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  • Jackie Marx


General Melody Creation Guidelines

(Sheila Davis Workshop)

  1. Begin with a motif; the idea is to make a lot out of a little, not vice versa.

  2. Establish unity of your thematic design (motif) by some form of immediate repetition. Examples: Exact repetition (Blues in the Night), at a higher pitch (On a Clear Day), or lower pitch (Just the Way You Are).

  3. Avoid landing on the same note at the end of successive phrases. (Blowing in the Wind). Instead, vary the landing places (It Was a Very Good Year).

  4. Either within one section or from section to section, vary the direction of your melodic curve. (Fly Me to the Moon).

  5. Tension and Release is an essential aspect of effective melody writing. Rhythmic tension and release are most obvious when a series of rapidly moving notes (tension) is followed by a sustained note (rest) (What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?). Melodic tension is created by the use of a large interval followed by a whole or half-step resolution in the opposite direction (Somewhere Over the Rainbow).

  6. Create a melodic climax--which should match the lyric's climax. Ideally, the highest note of the tune should occur once and well past the halfway point of the song, preferably at or near the end. (You'll Never Walk Alone).

  7. Be mindful of the singer's limitations. Generally, a melody spans not less than a 9th, not more than a 12th. (If it's less than an octave, chances are it will lack a climax. If more than the 12th, it may have too many climaxes.

  8. Since the 18th Century, it has been a convention that a song begins and ends in the same key.

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