By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer
The guitar is a chordophone, which means it can handle both single-note melodies and backing chords. Whether you start with chord progressions or lyrics, your ultimate goal as a songwriter is to create unique and memorable lead melodies. In this article, we’ll show you some tips and techniques for writing great melodies on your guitar, even if you’re just taking beginner guitar lessons.
Know intervals, scales and music theory
Probably the most important aspect to study in melodic writing is your intervals. In western music we use 12 notes at semitone intervals, in other cultures they have quarter tones and microtone spaces. It is the sound between the spaces that makes all the difference, a note or even a beat only has meaning when it is led or followed by another.
Focus on your semitone difference in the 12 Western notes and listen to famous examples of descending and ascending intervals in the chromatic scale. You will notice how common perfect intervals are, as they are consonant and sound pleasant. While minors and tritones have more tension and are used heavily in jazz, blues, rock and dance. Memorize every interval!
Our intervals become guitar scales and they keep the same attributes; a blues scale uses chromaticism in the scale and tritones, which gives it that “blues” vibe. A major scale formula is simply 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 and our circle of fifths gives us all the major formulas. Try the others for new melody ideas.
Major pentatonic 1 2 3 5 6
Minor 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Blues 1 b3 4 #4 5 b7
Dominant Phrygian 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7
There are many other ladder formulas, when playing new ones be sure to pay attention to the intervals and general feel. Or you can just take a major scale in any key and start experimenting with raising and lowering scale degrees to create your own sequence for the mood you want.
Chords and progressions
Guitar music is mostly centered around a handful of guitar chords and progressions that are used over and over. Sometimes the whole song uses the same progression, other times it alternates between verse, chorus, and bridge. These are some of the most common you’ll see, use a Nashville Number guitar chord chart to play them in any key you like.
Even if you’re not advanced in music theory, you can research which chord progressions and scales go together well. It’s the key to our melodic writing, trying out different scales, extended chords and progressions.
Know the rhythms and structures
Counters and Rhythms
Knowing the different rhythms and time signatures used in each genre is essential. One of the best ways to practice melodic writing is to have a drum machine, drummer, or rhythm accompaniment. Even if you only have a looper pedal, it’s useful to play a chord progression or beat, then riff it with different scales and intervals.
structure of the song
Pay attention to the structures of the songs you’re aiming to write, such as the number of bars and how the sections break up. You want to make sure that the melody you write will fit and sound appropriate. And we generally want the melody of each section to repeat as much as necessary, unless our goal is more progressive or less pop genres.
Study the fretboard
Know your key
If you’re writing a song for yourself, know which chords and note ranges are right for you. Use the circle of fifths and some chord progressions above and try playing in different keys. Keys like G, C, A and D are very easy on the guitar and great if you can sing. If you’re more suited to more difficult guitar chords, you can always use a capo, or just take the time to learn the more difficult Ab. , Eb and Bb.
Know the neck of the guitar
When changing intervals and adding extended chords, it helps to know our barre chords. Learn the basic major and minor chords, then from there we just add the other intervals as needed. Chord inversions happen when we stack our notes in different orders, and it’s common to see slash bass chords in our guitar playing. Use these inversions and barre chords to play bass lines and added melodies with the chords on the fretboard. A capo should only be used for quick tonal changes and easier singing, but never to avoid learning the fretboard!
Use backing track apps and chord progression generators
Make sure you understand some of these basic musical theories and playing principles on your guitar first, and then let technology help you as much as possible. There are DAWs, apps, and other software that provide backing tracks, drum beats, bass lines, and random chord progressions. Let these devices and libraries help you create quick song skeletons so you can focus on experimenting with the melody.
Effects and new sounds
If you have an electric, electro-acoustic guitar, or even a great microphone, you can use software and apps to create new sounds. And of course, guitar pedals and amps are available in analog versions for players who prefer a real pedal. Either way, effects are a great way to come up with new melody ideas and riffs. Sometimes those same intervals and scales are boring until fueled by reverb, delay, distortion, and all sorts of signal manipulation.
Keep the lyrics in mind
Many songwriters create melodies with the lyrics in mind, making sure the notes and intervals can be sung by you or someone else. Often we realize that we can’t put as many syllables in 2 measures as our notes suggest! Make sure that the melody you play and write will sound nice or even distorted when sung, depending on your genre preference.
If you’re having trouble with lyric ideas, try places like the random generator on Wikipedia or choose any current or trending topic. If you have to, you can even use scat or nonsense lyrics to keep a melody in mind. And always be sure to write it down and save the sample or it will be forgotten. When creativity strikes, don’t miss the opportunity!
Copy other songs, sort of!
Besides active listening and ear training, copying other songs is one of the best music tips out there. Many of the most famous songs of all genres have been heavily inspired by the music of the past. Of course, you can’t take all the notes, rhythms, accents, and more details of the melody and just steal them. But many songwriters and musicians take other ideas and tweak them slightly.
The word “take” isn’t even the proper term, in our society we legally consider arrangements of musical notes as property. It’s ridiculous because there is no possession of notes, the artist simply has his interpretation. Most guitarists and other instrumentalists play what they love and make it something more personal, their interpretation.
Know your music theory and guitar fretboard, and practice other songs often and you’ll do a better job when writing song melodies. It’s like any other art or craft, know your rules and patterns and it becomes an easy process. You won’t need the right emotion or feeling because you’ll know exactly which notes are creating which vibrations. Practice your writing as much as your technique and it will soon be an easier process!