How to Use Arpeggios to Spice Up Your Melody
We received a message from one of our Patreon members about how their melodies always feel boring, bland and seem to have something missing. This is a common problem amongst songwriters. So, in this article we’ll tackle one of the methods you can use to create more interesting melodies.
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “This Simple Melody Writing Trick will Transform Your Songwriting”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
Why Melodies Sound Boring
One of the biggest problems we have when writing melodies is that we lean too much on scale notes which are next to each other. This creates a lack of movement, which leads to disinterest.
We can describe the distance between notes either in terms of intervals or steps and leaps. An interval is expressing the distance as a number. For instance, going up the scale from C to E would be a 3rd. On the other hand, a step refers to moving either up or down to the next note of the scale, and a leap refers to jumping over at least one note in the scale.
When we construct melodies, we should aim for a good balance of steps and leaps. If we have use leaps, our melody will sound chaotic, but if we only use steps, it’ll sound like we’re just running scales. Leaps often grab our listener’s attention since they stand out a lot.
A great example of this in practice can be seen in the melody of The Beatles’ song “Hey Jude”, as below:
Why do Arpeggios Matter?
An arpeggio consists of notes constructed with small leaps – either major or minor thirds. For example, below are the notes in a C Maj 9 arpeggio:
By using arpeggios to start off our melody, we automatically start from a place where leaps are sprinkled throughout. We can see arpeggios used in this way if we revisit the melody of “Hey Jude”, as below:
Methods of Using Arpeggios
A really effective way of writing melodies is by creating a motif – which is a short musical phrase – and sequencing it either up or down the key we’re in. For example, you could play up the arpeggio, and come back down in a stepwise motion. Then, take that motif and move it up to the 3rd, 5th or 7th note, and so on, as shown below:
You could also reverse the direction of the motif – by instead going down the scale – to create variations in your melody, like so:
These motifs can really come alive once you combine them with a rhythm.
Click here to download an 80-min masterclass on picking the perfect chords, so you can get straight to making a melody out of arpeggios:
What to Keep in Mind
There are two questions to ask yourself when using the arpeggio approach to come us with melodies:
- Which note of the arpeggio to you want to start on? Eg. 1,3,5 or 7 in a Major 7 arpeggio
- Which direction do you want to go? Up or down?
Whichever direction you choose to move, you also want to look for an opportunity to reverse that direction. This is because changing direction creates contrast, and contrast is what captures your listeners.
Generally, the larger the leap, the more attention it commands from your listener. You can hear this effect in the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, where the first two notes of the melody are an octave apart.
This doesn’t mean that your leap has to be an octave apart to command attention. Even leaping a 5th can create a contrast to catch your listener’s ear.
Conclusion: How to Use Arpeggios to Spice Up Your Melody
Regardless of if you write using piano, guitar or acapella, using arpeggios is a great way to help you break out of patterns that your melodies might be stuck in. Experiment with different notes in an arpeggio to start on, and which direction to go. You’ll be amazed at how catchy and interesting your melodies start to sound.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.
Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world: