More Tips?
Receive the latest blogs, advice, lessons, theory and discussion

Riley Music Academy Music Cast: Writing a melody

FREE 10 Step Guide to becoming a better musician

Enter your details on the homepage to receive your FREE 10 Step Guide


Tension and …. Release

Hi folks

You’ll be happy to know, I made full use of my grooming efforts last Thursday and have had no less than 3 photo shoots over the last 7 days. This wasn’t exactly planned but they all seemed to coincide. Probably the most exciting preview I have seen so far is the photo below. Ironically, this doesn’t show my face at all but if you love looking at arty shots of saxophones (who doesn’t?!) then I think you’ll agree it’s pretty special!

Photo by Garry Corbett © All rights reserved

Anyway, enough of the saxophone pornography. I wanted to offer you some advice about melodies this week. I’ve been finalising a few melodies for my tunes and I want to talk through the process.

Firstly, I find writing melodies quite hard; I think most people do. Everyone is different but I tend to work in this order:

  1. Find some chords on the piano that I want to work with
  2. Arrange the chords into a sequence
  3. Arrange chord sequences into a song form (verse, chorus or A, B, C etc)
  4. Create a backing track on Logic with drums, bass and piano
  5. Busk ideas on the sax
  6. Form improvised ideas into something more concrete
  7. Play finalised melodies over and over to make tweaks and to allow them to sink in
  8. Optionally write out the melodies if they are hard and/or I can’t remember them

I realise that this may be completely the opposite for some of you but this is the system that seems to work well for me. I play harmony first, closely followed by groove. I add melody last.

When I finally arrive at my melody, I try to incorporate the age old tradition of tension and release. This is the art of beautiful melodic writing and the balance is quite tricky. Too much harmonic link up and it sounds boring or like a nursery rhyme, over use of tension can lead to alienating the listener.

I try to make melodies accessible but I also want to please my own desire for subtle dissonance. Last week I spoke about conforming and working towards other people’s expectations. This applies to melodies too. If I wanted to make an album that everyone could easily listen to then I wouldn’t have written tunes in 5/4 and with altered and whole tone scales. Conversely, I didn’t want to put people off and make the music elitist. Sometimes musicians write music for other musicians to show off what they know and I don’t always agree with it.

Below is an example of something I consider to be accessible but has elements of tension and debatable sophistication in the harmony! I’ve highlighted where the main tension and release points are and those of you who read can hopefully dig into this and take ideas for your own practice. Or not! I don’t mind. Here it is anyway…

Bars 5-8 of ‘Stronger Than You Think’ by Jay Riley © 2016

Have a great week everyone and if you haven’t already, please follow the link to my crowdfunding site. I’m almost 75% complete so I need to go for the last push.


Post a comment below (I read them all)

Leave a Reply