The Ups & Downs of Melody

The Ups & Downs of Melody

A great melody seems to use just the right music intervals. Ascending, Descending… or not moving at all. They fit together like pieces in a musical puzzle.

Let’s look at how even the smallest intervals can have a huge impact on your songwriting. What is a music interval?music interval?

It is simply the distance between 2 notes.

Melodies and Scales are constructed with 2 INTERVALS:


  • Half-steps &
  • Whole Steps.


So, you mean all the belly-aching, headaches and hair-pulling about scales can be blamed on these 2 little thorns in our sides? Yep.

If you learn these two intervals well enough to Recognize, Write and Play them, there’s not a scale (or melody) alive you can’t figure out.

QUICK REVIEW – Two half-steps make a whole. Got it?…Got it.

A HALF-STEP is the smallest interval on the piano keyboard. It is the distance from a white key to a black key. Also, the distance from a white key to an adjacent white key.

A WHOLE-STEP is two half-steps combined. It is the distance from a white key to a white key IF there is a black key separating them. It is also a black key to black key IF one white key separates them.

A guitar fretboard works the same way. With only 6 strings, the intervals on each string are based on half-steps(fret to fret) and whole steps, (skip a fret).

All music intervals are built on the Half Step/Whole Step grid.

The quickest way to apply your knowledge of intervals is with familiar tunes. Take melodies you already know, and learn the theory behind them.

Do you remember the song, “Row, Row, Row your Boat”? Let’s make it easy… If you know this song, you know these music intervals:

  • Major 2nd
  • Major 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Octave
  • AND… you sing a TRIAD. (Didn’t know you were so smart!)

That is a lot of bang for the buck, guys.

(For more understanding of numbers representing notes,
please read A Music Notation Shorthand.)

So, in our example, we used almost every interval in the major scale, in that one tune.

(We did not use the Major 6th & 7th, since it isn’t in the melody.)

That’s OK. There are examples of music intervals everywhere!

Very cool word painting here! His melody drops down to the 6th to tell us he “called…”

Then, the melody drops again(7) but not as low, to lead us “to say…”

Then “I LOVE YOU” …….. Brings “You” back up to his starting pitch. Perfect!

I doubt Stevie broke it down like that while writing it. For all I know, as gifted as he is, he woke up one morning and played it in his studio… the whole thing!

But we can analyze the melodic gold nuggets that great songwriters leave behind.

This is a perfect example of how theory can help you grow. Your ear gets better at discovering new twists and turns you hadn’t noticed before.

A simple little ditty can show you something about music intervals that might take a song of yours from fair to GREAT.

So, to wrap it up, (even though “We’ve Only Just Begun…”), sorry… 🙂

Music intervals can be identified two different ways:

  • The distance from the first note of a major scale to any other note in the scale.
  • Or by adding the number of half-steps.

You can now identify any interval within the Major scale.

Begin to listen analytically. To your favorite melodies. French melodies, Celtic melodies, Christmas melodies, Blues melodies, even melodies you hate… I don’t care which ones, as long as you learn from them.

They are all different in their up & down motions. They each lean toward certain intervals as trademark sounds.

The intelligent use of music intervals is the foundation of unforgettable melodies… good & bad.

You’ll begin to see how huge these little Half-steps really are. They can make or break a tune.

Don’t tell anybody, but one day, you might even enjoy practicing your scales.

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