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Music Theory Basics for Beat-Making, Part 3: Melodies




Many great artists, songwriters, and producers are guided by their ears with years of

experience, creating music that excites them in their own unique style. Knowledge of music theory concepts helps many of them reach this point and can be a crucial foundation to build from when crafting an artistic identity.


The following information is meant to be a guide for anyone looking to develop their

understanding of melodies in the world of beat-making, with basic visual examples from a digital audio workstation (DAW) for reference.


Click here to read Part 1 of this series on Rhythm.


Click here to read Part 2 of this series on Harmony.


What is a Melody?


A melody is “a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying.” The melody of a song is the tune that presides over the rest of the musical arrangement; the fluctuation of pitches typically carried by a vocal or primary instrument which is more likely to be stuck in your head than anything else in the song.


Catchy melodies are a crucial factor for reaching and retaining listeners who will keep coming back to your song time and time again after hearing it once before. For beat-making in particular, the primary melody of the vocal will often be absent until later in the production process, but secondary instrumental melodies are important for laying down the groundwork for the vocal that will come later.


Intervals


In Part 2, we learned that intervals are the distances between notes. Knowing recognizable intervals and hearing how they work in melodies will be important in this context. One of a producer’s greatest potential strengths is the ability to create a melody where notes travel in ways that are unique and surprising, but don’t feel unfamiliar or unsatisfying.


Chord Tones


Chord tones are notes that appear both in the melody and the chord happening underneath the melody. If we assume the chords occurring in the music are triads, then the chord tones would be the root, third, and fifth of that triad.


These qualities of the tonic chord, especially the root and fifth, are often some of the most prominent notes found in a melody. The chord tones of the dominant chord (V or v) are also prominent and are often used as passing tones or neighbor tones throughout melodies (more on this later).


Using chord tones frequently in a melody helps to emphasize the qualities of the harmonic content taking place beneath, though using them exclusively can make a melody sound robotic or uninteresting. This is where passing tones and neighbor tones become useful.


Passing Tone


Generally speaking, a passing tone occurs between two chord tones, acting as a stepping stone to get from one chord tone to another. This creates a more pleasant and melodic sound as opposed to jumping between chord tones sporadically at all times.


Neighbor Tone