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Top Tips on How to Write Melodies for Hit Songs

March 7, 2024 — Learn how to create melodies that turn into hit songs. Follow these tips from pro songwriters on how to write and come up with melodies for the top charts.

Woman and man creating music in a bedroom

Musical copyright law zeroes in on melody for a reason. It's a tricky blend of rhythm, pitch, and immersion. Mastering the art of crafting the perfect melody is crucial if you want your song to connect with listeners.

Melody varies for everyone and shifts with periodic trends. In the 20th century, it was all about pitch; but now, rhythm often takes center stage. This article will help you get a better grasp on what a melody is, what it involves, and how to write a melody yourself

How Melody Writing Works

In melody writing, it often works best to keep the melody simple. Think about your favorite songs; they likely have a simple melodic structure. Modern melodies often focus more on rhythm than pitch, but this varies from artist to artist.

Repetition and variation are crucial in music, and this is especially true for the melody. The melody should be repeated enough for familiarity but not bore listeners. Change things up, while keeping the underlying structure intact.

So, what determines what works as a melody and what doesn't? In most cases, the melody goes over a chord progression. The background chords determine which notes will sound good and which will sound dissonant.

In classical music theory, musical scales help determine which notes sound good over specific chord progressions. Using this theory is a fantastic way to create a melody that works, as these rules have been fine-tuned for centuries. However, don't fall into the trap of thinking classical music theory is the only way to make a melody.

You can easily create great melodies outside traditional scales. In blues music, there's a "blue note" in the scale, where the player intentionally strays from the "correct" notes. This tasteful dissonance is often what gives blues melodies their signature sound.

1. Learn How to Write Melodies From the Greats

One great way to learn top-notch melody crafting is by studying the greats. In songwriting, there are two main camps. The first camp prioritizes melody, letting it guide the lyrics.

Kurt Cobain, for example, was known for his instinctive songwriting style. He'd create a simple progression and craft a catchy melody on top. For Cobain, lyrics were often an afterthought. This is heard in his early demos, where he'd often sing improvised vocals with no real lyrics.

The other way to write songs involves focusing on lyrics first, then letting words shape the melody. Bob Dylan is famous for this style. For him, lyrics are so vital that he sees himself more as a poet than a songwriter.

2. Take Advantage of Technology

Kurt Cobain and John Lennon were legendary songwriters, but you've got an edge that they didn't have. Today's music technology makes experimenting with melodies a breeze.

Take Soundtrap's Chord Picker, for example. It lets you pick a song key and scale and automatically suggests chords to play in that key and scale. This is a great way to get your inspiration going and lay down a foundation for a song.

This tool helps you create melodies you'd never imagine on your own. Plus, no need to dive deep into music theory, the software handles that for you.

Don't forget to build on the chords and add your own flavor to the melody. That's the fun part about creating music, and what makes it original.

But if you do want to learn theory, there's a wealth of online resources, like the Soundrap Blog. It's never been easier to understand the technical side of music.

Remember, there's no right or wrong way to craft a melody. All that matters is whether it's a good piece of music or not.

Read more: Basic Music Theory: An Introduction for Producers and Songwriters

How to Make a Melody in Soundtrap

3. Write Melodies Using Online Collaboration Platforms

The best way to write new melodies might be through organic inspiration from fellow musicians. Picture this: a keyboardist starts a chord progression, then the guitarist adds their own top-line melody.

As the rest of the band gets in sync and starts to add their own parts, a song takes shape from everyone's contributions. But let's face it, this ideal scenario isn't always possible. Limited space or a lack of like-minded musicians can put a damper on things.

Fear not! Tech is making musical collaborations easier. Soundtrap's online DAW is a browser-based music creation tool that focuses on teamwork, letting you make melodies with partners worldwide.

Music's roots lie in collaboration, but nowadays, many musicians fly solo with their computers. Soundtrap helps you reconnect and come up with melodies alongside other artists in real-time.

Check out more of how live collaboration works in Soundtrap.

4. Lyrics, Emotion and Melody

Don't just rely on software and theory when writing melodies. Focus on communicating emotion, whether it's unease, sadness, or euphoria. People listen to music to connect with feelings, so if your melody doesn't evoke emotion, rethink it.

Usually, listeners expect the melody to match the lyrics' emotional quotient. If you're telling a sad story, the melody should feel sad, too. But songwriting is an art, and there are no strict rules. Mixing up emotions in lyrics and melody can make a unique song.

Take The Police's "Every Breath You Take" — the romantic melody makes it sound like a love song, but closer inspection of the lyrics reveals a darker meaning. Whether you're writing pop or something experimental, aim to make the listener feel something.

5. Don't Forget About Rhythms

Though melody's usually about pitch, don't overlook rhythm. Funk icons like James Brown made catchy tunes mostly rhythm-based.

To create a great melody, try focusing on rhythm instead of pitch. Mixing up the rhythmic pace or adding some interesting syncopation can make your melody more intriguing.

In some musical styles, it might even be acceptable to abandon pitch almost entirely and just focus on developing a catchy rhythm.

6. You (probably) Need a Hook

Want to create a track that really resonates with your audience and has them humming the melody in the shower for days to come? You need a hook! So what exactly is a hook?

Simply put, a hook is a catchy and memorable phrase in the melody and lyrics. Generally, you'd put a hook in a chorus section, but this isn't always the case.

For example, a guitar riff can often count as the hook. Think about the intro to P!nk's "So What" or "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple. Chances are the first things that come to mind are the iconic guitar riffs.

Usually, a hook should be quite simple. The simple hooks tend to be the ones listeners remember the most, so don't get too complicated.

With that said, as always, there are no hard rules. You could potentially write a hit that doesn't even have a discernable hook or even a chorus. For example, you're probably familiar with REM's Losing My Religion. Try singing the chorus. You can't because there isn't one!

7. Getting Creative Feedback

Songwriting can be tricky. You might have a hit, but after hours of work, you can't tell. Even the best tunes could've been tossed by their creators!

Take Sweet Child 'O Mine by Guns and Roses. Slash came up with that famous riff, but he didn't think it was special. It was just a guitar exercise! But Axl Rose heard it, wrote lyrics, and made history. Without Rose's input, we'd have missed a great hit.

So, always get outside opinions. We're often too critical of our own work. A melody you think is "meh" might be a hit in disguise.

8. Learn to Overcome Creative Blocks

Wanna learn to write melodies and lyrics without a hitch? You'll need to tackle creative blocks head-on. You know, when you're writing a song, and suddenly you're stuck. A great melody with no words, or lyrics that need a tune. This is called writer's block.

Don't sweat it! Many hit songs faced creative blocks, too. Take "Sweet Child o' Mine", for example. The famous "Where do we go now?" bridge happened because they didn't know where to take the song. The question became the answer-and bam! Iconic lyrics.

Chop Suey by System of a Down had a similar story. Stuck on the bridge section, Serj Tankian needed lyrics for his melody. Producer Rick Rubin suggested grabbing a random book (it was the Bible), and voila! Luke 23:46 inspired an unforgettable bridge.

For some creative ways of battling writer's block, read our blog post here.

Now You Know More About Melody Writing

So, now you know more about melody writing and how to craft the perfect melody for your song. If you take one thing from this article, remember that songwriting is an art form and that there's no right or wrong way to come up with a melody.

You can't hear the songwriting process when you listen to a song. All the listener cares about is what the music makes them feel.

While reading about how to come up with melodies can help you find inspiration, it's no replacement for real musical practice. If you want to craft memorable hooks and emotional melodies, you need to get writing.

If you hit creative blocks, don't worry, every artist has them. Just like a songwriter has a repertoire of songs to sing, you also need to have a collection of techniques to get past creative blocks.

And once you're ready to take your melodies to songs, Soundtrap is the perfect tool to get started. Its all-in-one music production program lets you go from idea to finished song in minutes. Try it out for free today!

Soundtrap — the online music studio

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Soundtrap is the ultimate audio production software for music makers and producers to easily collaborate and create music online, with thousands of audio loops, instruments, and samples only a click away. 

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