March 13, 2016

Melody is king. No other melodic element in your arrangement will ever be as important – not chords, not the bass, not pluck sounds.

So it makes sense to take a really close look at what makes a great melody and which parts it’s made up of.

If you’ve read my post on how to write chord progressions that grab an audience (which I recommend you do, if you haven’t done it yet), a lot of what you’ll hear in this post will seem familiar.

To me, chords and melodies are almost the same thing anyways (and if you would like to hear about that, let me know in the comment section), so it’s no big surprise that melodies come in the same types as chords:

Color Melodies, i.e. melodies that sound pretty
Direction Melodies, i.e. melodies that go somewhere
Blends, i.e. melodies that use both color AND direction

Color Melodies

Color melodies are melodies that rely heavily on groove. They are often made up of just one or two notes, like the chorus from Taylor Swift’s Style or the “I can see your halo (halo, halo)” bit from Beyoncé’s Halo. In other words, they have a clear base pitch.

Without chords, color melodies are intrinsically boring. They are not going anywhere and they don’t provide a lot of color by themselves.

Add some chords though, and each new chord brings in a new emotion. What emotion this is depends entirely on what interval the melody represents in this new chord:

1 (root): strong, hypnotic
2: dreamy, open
b3: sad
3: happy
4 (only in minor chords): dreamy, open
5: strong, hypnotic
b6: sad, tense
6: grand
b7: funky
7: dreamy
8: see 1

Do you see the commonalities with what we talked about in the post on harmony? If not, go back and read it again, because seeing this connection is important.

Direction Melodies

Direction melodies use more different notes and don’t have a clear base pitch. The verses to Bernhoft’s Choices or C’mon Talk are great examples.

Because it doesn’t come back to the same pitch over and over again, this type of melody is quite challenging to sing. Because audiences have troubles singing along, it has mostly disappeared from pop music and can only be found in jazz or soul.

This is a shame, because as you can hear from the two Bernhoft songs, they can sound absolutely fantastic.


This is the kind of melody we hear day in, day out on the radio and it combines the two previous types.

If you’re ever struggling finding a good melody to a song, going at it with a blend approach is a pretty safe bet.

Blends are melodies that shift their base pitch every 1 or 2 bars. Take Rachel Platten’s Fight Song: It changes its base pitch from the root to the 2 to the 3 to the 4. In other words, it moves up, up, up. Or take R.City’s Locked Away (feat. Adam Levine), going from 3 to 1 to 4 to 3.

Remember these key differences:

  • Color melodies are groove-based, direction melodies are melodic. Blends are both.
  • Color melodies have one base pitch, direction melodies have none, blends change it every one or two bars
About the Author Friedemann Findeisen

I’m Friedemann Findeisen, a creative weirdo from the middle of nowhere. I love making things, learning things and helping people. If I don’t make, I get restless. If I don’t learn, I feel empty. If I don’t help, I feel ungrateful. Good things have happened when I managed to balance all three.

In the past, I’ve been a magician, public speaker, music video director, songwriter, producer, board game designer, author, publisher, YouTuber, music profiler, illustrator, musician and film composer.

The best things I've ever made are Holistic Songwriting Academy, my book The Addiction Formula, the YouTube show The Artists Series, my Grunge album Canohead and my board game Cantaloop.

  • Very nice… approachable
    Is it worth mentioning the basics of species counterpoint as well?
    I don’t know all the rules about actual counterpoint but the basics have served me very well for melody writing

    • Hi Scrapheaper!

      Yes, I agree. Counterpoint does have its merits. I’m actually working on a workshop on Hook-Writing at the moment where I’ll be talking about counterpoint in depth and how it applies to modern Songwriting. 🙂

  • You mention that direction melodies use more different notes and don’t have a clear base pitch. My question is, how would these different notes in direction melodies create these emotions, “1 (root): strong, hypnotic, 2: dreamy, open, b3: sad, 3: happy, 4 (only in minor chords): dreamy, open, 5: strong, hypnotic, b6: sad, tense, 6: grand, b7: funky, 7: dreamy, 8: see 1” if all these notes are being used together and are constantly changing the way they attack (as an interval) against the chords?

    And secondly, when you say that R.City’s Locked Away (feat. Adam Levine) goes from 3 to 1 to 4 to 3, is this movement to the chords changes or to the key of the song?

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