SONGWRITING: Coming up with vocal melodies

Triadic melodies make for the catchiest types of vocal melodies. What is a triad, you ask? Well, it’s the three notes that comprise major and minor chords. If you pick any major scale, and take the root (1st note of scale), major third (3rd note of scale) and the perfect fifth (5th note of scale, of course), those three notes make up the major chord of that scale.

C major – made up of C E G (1, 3, 5)
D major – made up of D F# A (1, 3,5)
A major – made up of A C# E (1, 3,5) and so on.

Same is true for building triads on a minor scale… though this time, the third is flatted of course (minor scales have a lowered third in them, as opposed to a “regular” third, like in the major scale).

A minor – made up of A C E (1, b3, 5)
E minor – made up of E G B (1, b3, 5)
D minor – made up of D F A (1, b3, 5) and so on.

If you write a song, let’s take for instance… a three-chord pop song…. and the chords are G, C, D, and then back to C… it’s very easy to come up with a vocal melody pattern, primarily using the notes from each chord (the triad notes).

G – sing either G, B, or D, or any combination of these.

D – sing either D, F#, A, or any combination of these.

C – sing either C, E, G, or any combination of these.

Sure, writing a melody might not sound terribly interesting if you’re only singing those three notes over each chord, but that’s where  “passing notes” (notes from the scale of that chord that aren’t the 1, 3 or the 5) come in. If you combine your triad notes with passing notes but always come BACK to the triad notes (and sing them the most frequently), in your melody… you’ll find it’s pretty easy to put melodies together, vocally. It just helps to know your scales… any teacher would tell you over and over again to practice your scales. They’re not only used to practice your technique and build speed and flashiness (and for soloing), but they’re also used to write vocal melodies… nearly all the time (especially if you get stuck).

Still stuck? Email me with any questions (my email is in the Contact info of my main website –, and I’ll explain in further detail.

The most important thing to remember is “1, 3 and 5”. Sing those notes the most often in your melody, and use other passing notes that are a little more tense or create movement (from that scale of that chord you’re singing over), and again, you’ll find that piecing together melodies isn’t as hard as it first seems.




About chriscaulder

Posted on February 26, 2012, in chord progressions, songwriting, writing melodies. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. You did a great job breaking this melody concept down. If people get stuck on where to take their melodies, chord tones are always fun options to try out….then throw in the passing tones. Good post!

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