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Compose Yourself, Part 1: Make a Memorable Melody

Dear piano-playing reader,

Have you ever found certain patterns in your repertoire, a neat turn of phrase, an unexpected harmony that makes you smile, and you wonder how the composer did that?

Does your curiosity fuel your creative juices and make you want to write music?

Whether you get the urge to create a new piano solo, or you haven't explored composition yet but think you might like to (it's fun!), I encourage you to stay tuned for my summer series of posts on composing yourself. :-)

Let's begin with melody. How do you create a memorable melody that pleasantly lingers in a person's mind?

Here are five strategies for building a beautiful melody that will awe your listeners and make them want to hear more from you, dear pianist-turned-composer!

1. Keep it simple.

An effective melody uses a limited range of tones that don't wander randomly all over the place. You will want to use mostly stepwise motion, and save the leaps for special parts of your melody.

2. Pair your melody with an interesting rhythmic motif.

The rhythm you use --- how long or short a time you hold each note of your tune --- gives shape to your melody. Too many of the same length of note will dull even the most lovely series of pitches.

But too many different rhythm values, with no pattern to them, will detract from the simplicity of your melody. Choose a rhythmic motif (pattern) you like, use it often, and fill the remainder of your piece with just a few, well-placed rhythmic ideas used sparingly.

See my next post in this series for an in-depth discussion on crafting your piece's rhythm scheme with vitality and flair.

3. Use repetition for cohesiveness.

A good melody will often have a primary theme and one or more secondary themes. In whichever way you decide to structure your piece, return to your opening theme often enough to establish its importance. When you take the time to craft a fabulous primary theme, you don't want to play it once and never let it reappear!

To keep repetition from being too, well, repetitive, though, consider changing up one or two musical elements on the repeat(s).

How about playing your main theme in a different octave?

Or maybe you'll want to change up the rhythm and melody by joining a skip with an in-between pitch. For example, instead of playing E and C with consecutive quarter notes, you might play E-D-C with two eighth notes and a quarter note.

Also consider playing at a different dynamic level the second or third time around.

4. Freshen your melody with a surprise.

This is the fun part! Perhaps you'll choose a big leap that appears nowhere else in your melody.

Maybe you'll want to throw in a note that doesn't belong in the key signature you've chosen.

And how about linger on that non-diatonic tone a little longer, to break the flow of your rhythm ever so slightly...?

5. Check your melody with the "hum" test.

Can you remember your tune and hum it while doing other things away from the piano? Do your family members hum your piece after you've been working on it?

That's a good sign your melody passes the hum test. :-)

Bring your unique personality into your composition. Let your imagination flow, then pick a select few elements from your musical meanderings to tighten into your own memorable melody.

Ready to try it? Go for it!

In future posts of this series, we'll talk about rhythmic and harmonic tools and more to enliven your original creations. Feel free to share in the comments how your creative process is going!

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