How to Write a Lead Melody – 2 Music Theory Hacks for Better Melodies

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In this Hack Music Theory lesson, you’ll learn two hacks that will make your lead melodies grab the attention of your listeners. But first… Tea!
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1:44 – HACK 1 – 7 Up
Lead melodies need to grab your listeners’ ears and demand their minds’ attention, otherwise your song will just blur into background music. So, in this world of ever-increasing distraction, how can your lead melody get someone’s attention? Easy, you just use our 7 Up hack! Evolution has programmed our minds to ignore everyday things (like the trees on a road you walk down every day), and instead pay attention to extraordinary things (like the first tree on that road to eventually blossom). So if you want your song to be the first to blossom, then write your lead melody with a huge interval in it, like a 7th. This hack works because small intervals are considered everyday things (they’re even heard in speech all the time), but large intervals are super rare and therefore super exciting! And lastly, for extra attention, go a 7th up (instead of down). You can see we actually start our lead melody with a 7 Up, so we’re wasting no time at all in grabbing our listeners attention! No time like the present, right? And just in case you’re not sure how to get the interval of a 7th, it’s super easy, you just start by going an octave up from whatever note you’re on, and then you just move one note down in your scale, and that’s your 7 Up. And depending on your scale or mode, you’ll either get a major 7th (which is 11 semitones), or a minor 7th (which is 10 semitones). We’ve got a minor 7th here, cos if you count all the semitones from C♯ up to B, you’ll see there’s 10. And remember, counting semitones is like counting stairs in a staircase, you don’t count the ground. So in other words, the note you start on is not counted (the first step up is one semitone).

3:38 – HACK 2 – Endings Are for Quitters!
The end of a bar, is just that, the end of a bar. It does not need to be the end of your melody. Most songwriters and producers don’t consider this, and automatically finish their melodies on (or before) the end of a bar. But endings are for quitters! One of the best hacks for writing a flowing yet unpredictable lead melody, is to hold your last note in the bar over the bar line, and into the next bar! This hack loosens up that rigid structure so many melodies adhere to, and it even creates the illusion that your lead melody is floating above the music, making it even more attention-grabbing! You can see we’re holding this E over the bar line and into the next bar. And that brings us onto an awesome side effect of this hack. Because you’re holding one note over two chords, that note’s feeling changes. Check this out: the E is a 5 over the Amaj, which sounds totally resolved, but then when the chord changes to F♯m, the E becomes a very tense ♭7, which injects a sudden momentum into the melody, cos it now desperately wants to move on and resolve. And finally, for even more melodic fluidity, end your held note on a 1/4 note beat, then give your melody an 1/8 note rest, and then start your melody again on the off-beat 1/8 note. So tasty! Think of it like this: if that unexpected held note over the bar line is your rainbow, then this surprising syncopation is your pot of gold. And with that, your listeners are now your fans!

If you want a more in-depth lesson on how to write a lead melody, we suggest this video:

Hack Music Theory is the pioneering notation-free method for making great music. Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and wife) Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series “Hack Music Theory”, and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more. Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who’s been trained by Ray to teach his Hack Music Theory method! While these Hack Music Theory YouTube lessons teach music theory for producers and DAW users, they are designed to accommodate all music makers (songwriters, guitarists, etc.) and all genres, from Electronic Music to R&B, Pop to Hip-Hop, Reggae to Rock, EDM/Dance to Metal (and yes, we djefinitely Djent!).

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