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Here are a few exercises you can do that will improve your ability to write good melodies, tunes that are strong and effective. So grab your guitar or keyboard and try the following easy step-by-step exercises.
It might also be a good idea to grab a pen and paper to write some of your ideas down, as well as a digital recorder. It’s quite possible that you’ll come up with something that can be used in your next song.
EXERCISE #1: CREATING SHORT MELODIC IDEAS
In this exercise, you’ll create a short melodic idea that repeats exactly the same way each time, as the chords underneath it change.
- Play the following progression several times in whichever style suits you: C Am Dm G.
- For each chord, create a short 3- to 5-note melodic fragment. (It helps to concentrate on the notes of the pentatonic scale; i.e., avoid the notes F and B). Sing your fragment while playing the C chord, then move on to the next chord.
- You’ll notice that most fragments, when repeated like this, will work even if it includes notes that aren’t specifically in the chord you’re playing. That’s a benefit that comes from repetition.
EXERCISE #2: STARTING WITH ONE NOTE
In this exercise, you’ll discover how changing chords while a melody note stays the same gives the impression of melodic movement.
- Play the following progression several times: C Bb F Bb.
- Sing the note E as you play through the progression, improvising rhythms but staying on the melodic note E.
- Play through the progression again, singing the E, but allowing your voice to rise above, or fall below, that E, to more accurately fit the chord of the moment.
- Create your own chord progression, and choose a different starting note.
Exercise #3: COPYING MELODIC DIRECTION FROM ANOTHER SONG
This is something fun, but very useful, which I suggested in a post about a year ago. It involves taking a song you know well, and then copying its melodic direction (not its actual notes). When you’re done, your new melody should bear no particular resemblance to the original melody.
- Choose one of your favourite songs.
- Place a dot on a page representing the first note of that melody.
- As the melody proceeds, draw an ‘up’ arrow if the next melody note is higher. Draw a ‘down’ arrow if the next melody note is lower. Continue this step for as long as you’d like.
- Create a chord progression, or use this one: C F Am G Am F Bb G.
- Start your melody on any note that fits with the C chord. Now follow your up and down arrow pattern to create a melody that copies melodic direction from your favourite song.
As with any exercise that helps to create melodies, you can decide for yourself how far to take each exercise. You may find that all you need is a short idea, and suddenly your creative juices start flowing and you can leave the exercise behind and just start writing.
In any case, song melodies created with these kinds of games can loosen the logjam and get you thinking creatively again.
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