Writing Music 101: Composing Melodies II | Jason Rivera | Skillshare

Writing Music 101: Composing Melodies II

Jason Rivera, Composer

Writing Music 101: Composing Melodies II

Jason Rivera, Composer

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8 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Follow The Harmony

    • 3. Using a Motif

    • 4. Creating Contour

    • 5. Keep The Rhythm Simple

    • 6. Writing For a Specific Instrument

    • 7. Developing Your Own Style

    • 8. Conclusion

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About This Class

Learn how to write memorable melodies with composer Jason Rivera. This 30-minute class covers the fundamentals of creating an original tonal melody—walking you through the process step-by-step.

If you are new to composing music, check out my beginner's class on writing melodies Writing Music 101: Composing Melodies.

For your class project you will write an original melody, utilizing the techniques we cover in the class, and record it. Your recording doesn't have to be professional quality—a smartphone demo will work great.

Anyone interested in cultivating their skills as a songwriter and/or composer can benefit from this class. This class is designed for intermediate songwriters and composers. Basic knowledge of music notation, an understanding of the fundamentals of music theory, access to and the ability to play chords and melodies on an instrument, is required.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jason Rivera




I'm Jason Rivera. I compose music and teach from my studio in Los Angeles, CA. You can check out my music on my website and you can join my email list for updates.

“Excellent class!!! He made concepts that have been difficult to understand previously so clear and concise. Really got a lot out of this class. This is foundational to becoming a good composer. Can't wait to try doing the assignments!!!”

- Mona Lisa P, Skillshare Student

“Things I have been confused about for years finally made sense to me through Jason's instructions. I can't thank you enough, Jason.”

- Ronja B, Skillshare Student

“Great work, with engaging visuals and great audio and video... See full profile

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1. Introduction: My name is Jason Rivera. I'm a music composer and multi instrumentalist. I've played on countless professional recordings over the years, have written music for and conducted some of the best live musicians here in Los Angeles, and I've played countless live shows having toward the U. S. As a performer, I teach many classes on songwriting and composing. For me, this is a way of sharing what I've learned with you and hopefully helping you on your music writing journey. This class is a deep dive on creating tonal melodies. My goal is to provide you with tools and techniques that I think are important so that you can be on your way, creating great melodies And this class we will cover following your harmonic structure, using a motif, creating contour rhythm, writing for a specific instrument and finding your own style. By the end of these video lessons, you will be ready for your project where you will create your own eight measure melody. Implementing the techniques from this class. This class assumes that you have some basic knowledge of how to write a melody. If you don't or you just need a refresher, I suggest that you check out my other class writing music one on one, composing melodies before you watch this class. My goal with this class is to pick up where my first composing melodies class left off and to discuss additional techniques that I think are important for writing melodies. When I was a little kid, I'd often hear melodies and chord progressions in my head, and my way of documenting them was that I'd sing them into a tape recorder. Nowadays, sometimes I have musical ideas that come to me in the middle of the night while I'm sleeping. What I do is I wake up, drag myself out of bed and quickly got the idea down. Usually, I just grabbed a guitar and put down a quick recording on my phone. In either case of had put in the time to learn about the elements of writing music so that I can organize and express my ideas on the most effective and efficient way possible. And that's what we're aiming to do here in these lessons, to gain more practical know how that will ultimately give us more freedom of expression. 2. Follow The Harmony: All right, let's dive in and start our lessons on Melody. From my demo in this class, I've created a simple court progression for us to work with. This is the court progression that I want you to use for your project. We're gonna play one court per measure and we're gonna use 34 time here it iss Okay, Going through each chord. We have B flat, major G minor Teoh E flat Major have major B flat major D minor toe F major on an ending B flat painter. So with that court progression on thinking in terms of phrases, the 1st 4 chords the B flat, major G minor e flat major, an F major would be phrase one in the last four Accords B flat, major D minor, F major and B flat Major would be phrase to when writing a melody. A good rule of thumb to follow is that every note that you write in your melody should belong to the court structure that you're working with. This is a really great way to write a melody. Of course, to write in this way, you need to have a good working grasp on chords. you have to know what the notes are that comprise whichever cords you're working with. I'm going to assume you already have a working understanding of how cords are built. If not, I have a short 12 minute class called writing music. Wanna one create a court progression in a major key and that classes dedicated to creating an original core progression from scratch? You might want to check that class out also, just as a heads up on planning on creating a class on building a court progression in a minor key as well. So please be on the lookout for that if you need a refresher on court progressions. So if you have some basic understanding of quartz, then you'll know that you can use the five or 57 court to create tension and a court progression, just like I did with my court progression, I ended the first phrase with the five court, the F major ending. The first phrase on the five creates intention. And then, in my second court phrase, I ended on the one court to resolve that tension. If you have your melody, follow these chords, then your melody will also naturally have tension and release to it. So how do you accomplish this? Well, if you know what court is playing in a particular measure And make sure on that measure the main notes of your melody fit within the three main notes of the court if you're using triads. So if, for example, you have a B flat major chord in a particular measure and the main notes of your melody should be B, flat, D and F In that measure, the route No B flat on the third D are the notes that really distinguish this cord. If, for example, your cord was f dominant seven, then the main notes of your melody and that measure would be F A C and e flat. Ah, In the case of this court, the distinguishing notes would be the route, the third and the seven. So you'd use these notes in your melody on the strong beats of a measure. If we're in 34 time, you're one or downbeat would be where you'd want to use these important notes. For example, let's start to build an eight measure melody. Let's start by building the 1st 2 measures of a melody using our core progression. We're in 34 in the key of B flat, Major. And I'm gonna work with the B flat major scale. We have our first court B flat, major, and I'm only going to use those core tones. So we'll start the melody on B flat and then I'm gonna move to an eighth. No pattern on D and F. Then on the next court, the G minor, I'll play the note G to the note B flat. So right there, I'm using my route. No, g and then my third b flat. So let's hear those two measures. So in a sense, what we're doing here is outlining the harmony with the melody by starting your melody on the route of the cord like I did with my B flat note over my B flat major chord in the first measure, you also give a stable sound to your melody. 3. Using a Motif: Okay, Next up is our lesson on using a motif. When you're writing your melody, try and find a pattern of notes. It could be as little as three notes that are memorable and that you think will stick in the listener's ear. This is what we call a motif or in popular music, you'll sometimes hear it referred to as a hook. When you find this combination of notes, don't be afraid to repeat them. This repetition helps to add cohesion and continuity to your melody. But to avoid boring the listener, make sure you also add in some variety, even slight variation to your repetition. This variation could be a simple as playing the motif up an octave higher. I've used this idea a lot of my own music, and it's great for giving your musical lift. Or we can also alter the rhythm of the note slightly. Let's keep building our demo melody together. I'm gonna create a simple motif that builds off of what I've already started in my demo. Let me summarize what we have so far from Measure three. I've got my e flat major chord, so here I'm going to start with 1/4 note on my route note e flat than to an eighth note pattern between the notes G and B flat, my third in my fifth of the e flat major chord. So that whole measure would be. Then I'm gonna move to my last chord in the first court frees F Major. And in this measure, I'm going to start the measure by landing on my route note F and then my third A. Not only is this a the third of the F major court, but it's also the leading tone of the B flat major scale. So it adds some tension at the end of the first phrase. So you'll notice that I'm starting to create a motif, a rhythmic motif of 1/4 note, followed by 4/8 notes. It's the beginning of a motif, and I'm going to capitalize on this motif and repeat it later on. As I moved through the entire eight measure melody, I'm going to give this multi variation by changing up the notes in the melody. Some other ways of creating variation are reversing the rhythmic pattern. For example, my first chord, my B flat major Oh, I could play for eighth notes, followed by 1/4 note. Or I could simplify the rhythm as well. You can also change the direction of your melody so that instead of moving up, it moves down or vice versa. We'll talk more about this technique in our next lesson on creating contour. Just bear in mind that you want your variations to relate to your original motif in some way. Otherwise it'll sound disconnected and you're probably just coming up with a brand new melody at that point, which, by the way adding in new melodic or rhythmic ideas is also totally fine. I just want you to be aware of what you're doing is you're writing, so let's hear phrase one. 4. Creating Contour: and my first composing melodies Class. I spoke about thinking of your music in terms of contour or shape. I think it's an important technique toe, understand and implement, so I'm gonna cover it in a bit more depth. In this video lesson, Most melodies, especially in popular music, are organized into two for eight or 16 measures. One popular exception to this would be 12 bar blues. As you are organizing your melodic ideas in this way, you want to consider the shape and direction the melody is taking. One way of doing this is to decide on your starting note an ending note of your melody. If you're Melody is gonna have an upward motion than try and have the ending note be 1/5 or higher than the starting note. So I started the first phrase of my demo Melody on the note B flat, three below Middle C and I ended the first phrase on the note a four almost a knocked of higher than where I started and actually I hit that beef life war when I played my E flat major court. So the contour of my first chord and melody phrase has an upward motion. If you wanted your melody to have a downward movement, then have the last note in your melody be 1/5 or more lower than the starting note. Once you have that framework in mind, you can then add in the connecting notes in between. You can also have the midpoint of the melody be lower or higher than the starting note and then return to the starting note at the close of the melody. This is the approach that I'm gonna try and my demo I ended my first phrase almost in octave higher than my first note of the melody and I'm gonna work my way back down to the starting note B flat three below Middle C So my second chord phrase starts with the B flat major chord. So I'm gonna start my melody here with 1/4 note on the note B flat followed by eight notes on the notes. Effendy. In the next two measures, I'm going to continue with 1/4 note followed by 4/8 notes as a rhythmic motif. So essentially, I'm using the rhythm from my very first measure of my melody. But I'm changing the notes up My next chord is D minor, and here I'm gonna break away from landing on the route or third of the cord and start the melody on the fifth Note the A, followed by eight notes on F and D. I know that I'm starting the melody in this measure on the fifth of the D minor chord, but I'm making this choice simply because I think that it sounds good. Next we have the F major chord on. I'm gonna play the note F as 1/4 note, followed by eight notes on C and a again. The nice thing about ending on the note a right there is that it's the leading tone of the scale and our last chord, and the court progression is the tonic chord B flat major. So this a leads into the beef lap perfectly. The note A sets up some slight tension, which is then released when you arrive at the note B flat. In the last measure, let's hear the entire eight measure melody now, another option. You can try as an overall descending skill, starting from the tonic and leading to the tonic down an octave. That's a very common an effective technique. You can play with the contour and make it interesting. Just make sure that you give it a single focal point or high point like I did in my demo. 5. Keep The Rhythm Simple: all right, Next up is our lesson on rhythm. We're gonna talk about keeping your rhythm simple and using rhythmic repetition in your melody. If you're new to writing melodies, I recommend keeping the rhythm simple. At first. Keep the durations of your notes equal to or longer than the duration of the beat in whichever time saying that you're working in. For example, if you're writing and 44 then keep your note durations, 2/4 notes, half notes or whole notes and be a little bit judicious, with shorter notes like eighth notes and 16th notes. By limiting the rhythmic values that you work with, you can start to create rhythmic repetition, which I talked about in my composing melodies. One class rhythmic repetition helps to give your melody arrhythmic signature and my demo for this class. I used the 1/4 note followed by 4/8 notes and repeated it, but I changed the pitches that I use throughout the melody, so I was utilizing rhythmic repetition, which created a rhythmic motif from my melody. An excellent example of a simple rhythm. Used in the melody is the famous melody from Beethoven's ninth. I'm not going to spend our time here doing a deep analysis of this melody. In fact, I'm only gonna look at the 1st 8 measures with you. I want you to notice that basically, the rhythm is composed of half notes and quarter notes with the occasional dotted quarter note followed by an eighth note. I also noticed that there aren't any wide leaps in this section of the melody, and it has a beautiful, smooth contour. Now there is a lot going on in this melody, and it transforms itself as the music unfolds. But what I'm illustrating here is that you can create a very memorable melody using simple rhythm. Let me play through it so that you can hear what you're looking at. 6. Writing For a Specific Instrument: okay for this lesson, we're gonna discuss writing a melody for a specific instrument and knowing your instrument ranges. This is a topic that starts to blend into the subject of orchestration, but it's very important. So let's dive in. This topic is important for several reasons. One, the type of instrument that you are writing for will dictate certain choices that you make . For example, if you're writing a melody for a wind instrument such as clarinet, then you have to make sure that you add in rests to give the player time to take breaths. If you're writing a melody for violin, this isn't as important since a violinist can play on for a long time. That being said, you probably want to have some rest in your melody anyways, because it's just simply more musical. It would be like having a run on sentence without any punctuation or emphasis anywhere. If you want to write for an instrument that you're not familiar with, then get yourself a good book on orchestration. One handy book that I used to double Check My Ranges is the Essential Dictionary of Orchestration by Dave Black and Tom Guru. There are many books on this topic, and there are plenty of instrument range charts online, But this is a great little book that literally fits in your back pocket. I keep it on my desk or piano when I'm writing, and I referenced it all the time. Knowing the range of the instrument you're writing for is essential for the simple fact that if you write notes that are out of the range of the instrument, the player won't be able to play them. With computer music being so prominent these days, you can program and notes into your digital audio workstation that aren't even playable by a live player. For example, I remember one time when I had a live session with live string players in school. I wrote a note or two of my piece that were out of the range of the viola. I take great pride and proof reading my work, but I just missed a couple of notes, and the viola simply couldn't play those notes that I had written. So you don't want to be in that situation and waste time, so the key here is to know the range of the instrument that you're writing for and then right within that range. One rule of thumb is to keep your lowest and highest notes in your melody within inactive. Not only will this sound good, but it will be easier for the musician to perform it. I use this rule of thumb in my demo melody for this class. Also, it's good to know which key signatures are best for the instrument you're writing for. For example, string players like sharp keys. The string instruments sound better in sharp keys because of the open strings resonating. Which brings up another point. If you're writing for a live session, you need to know if you have rehearsals beforehand. If not, this idea of ranges is even more important. If the players don't have time to rehearse your music beforehand, then they're going straight to sight reading it on the spot. In this situation, even the best players, they're gonna have trouble with the melody that has a gigantic range to it, and you don't want your players feeling bad about they're playing. It creates a bad vibe in your session. Also with the knowledge of the range of the instrument you're writing for, then you can try your melody idea and different octaves, for example, on Idea of might sound great in a mid or high range on an instrument but money in the lower range. This is something that you'll have to experiment with and learn by trial and error. That being said, knowing the Rangers of your instruments will minimize your errors and make you a more efficient writer. 7. Developing Your Own Style: okay, In this lesson, we're gonna talk about finding your own unique melodic writing style. The melodies that you write don't have to be complicated toe work. Well, as we saw in the excerpt from Beethoven's Ninth, but they do need to be unique to stand out. How can you achieve this? Or one way is to play with the rhythmic patterns I use. This is something you should experiment with if you're more experienced, musician and composer, instead of defaulting toe only whole half or quarter notes, maybe try adding in some triplets or even try writing in a time signature that you're not comfortable with. You could also play with an interesting contour. Instead of having a melody that moves up and then straight back down, it could move down, up and then back down. There are a lot of possibilities. With this, I recommend writing as many melodies as you can and then trying different approaches to contour. I think another aspect of finding your unique melodic style is by using and trusting in your year. You develop this by listening to a lot of music and writing a lot of melodies to help you with this I've put together a playlist for you that has great examples of melody writing. It's got several pieces of music and it classical works by Stravinsky, Holst, Beethoven and many other great composers in the project description. On the class page, you'll find a link to the play list and a list of the compositions in the attached file section of this class. I don't think there's a shortcut toe learning how to write great melodies. You have to put the work in tow, learn the techniques and then put them into practice by writing melodies over and over. Eventually, if you stick with it, you'll get faster, are writing and your unique style will start to come out naturally. 8. Conclusion: okay, so that completes our class on composing great melodies. I hope that you were able to pick up some tools and techniques to make writing melodies easier for you. And I hope that now you feel like you can dive in and start writing your own abilities. Your project for this class is to write your own eight measure melody. Using the court progression that I provided in my demo. You're going to write your melody in the key of B flat major using the B flat major scale and 34 times use some combination of half notes, quarter notes and eighth notes. If you're feeling confident, adding some 16th notes to make sure to begin in and your melody on the tonic note B flat. Pay special attention to the pitches that make up each chord because those are the tones that you're going to use to create your melody. In my first class on composing melodies, I covered the topic of adding and non core tones to your melody. If you're comfortable with using non core tones than feel free to add in some of those to your melody as well, I have listed the court progression for you to use in your melody, along with the pitches that make up each chord and a downloadable. Pdf In the attached file section of this class. I encourage you to take some time to take a look at that file. When you're working on your project, I want you to focus on following the court progression, finding and using a motif, creating an interesting contour and keeping the rhythm simple. Once you've written your melody, you'll record a quick demo of it. It could be you playing your melody on an instrument such as guitar or piano. If you're comfortable using a digital audio workstation or notation software, you could also program your melody in an export an audio file. I want to stress that your demo doesn't need to be perfect in terms of the writing or the production quality. It could be a rough demo that recording your smartphone. Then you're gonna upload your recordings to Soundcloud Dropbox or YouTube and poster links in the Project gallery. I encourage you to post works in progress and sketches and to write record and post as many melodies as you can. The more you practice this technique the easier it gets and the more second nature becomes . Be sure to read the project description on the class page, where I have listed out the specific steps for your assignment and be shorted. Download the supplemental materials in the attached file section. Remember, the goal of this project is to get you writing and trying some new concepts and sharing your results with your classmates so that we can learn together. And remember what I've presented in this class or concepts for you to try their guidelines , not rules. And as you're writing, remember that often times the simplest melodies are the most memorable above all Trustor years. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions that you may have by posting them to the community section on the class page. I'll do my best to reply to you as quick as I can. Thank you so much for watching this class, and I can't wait to hear your great melodies