Knowing how to write a melody is one of the best skills a music producer can have, but how do you do that with a MIDI generator? Even if you have raw talent, it's not always easy to pull ideas from thin air and create a new song. How many times have you hummed a tune in your head, only to struggle later when you tried to capture it in your DAW?
There are millions of music producers in the world. Many have never played a traditional instrument. We're a generation that grew up with turntables, MPCs, and MIDI keyboards plugged into our computers. Instead of learning the guitar or piano, many producers program music directly into their virtual instrument's MIDI roll. You could say this is a defining feature of electronic music.
If your "instrument" is the digital audio workstation and you want to learn how to write better melodies in Fruity Loops, Ableton, Logic, Reaper, Reason, etc, then read on. Here are four methods we like to use when we're writing a melody.
How to Write a Melody From Scratch
Most music producers and songwriters know that the best melodies consist of simple phrases. A hook could be built from a few notes that repeat. As you learn the ins and outs of how to write a melody, you’ll see it comes down to choosing a short melody with little rhythms that catch your ear.
It helps to know the basics of music theory. Time is divided into measures and the name of a note's rhythm is based on its duration. A note that lasts for one quarter of a measure is called a quarter note. An eighth of a measure is an 8th note.
With an instrument in front of you, try creating a phrase of 3-4 notes. You can repeat them in any order. Let the notes go upward in motion and then try descending instead. The key is to discover short, simply rhythmic phrases. These can be strung together gradually to form full melodies in your song.
You can always create music intuitively from within your DAW using the piano roll. If you don't have a keyboard, most workstations include a virtual keybaord. So you can hit record and then mess around on this interface to audition ideas.
Listeners are looking for patterns they can follow along with. When you give them something simple but catchy, and continue to deliver that experience over and over again throughout the song, then you have a winning melody.
Steal A Melodic Pattern From Your Favorite Song
One of the best ways to learn how to write a melody is studying your favorite songs. That may seem obvious, but some folks don't want to dissect the things they love. Don't be afraid. Try learning from the musicians you admire the most.
To find ideas for a new song, you can check out websites like HookTheory's Theorytab or if you prefer sheet music, try SheetMusicDirect. Once you've found a site you like, search for your favorite artists' sheet music or tabs. It can be a relief to go there for inspiration if you're struggling to come up with new ideas.
I like to look for parts of a song that are being repeated. Nearly all melodies use subtle transition techniques to take them from one phrase to the next. So when I find a good hook, I pay just as much attention to how they move in and out of the catchiest part of the melody.
More sophisticated forms of music employ a technique called the motif. You could say that a catchy hook is a kind of motif. But usually these phrases are accompanied by some deeper sense of meaning within the music. Composers use leitmotifs to represent characters and locations in a story, for example.
There's an endless amount of musical knowledge out there in the world. Like reading a book, all you have to do is pay attention and have the intention to learn. If you can play an instrument, it's easier to bring these musical ideas to life.
Start With a Simple Chord Progression
One of the classic ways to start working on a melody is by singing along with a chord progression. It makes the whole process much easier. If you don't know how to create chords yourself, there are some great chord generator plugins on the market like Captain Chords and Scaler 2.
If you're a musician who knows how to create chord progressions already, you still might benefit from a chord generator app. Because our fingers and brain are used to thinking in patterns that are most familiar to you. There are endless ways to put chords together.
However you choose to come up with a chord progression, the goal is to create something simple that matches how you feel. You'll know it when you hear it. You can use a combination of major or minor chords as long as they are in the key signature. If playing with the same typical seven chords feels a bit limiting, chord generators include altered chords outside the key that you can explore.
You can even take the exact chord progression from a favorite song, change the key signature or tempo, and create something new. This happens all the time in music, whether people are trying to imitate someone or not.
Once you’ve come up with a progression that feels right, try humming a few words over the chords. You can take your instrument of choice and noodle something out that is close to a melody you may like. Or you can experiment with melody generator apps and use the piano roll to edit it until things sound right.
Use a MIDI Generator to Inspire a New Melody
If humming over chords and noodling on an instrument doesn't seem to cut it, here's another thing you can try. With a MIDI generator VST, you'll be able to create MIDI concepts in an app and then drag them into your DAW's virtual instrument.
So for example, with the AudioCipher app you just type words into the plugin and choose a key signature. There's a slider that lets you control the rhythm output, so you decide how fast it goes. If you want to play it by chance, there's a randomized rhythm switch too. Drag it into your piano roll and away you go!
Words have meaning and as musicians we want to communicate meaning through our music. Often we try to do that in abstract ways like the shape of a melody or the way that we perform it. But what if the deeper underlying message was literally encoded into your songs? This is the underlying question that drives this generative MIDI note technique.
Melody generator plugins like AudioCipher give you some initial notes to start with as a constraint. You can shape them into an arpeggio, use a single word to write a short hook with hidden meaning, or stack your MIDI vertically to create word-chords. Or if you're someone who dabbles in MIDI sfx, use AudioCipher to place words into the noise.
There are many known cases of hidden images embedded into songs. Aphex Twin famously planted an image of his face in his track WindowLicker, and this same technique was adopted by other musicians in recent history, like video game composer Disasterpeace.
Using a MIDI generator to plant words into your melodies is similar to this cherished image embedding techniques. It gives artists a chance to place easter eggs in their music. But unlike image embedding, which is just for fun, an app like AudioCipher actually helps you ignite the creative songwriting process.
The more you work on melodies, and study ones you love, the better you’ll get at crafting songs. Whether you come up with melodic ideas by humming over a track or prefer to use MIDI generator apps like AuidioCipher, the same thing is always going to be true; to write a good melody, you need to reach deep into your heart and find a way to express the feelings inside.