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Melody Writing

Melody writing is often thought to be a very difficult, perhaps impossible, thing to do. It's not.

It's a little difficult to be creative just because someone says so but clear your mind of any doubts and give it a try - you're not expected to write a symphony!

There's no right or wrong way to go about creating a melody but to kick-start the process of discovering what works for you, your teacher will give you some pointers and create some rules for you to follow. Once you learn those rules you can experiment with bending them!

In the Junior Cert exam you're given three choices when it comes to melody writing.

For Higher Level the choices are:

  • A A phrase set to a given text - compose a four-bar answering melody to go with words provided
  • B A phrase set to a given opening - continue a melody by adding three more bars to the one already given
  • C An answering phrase - compose a four-bar answering melody

For Ordinary level the choices are:

  • A A phrase set to a given rhythm - compose a four-bar melody using the rhythm provided
  • B A phrase set to a given opening - continue a melody by adding three more bars to the one already given
  • C An answering phrase - compose a four-bar answering melody

All of the instructions you need are on the page so read them to remind yourself (you might forget something in the exam due to nerves). The instructions will tell you what key your melody is in and remind you to end on doh so there's no excuse for getting the key wrong!

Some helpful points:

  • End on doh - it seems like the simplest thing but so many students every year don't! Remember the instructions give you the key of the melody - if the key is C major then doh is C, if the key is Bb major then doh is Bb, etc.
  • Add phrasing - this is also in the instructions but left out by many a student every year. You can use either commas or phrase marks.
  • Shape your melody - Don't just write notes anywhere on the stave. An examiner knows straight away if you've done that so you may as well not have bothered. I always say that a good melody is easy to sing. The notes shouldn't be leaping up and down all over the stave. Decide if you're going too end on low or high doh and plot a shape for your melody - will it be a straight line up or down to the end or will there be a bend in the middle? Go from one note to a nearby note by step or small leap. My students base each bar on a chord for structure (i.e. use the notes of that chord on the strong beats of the bar and add passing notes in between) and end either ti-doh or re-doh. (Side note ti-doh or re-doh should be beside each other on the stave, not a leap away, that's just difficult)