Stepwise Melody Rule
Learn how to avoid this common fault many songwriters and producers make in their melodies. But first... Tea!
Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory, the fast, easy and fun way to make music! If you’re new to theory, or if you just want a refresher, then read our free book "12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords". It’ll give you a super solid music theory foundation in just 30 minutes. The free download is below. Enjoy!
Right, first things first. We intentionally use the word “fault” in this context, because music is an art, so technically there can’t be any mistakes. But, and it’s a big but, there can definitely be faults, as faults are weaknesses. And unfortunately, when songwriters and producers compose by ear, their music ends up with many faults!
For the record, though, it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of our current music education system that focuses on classical and jazz, which are irrelevant for most songwriters and producers. This means they struggle finding resources to learn relevant music theory, which often results in them composing music by ear instead. This is a huge problem in the music world, and it was the inspiration for us launching Hack Music Theory back in 2016, so songwriters and producers could finally have a place to learn theory that’s actually relevant to the music they make!
Now, let’s get back to that melody. So, what is the theory fault here? Well, it contains more than three stepwise notes from the scale. In the beginning of the melody, it goes: E, D, C, B. And in the middle of the melody, it goes: E, D, C, B, A.
We refer to this as the “practising scales” fault, because whenever a melody goes stepwise through the scale (up or down), it literally sounds like the producer accidentally hit the Record button while they were practising their scales.
This fault is extremely common, as songwriters and producers who compose by ear don’t have the confidence that theory gives you to experiment, so they tend to play it safe and stick with a lot of stepwise movements. You see, our ears will always be led by musical gravity to the predictable note, like resolving the 7 up to the 8. Boring! If we wanna make cool music that stands out, we need to use theory!
And by the way, if you were wondering, our example is in the key of A minor, which is all the white notes from A to A, and the tempo is 100 BPM.
You know what’s interesting? Now that you’re aware of this fault, you’ll start noticing it everywhere. It really is sad how common it is! But, there’s a super easy hack to fix this fault. All you have to do is change a note (or two) in each scale segment, to break up that stepwise movement.
In our example, we only had to change one note in each segment to fix this fault. After this tweak, our melody now has no more than three stepwise notes, which is the maximum you want. It’s truly amazing how changing just one note can have such a massive impact on a melody!
So to conclude, our Stepwise Melody Rule is to have no more than three stepwise notes in your melodies (unless for some good reason, you really really want that). Lastly, if you need more help writing melodies, then simply use our "Melody Checklist", which tells you exactly what to do and what not to do in your melodies. The "Melody Checklist" can be found in our Songwriting & Producing PDF. Thanks for being here in the Hack Music Theory community, we really appreciate you, and we'll see you next time. Until then, we're sending you good vibes and gratitude :)
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