Writing Music 101: Composing Melodies | Jason Rivera | Skillshare

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Writing Music 101: Composing Melodies

teacher avatar Jason Rivera, Music Instructor

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Assignment


    • 3.

      What is a Melody?


    • 4.

      Scales and Chords Review


    • 5.

      Composing a Melody


    • 6.

      More About Melodies


    • 7.

      Getting Inspired


    • 8.

      Closing Thoughts


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About This Class

In this 30-minute class you will learn the basics of writing melodies from composer Jason Rivera. This class covers the fundamentals of creating an original melody—walking you through the process step-by-step.

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

Anyone interested in cultivating their skills as a songwriter, composer, vocalist or instrumentalist can benefit from this class. Prior knowledge and/or experience in music is helpful but not required—beginners are welcome!

If you need more background info on scales check out my class Writing Music 101: Scales & Modes.

If you are interested in learning more about composing melodies check out my follow-up course Writing Music 101: Composing Melodies II.

For a deeper look at creating chord progressions using the technique described in the Scales & Chords Review lesson, check out my other class Writing Music 101: Create a Chord Progression in a Major Key.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jason Rivera

Music Instructor


Hi! I'm Jason - a full time musician, composer and instructor. I've been playing and writing music for over 25 years, and teaching music for over 10 years. You can check out my guitar tips and tricks on my Guitar Teaching YouTube Channel. Alongside creating music courses, I'm a composer for media projects--films, trailers and e-Learning courses.

I really enjoy creating these classes for Skillshare and always aim to make courses that are fun with a focus on foundational techniques and creativity.

I have a variety of classes available here, covering the basics of guitar, ukulele, music theory and songwriting. I encourage you to take a look through the classes below.

I am passionate about providing as much support as I can throughout your music learning journey... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hello, I'm Jason Rivera. I'm a multi instrumentalist and composer. You can find me online at www dot Jason Rivera music dot com. I have written on and played on countless recordings, have toward the U. S. As a performer and have written for and conducted some of the best live musicians in the world. Here in Los Angeles, this class is a deep dive on the basics of writing a melody. My goal is to provide you with the fundamental tools that you need to begin writing your own melodies. I often think about music in terms of studying and practicing your craft as it relates to nature. If you want to grow a crop, you plan to see it in the earth. You water it and then let the sun do its part, and it's the same with music. You study and practice every day, and if you remain committed to it, eventually you'll reap a harvest. In the context of music, your harvest is the ability to express yourself and new ways and with more freedom. I once heard a great quote that says the best time to plant the tree was 20 years ago. Second best time is now, so with that in mind, let's dive into the lessons 2. Your Assignment: in this class, I'm gonna guide you through the fundamentals of writing an original melody from scratch. Some of the topics we will cover include a review of chords and scales using scales effectively phrasing, tension and release rhythmic repetition and non core tones. I'm gonna cover these subjects and give you tips and techniques for your own projects along the way. For your assignment, you will take the techniques that I provide you with. Create your own original melody, record a rough demo of it and then upload your results to soundcloud, YouTube or dropbox and post a link to your file in the project gallery. Your demo recordings don't have to be Hi, fi. It can be a simple recording on your smartphone. I encourage you not to belabor your assignment and to trust your instincts. The goal of this project is to get you writing with some new ideas and to share your results with your classmates so that we can all grow as songwriters and composers together . 3. What is a Melody?: Okay, so let's start this class by defining a melody. A melody is a logical Siris of notes that move along in time. One after another, a tune set to a beat. The notes of a melody have to relate to and follow each other. Melody is the singing side of music. People usually think of melody as a tune that's easy to remember, and that sticks in your mind. It's the most memorable part of a song or composition that your singing or humming long after the music stops playing. When melodies aircraft ID well, they can help to tell the story of a piece of music. 4. Scales and Chords Review: before we dive into writing a melody, I want to make sure that we have some foundational information in place on chords and scales. If we have a working handle on chords and scales, that's gonna make writing a melody so much easier for this demo, we're gonna be working in the key of C major. I'm going to be working in the C major scale. The reason I picked this key and scale is for simplicity sick, since there are no sharps or flats and either the key or the scale. Major skills are the most common type of scale, and they're comprised of two whole steps, followed by 1/2 step, followed by three whole steps and ending with 1/2 step. If we start this pattern on the note, see, we'll end up with the C major scale. So we have a whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step and half step so you can see that there are only half steps in the C major scale between the notes E and F on B and C. Major scales can start on any note, but they always conform to this step pattern. again, the step pattern is whole step, whole step, half step, hold step, whole step, whole step half step. There are many other scales available to music writers, and they each have their specific pattern off whole steps in half steps and all scales have a specific sound and moved to them. For this class, we're focusing on the major skill. Let's play through this C major scale so that we can hear our palette of notes that we have to choose from. The C major scale has a bright and cheerful sound to it. One thing that I want to point out here is the leading tone of the scale. The leading tone is the seventh note of the scale, and it's 1/2 step below the tonic or first note of the scale. This leading tone has a special quality that pulls towards the tonic note and wants to resolve on the tonic note. In the C major scale. The leading tone is the note B. You can hear how it pulls towards the new etc. When it comes to chords in the key of C major. We also have a palette of options to work with the cords in a major key are intertwined with the major scale. From each note of the C major scale. You can build a court. Let's walk through them So we have the notes, see, and we can build a C major chord. The note. D we can build the d minor chord. The note e uh, we can build the e minor chord note f uh, we can build the f major chord note g waken build the g major chord The note a waken build The a minor chord I know be we can build the be diminished chord So those are our seven chords that we have to work with From this palette of choices, I've chosen a simple court progression that we're gonna work with in this class and that c major d minor, the G major and then back the c major. Uh, so we'll have one chord per measure in 44 time. This is a good point to mention that I have another class in my writing music one on one, Siri's called create a court progression in a major key. In that class, I walk you through the process of creating and developing your own court progressions in a major key. I'm mentioning my other class just in case. That's something that might be of interest to you. So that's the end of our quick review of scales and quartz. I hope that was either good refresher or a good primer for you. Now let's move on to the next lesson. 5. Composing a Melody: All right. So here we are. Let's dive into our lesson on composing a melody so we know that we're in the key of C Major and we have our court progression. And 44 but we're gonna be writing a melody on top of it's important that we have these two pieces of information before we start writing and the reason for that as we want our melody to grow out of and reinforce our court progression and are key signature. It's a good idea to base your melody on the specific scale, and we've chosen our scale already. See, Major, now we want to look at our melody from a macro view and we need to think in terms of phrasing. The structure we're going to give our melody is to keep it to two bar phrases for a total of a four measure melody. By the end of the 1st 2 bars, we're going to create a feeling of tension that has then resolved by the end of the second half of the melody and measure for how do we achieve this? Well, first we focus on using the tonic the third and the fifth of the scale. So in the case of C Major, you have the tonic note. See the third E on the fifth G. Those are also the three notes that make up the first court of our court progression. See, Major. When using these notes, try and have them land on the primary beats of the measures. Beats one and three and 44 By focusing on these notes to start out, we also reinforce our key signature C major. So let's start there Will try beat one as eight notes on the notes, see and beat to as 1/4 note on the note. See for beat three will try 1/4 note on the note e and beat four as 1/4 note on the note. E. So that's our first measure of our melody on top of our first court C major. At this point, I want to also mention that it's a good idea to send to your melody around a pitch. We'll call this our home pitch. You can start the melody on that pitch and end on it, but your home pitch doesn't have to be the tonic of the scale. You can choose either the route the third or the fifth. But you should avoid having each measure of your melody center around a different pitch. And this demo I'm gonna use the notes see as my home pitch. Two other points that I want to mention before we continue writing are that your melody should move mostly in steps. In other words, one note in your melody should flow into the next without leaping around to other notes that are far away. So if I'm on the note E, I could step up to the note F, which is adjacent to it. Moving up in this way helps to shape the melody and also to propel it forward. The other point that I want to mention is using repetition of specific rhythms so that you create a rhythmic signature to your melody. A lot of melodies used this technique, and the listener expects to hear some repetition. It helps to make the melody easier to remember. So again, we have our first chord and our first measure of our melody. Now we're moving on to our second corps de miner and our second measure of our melody. So I know that my home pitches the notes, see? And as I mentioned earlier, we want this second measure toe end with some tension, and I also want to use some rhythmic repetition. So let's try be one as eighth notes on the notes, see and B to as 1/4 note on the note. See yeah for beat three will try 1/4 note on the note e. So up to that point, the melodies been an exact repetition from Measure one for beat for Let's Try 1/4 note on the note. D. The D is the second note of the scale and helps to build a little bit of tension right there. Okay, now we're on to the second half of our melody. One way you could approach this is to have the last two measures of the melody essentially repeating the 1st 2 measures. But making sure your very last note lands on the tonic of the scale. This will give the melody a sense of resolution. You can also add in the leading tone of the scale, which again, in the C major scale is the note B right before you land on the tonic of a scale for extra attention As I mentioned in our scale and chord review, leading tones lead back to the root note, and they helped to close a melody. So now, with that in mind, we're moving onto our third corgi major and the third measure of our melody. Let's try Beat one as eighth notes on the note D and B two as 1/4 note on the note. D for Beat three and beat four will try a nice little eighth note. Run starting on the note e and ending on the note. B on the end of beat for So right there. We have a nice downwards motion that ends in our leading tone to note. B. That leading tone gives us a nice segue way into our last measure, our last measure of our phrases over the final chord C major, and we're gonna land on the notes see in our melody, which again is our tonic note of the scale and our home pitch. We're going to sit on that note, see for a whole note. Having the rhythmic pace slowed down right there helps to indicate that a listener that the melodic phrases finished, let's listen to the whole four bar melodic phrase. So there's our little melody. It's pretty simple, but it has a nice flow to it, and it actually has a nice vocal quality to it. Before we close out this lesson, I want to give you some other food for thought as you're writing your own melody First from a macro view, think of giving your melody shape. The shape of a melody is the curve of melody makes. You could have it rising with tension and the first half of the melody and then sinking and release in a downward motion in the second half of the melody. For my demo here, I didn't have my melody rising up the scale too far, but I did have it released downwards towards our tonic note. In the second half, your melody should have an overall flow like this. It helps to propel the melody forward, giving it excitement emotion to give your melody shape. You can also use repetition either exact repetition or, ah, slightly altered repetition. This was a technique that I also incorporated throughout my demo. Repeating rhythmic phrases helps the melody to stick in your mind. So that's the end of our main lesson on crafting a melody. I hope that gave you a nice foundation and some good techniques for you to work with. Let's move on to our next lesson. 6. More About Melodies: in this video lesson, I want to mention a handful of other tips and techniques for writing melodies. So let's dive right in one additional technique that I use the My melody demo was implementing some non court tones and measure three of my melody on Beat three. I played the note E, which is not part of the core that's playing underneath the G major court, that the right there is a non quarto. More specifically, it's a neighbor time. A neighbor tone is a non core tone that moves in stepwise motion from 1/4 tone either directly above or below the court tone and then resolves back to the same court tone. So on my demo, the note D as a part of the court g major, and so it's 1/4 tone. Then the melody steps up to the note e the neighbor tone and then back down to the no. D, the court time. Now, in the same measure on Beat four, I'm using another type of non court on a passing tone. A passing tone is a non core tone, prepared by 1/4 tone, a step above or below it. And then it's resolved by continuing in the same direction again in stepwise motion to the next court tone. That next court tone could either be a part of the core that's currently sounding or of the next chord in the next record progression. So I'm beat four. I play the notes, see which is not part of the court G major that sounding during that measure. So, the notes see, is a passing tone to the note B, which is 1/4 tone and part of the court G major. Adding, in these types of non core tones is a great way to add some interest to your melodies. My suggestion, especially when first starting out is to first write your entire malady using quarter tones only and then go back in and add some non core tones. This approach will help you to control the shape and the sound of your melody without getting overwhelmed. Also, be aware that when you use non core tones, try and use them on week beats of a measure beats two and four and 44 Also, if you use a passing tone, try and surround it with court tones, as I did in my demo. I surrounded the notes. See with the notes D and B, which are both quarter tones and part of the core G major. And finally, remember to have your non core tones moved by step. This will help you to maintain control over your melody and give it a beautiful shape. When writing your melody, think of it as the heart of your music, the part that you should be able to sing or home. And I mean this literally. Be sure to ask yourself, Is your melody singable? Does it have spaces for breath as you're writing, literally sing the melody out loud, even if you're not a great singer. A good melody has a natural vocal quality to it, and the melody almost never goes out of the range of a normal singing voice, either too high or too low. So be sure you're melodies have this vocal quality. Also, take note that the idea is that we're covering this class can be applied to any melodic instrument, including the human voice. The melodies that stick in your mind are usually the most pleasing to the year, and when writing your melodies, you don't necessarily have to use complex rhythms. Techniques were discussing in this class, such as phrasing, repetition, tension and release of what's going to help you to create memorable melodies Before we close this lesson, I want to quickly mention that there are some writers that compose their melodies first and then create courts to support the melody. And that's a completely valid way of writing a melody in this class we're approaching writing a melody and a very fundamental way by creating our court progression first and then building our melody on top of it. Lastly, please note that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing a good melody. What I've covered in this class are solid techniques to ground you and give you a good place to start. Good jumping off points. Melody is exactly what a great composer wants it to be. It's an individual expression and unique Teoh each writer. So that's the end of our second lesson on crafting a melody. I hope that gave you some additional techniques and some extra food for thought. Now let's move on to our next lesson on finding inspiration 7. Getting Inspired: all right, so let's talk about getting inspired to write a melody. One of the best ways that I know of to get inspired is by listening to a lot of music. I listen to music every day. The way I see it, the more the merrier. Since this classes specifically on writing melodies, I've put together a playlist for you that has great examples of melody. It's got several pieces of music and it classical works by Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and other great composers and the project description. On the class page, you'll find the link to the playlist and a list of the compositions in the attach files. If classical music isn't your thing, no big deal. You can find great melody writing and practically every genre of music. I would recommend trying to find the sheet music to your favorite songs. In analyzing the melody, look for the techniques that we've discussed in this class, such as phrasing, movement by steps, repeating rhythms, etcetera. Listening to an analyzing other people's music is a great way to learn and to get inspired . There's a great byproduct of listening to music, which is that you absorb some of the textures and sounds by osmosis. So I would suggest listening to the music that inspires you, knowing that aspects of that music will naturally seep into your own writing. Last but not least, I believe that living life provides the best inspiration for writing music. Take your dog for a walk, read a book, watch a movie, attend a live concert. The more life you've lived, the more experience you have to draw from. For your own writing dot stand of our lesson on getting inspired, I hope that provided you with some new resource is and ideas for getting inspired and motivated to write your own melodies. Now let's move on to our last lesson where I'm gonna lay out your class project for you. 8. Closing Thoughts: Okay, so we've made it all the way through this class on composing melodies. Congratulations on making it all the way through. I hope that you picked up some useful tools and techniques along the way, and I hope that now you feel ready to dive in and start writing your own melodies. Your project for this class is to write your own four measure melody using the steps and techniques are discussed in the lessons. In my demo, I gave you a court progression to write your melody On top of if you have experience writing court progressions, by all means, feel free to use your own and to write your melody on top of it. Once you've written your melody, you'll record a quick demo of it. It could be you playing your melody on an instrument you can sing your melody. Or if you're comfortable using a digital audio workstation, you could program your melody using MIDI. I want to stress that your demo doesn't need to be perfect. It could be a rough demo that you record on your smartphone. Then you're gonna upload your recordings to Soundcloud Dropbox or YouTube and post your links on the Project gallery. I encourage you to post works in progress and rough sketches and to write record and post as many melodies as you can. The more you practice these techniques, the easier it gets. You will get to the point where you really don't have to think much about the technical aspects. The ideas will flow out naturally once the techniques are second nature to you. Be sure to read the project description on the class page, where I've listed out the specific steps for your assignment and even more detail. And be sure to download the supplemental materials in the attached file section. At this point, I want to mention that I'll be creating a follow up to this class on composing melodies that will build off of this class and cover more advanced topics on buying melodies. So please be on the lookout for that. Finally, remember to have fun with this process and feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have by posting them in the community section on the class page. I'll do my best to answer your questions as soon as I can. Thank you so much for watching this class, and I can't wait to hear your melodies