Your song’s melody is crucial. A poorly-written tune can kill even the best of lyrics. So where do you start with composing one? In this quick guide, we’ll look at how to begin melody writing and on which note you should start your next tune.
What Note Do You Start A Melody On?
You can start your melody on any music note you want, but choosing a note that belongs in your song’s key is the safest bet. If you want to play it extra safe and comfortable, go with a note in the tonic chord or it’s relative minor.
There’s no rule that tunes have to follow the tonic of their key. So any note will work for getting your melody going. With that in mind, the first note will set the tone for the entire song, so give it some thought.
Some notes will have more weight against your backing track than others. Depending on your key, there will be certain notes that just sound like they “belong” with the harmony. Others may sound “off” or unresolved against a given chord.
When a note sounds like it provides resolution or stability to the music, that is called consonance. Dissonance, on the other hand, is when a note sounds unstable or tense. You can use these differences in tonal compatibility to your advantage when writing melodies.
For the average mainstream song, a reliable choice for a starting note would be one that appears in:
- The song’s key or mode, and
- The tonic chord or it’s relative minor
What Are Scale Degrees?
Before we look at these starting points in detail, we need to discuss scale degrees real quick.
A scale degree is simply the position of a note in a given scale. They are represented with numbers. Scale degrees are a generic way to identify the intervals between notes in a scale without specifying what notes/scale you are in.
So no matter what major scale or key you are in, the note intervals (scale degrees) remain the same. The seven degrees for a major scale are:
- Leading Tone (in a major scale) / Subtonic (in a minor scale)
Here’s an example of which notes are represented by which degree in a few common scales:
|Scale Degree||Numeral||In C Major scale||In E minor scale|
Now let’s look at common starting notes in a bit more detail.
Common Starting Points for Melodies
Any note in your key will likely work to begin a melody. But here are a few of the most accessible scale degrees to choose for your starting note:
- First (The Tonic)
- Third (The Mediant)
- Fifth (The Dominant)
- Sixth (The Submediant)
The tonic is the root note of a scale or key. It’s also the tonal recent, and provides the most resolution to music in that scale. As such, the tonic holds power and sounds stable in a melody.
The mediant is the third degree in a scale. This is the note in a chord that makes it sound either major or minor. For example, in the C major chord, the mediant is “E”; but if you flatten the third (mediant) to an “Eb”, then you now have a C minor chord.
Opening with a mediant note will immediately pull your music in the direction of the major or minor and, therefore, may make the tune sound more emotional. Especially if you’re starting on a minor third.
The dominant, also known as the fifth, is often considered the second-most important note behind the tonic. It’s presence support the root note and forms the most basic harmonic structure: the power chord. Starting on the dominant is effective whether your song uses a major or minor scale.
The submediant is the sixth degree; it’s also the relative minor to the tonic’s major scale. Because of this, it blends well with the major and even adds a hint of sadness to a melody.
Does A Melody Have to Start on the Root Note?
No, I melody does not need to start on the root (or tonic) note. Any note in your key or scale should work. It really depends on the mood you want to establish for the song. Certain notes in a given scale will either lead, conflict, or resolve the tune.
Considering Your Vocal Range
So far, we’ve overlooked a very important factor for deciding your melody’s starting note. And that’s your actual vocal range. Which notes can you comfortably sing? How large of a range do you have?
After considering the scale and key of a song, I highly recommend that you compose your melody to fit your singing voice’s repertoire. That way you won’t write a beautiful melody only to discover you can’t hit all the notes.
Yes, you can transpose the melody up or down into your range. But you’ll want to do that first before you record the instruments or pick a beat in the original key.
The melody comprises the most essential component of your song. So use it to express as much of your mood, meaning, and style as possible. There is no guideline on what note to start with. Staying in your chosen key is preferred, but even that is just a recommendation and not a rule.
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