Writing Song Melodies by Moving Pentatonic Scales Around

Using pentatonic scales makes melody-writing a bit easier.

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Flaming keyboardI’ve made the point previously that melodies made from pentatonic scales are very easy ones for which to create chords. A pentatonic scale is any 5-note scale. The most common type is the one where you take a major scale and eliminate the 4th and 7th notes. So C pentatonic would be: C-D-E-G-A.

It’s easy to create chords to accompany a melody made from that scale because without the F and B, almost every chord from C major will work. For example, if you play the notes C-G-E-D-C over and over, you’ll find you can play them above practically any progression from C major, even including some altered (non-key) chords. Try it: play the 5-note melody over this progression (changing chords each time you return to the beginning): C  Dm  Am  F  C  F  Dm  Bb… (Listen)

You likely know that verse melodies tend to be lower in pitch than chorus melodies. So you can use this pentatonic scale to create both a verse and a chorus by moving the scale around. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Create a verse melody using a low-pitched version of the pentatonic scale, starting on low G. In other words, create a melody that uses the notes G-A-C-D-E. (The G should be the lowest G you can sing).
  2. Create a chorus melody by using the same pentatonic scale, but moving it higher. In other words, create a melody that uses the notes C-D-E-G-A.

Now you simply need to create a verse progression and then a chorus one. Because the chorus melody is pitched higher, it’s even possible to use the same progression for both the verse and chorus, and many pop songs these days opt for that.

Using pentatonic scales as material for song melodies means that you can use repeating figures easily. By virtue of the fact that the chords keep changing while the melodic shape repeats, it masks the fact that you’re using simple repetition to build the majority of your melodies,.

Using this method, it’s not unusual to create all the melodies you need for your song within minutes. For bridge melodies, it’s typical to reach even higher than the chorus. And your song’s climactic moment – the high point of the melody – often occurs in the bridge.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  1. Pingback: Songs That Never Get Sung: “Can I Be Your Wife?” | Samuel Snodgrass's Sentimental Sentiments

  2. Many thanks, Gary. I found this to be a useful exercise. Sometimes working with a limited palette can help us expand our horizons.

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