sound like the original. No one will ever know that you used someone else’s song to create it.

When we listen to melodies, we’re listening to specific pitches, rhythms and lyrics, all working with an underlying chord progression. For many, it’s getting that melody to work in the first place, and can be a source of great frustration.

All melodies proceed after their first note by moving up, down, or staying the same. If you sing a well-known melody, or recite the lyric, most listeners should recognize it. But if you were to simply describe the basic up and down movement of that melody (e.g., “I’m going to sing a melody that starts on a note, moves up, up, up, down, down, up, down, up, stays the same…”), no one would ever know that you are describing the verse of The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”

So if you’re looking for a fun, quick way to break yourself out of the melody-writing doldrums, try the following:

  1. Take a favourite song, draw a dot at the middle of the left side of the page that represents the first note.
  2. For each note that happens, draw a new dot that either moves up, down, or stays the same, depending on what happens in the original tune.
  3. When you’re done, you’ll have a page that looks like musical note heads without the musical staff underneath. Now connect the dots.
  4. Forget about the original song, and create a short chord progression; play it through several times to get your ear used to it.
  5. Using your drawing, try creating a melody that moves as the dots move – up, down or staying the same.

You might want to use graph paper to do your drawing. Do whatever makes it easy; you’re looking to create something that represents the melodic direction of a well-known song.

It’s completely up to you how much you stick to the pattern you’ve pilfered from the original song. You may find that after getting a few notes matching up with your chord progression, ideas are springing to mind, and you’re off. It’s a bit like getting a jump-start from a working car when your battery has died. Once your car is going, disconnect from the first car.

Other ideas:

  1. Turn the pattern upside down.
  2. Invert the pattern (i.e., move up if the next dot moves down).
  3. Do the pattern from right to left (retrograde).
  4. Start in the middle.

Unless the originating tune has a very distinctive melodic outline, no one will ever identify the original tune, because you’ll be moving up and down by different intervals, using different rhythms. You will also be using a different chord progression. You’re simply using note direction from the original tune, and that’s usually not enough for listeners to be able to identify it. Put simply, melodic direction is not protected by copyright.

If you write a song this way, feel free to provide a link in the comments below, and mention the originating tune from which you took the melodic direction.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle$95.70 $37.00 (and get a copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro” FREE.)

Posted in Melody, Writer's Block and tagged , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.