Grade 5 Music Theory – Composing a Melody (in a Minor Key)

Grade 5 Music Theory - Composing a Melody (in a Minor Key)

hi we've had another film on YouTube for some time that covers this whole topic of composing a melody which is one of the things that you have to do for grade 5 theory though of course it has a wider application because there are plenty of people who would like to learn something about composing a melody but by popular demand we're making this new film now to cover one or two of the things that maybe we didn't quite cover last time and just to reinforce what we did in the other film and if you watch this alongside the other film and that should help just tidy up a few loose ends and give you a bit more confidence in melody writing and of course if you're preparing for grade five theory or for any other theory exam we've got a whole package of films on the website that cover everything you need to know for each of the greats so feel free to have a little look at all of that now what we've got on the board it's a typical kind of opening that you might be given in a grade 5 Theory exam but I've tried to make as many things different on this one as we've got in relation to the other film the other film we did a melody in the bass clef so we're now going to do a melody in the treble clef the other film was a melody sharps we're now going to do one in flats in the other film the melody was in simple time in 4/4 this time we're going to be in compound time in 6/8 in the other film the melody started on the first beat of the bar in this film we're going to look at a melody that doesn't start on the first beat of the bar so you can see why this is going to be a little bit different as another change that I'm going to come back to very shortly as well but first of all let me just talk about this business of not starting on the first beat of the bar lots of pieces of music do begin on the first beat of the bar but sometimes you have a kind of lift before the first bar actually begins and this little lift like we've got here just a single notes but it may be two notes or three dates if you have something this not a complete bar but a note or a group of notes before the first bar begins this is called an anacrusis anacrusis and we'll be talking about how to deal with anacrusis as we go anyway let's see what we're going to make of this melody and this is the sort of thing that might well be given to you in a grapevine theory exam and you'll be asked to extend this to a melody that lasts eight bars now because of the anacrusis this note here is not bar one bar one is the first complete bar and it's not a bad idea to number your bars because it's amazing how many people set out to write an 8 bar melody and end up writing a 9 bar melody or a 7 bar melody or some other possibility so you need to be sure that really you've ended up with with 8 bars so this is not bar 1 anything that belongs to the anacrusis comes before bar 1 so there's bar 1 and you can see we've been given bar 1 there and we've been given bar 2 now one thing to notice about bar 2 is that you've been given all these notes but actually bar 2 is not quite complete and lots of people get in a pickle with that because they think that bar 2 is complete so they just leave it as it is and carry on to bar 3 and then if they use this bar again later they repeat the same problem so make sure that your second bar is complete and if you're given a melodic opening which has an anacrusis usually the second bar will not be complete so watch out for that you see we're in 6/8 time so just to remind us what that means 6 is the top number so that's telling us that there are 6 something's in the bar 8 is the bottom number and that's telling us what kind of things those six things are 8 at the bottom means quavers so there are six quavers in the bar but this is what we call a calm hound duple time and we organize things into groups of three when we're in compound time so if we've got six quavers in a bar we organize them into two groups of three quavers just to give you the idea we would have one group of three quavers looking like this and a second group of three quavers looking like there so you see I've got six quavers but they're organized in two groups of three and each group of three provides us with a beat so three quavers totals one dotted crotchet three halves if you like equal one and a half and of course I need a dotted crotchet here so in 6/8 time I've got six quavers I organized them into two groups of three each group of three has a total value that is this a dotted crotchet so in 6/8 there are two dotted crotchet beats per bar now a simple and compound time is something that confuses you then there's another film on YouTube that explains exactly how all of this works so if you have a look at that you'll be much clearer about it and from now on I'm going to kind of assume that you're happy working in compound time in 6/8 time okay now let's have a look at this second bar and see what's missing if we just count the six quavers what have we got we've got one quaver here then we've got two semi quavers so they add up to another one quaver then we've got another quavers so that's three quavers isn't it then we've got a crotchet so that's quavers four and five so we're missing a quaver at the end of bar two and we mustn't forget that we need to put a note in there now we might not yet be ready to decide what that that's going to be but you could do something in pencil like this just to remind you that before we finish writing this melody we're going to have to come back to bar two and finish it off okay now we've got to write eight bars so it's not a bad idea to get the bar lines in place so we know what we're dealing with we know that's bar one after the other quizzes this is bar two that we need to finish so leave a bit of space to finish the bar then we're going to need bar three and a bar line at the end of that this will be bar four and obviously again we're going to need a bar line at the end of that then let's go on to the next line it's quite handy actually if you can organize this so you've got four bars on one line and the next four bars on the next line for reasons that will become obvious when we come to the second line we obviously need to repeat the CLEF so here's the treble clef we also need to repeat the key signature so here are the three flats but what you don't need to repeat is the time signature so unless the time signature changes for some reason which you probably don't want to do in this kind of exercise just put the time to ensure at the beginning but don't put it here but you always need a clef and a key signature at the beginning of the next line okay so we've got four bars then we're going to have bar five which is sort of a gyntaf finish here and then we need bar six and then we need bass seven no money bar eight finish off and always remember at the end of a piece of music we don't just want a single bar line we want a double bar line that's the kind of musical way of saying the end so we now at least can see what we're dealing with anacrusis again one thing we need to remember is this whatever is in this anacrusis must add up with the very final bar of the piece to be one complete bar what do I mean by that we've already said we need to get six quavers worth of rhythm into each bar but when we come to the last bar we don't want six quavers we want five quavers why do we want five quavers because the anacrusis provides the six quaver so when we get to bar eight don't have a full bar of six quavers have a bar of five quavers to balance up with the anacrusis so that's an important thing that we're going to have to come back to okay now as for the other film there's a little blueprint that we might follow that will just help writing the melody and let's go through it in bar one you've got some notes that we're going to copy into bar five now this may seem a bit of a cheat in a way because you might think well I'm not really actually writing anything in bar five all I'm doing is copying bar one but if you look at the works of great composers and you look at the great songs that have been written quite often you find that this happens you have a phrase that starts in a particular way and goes off in one direction and then the next phrase starts in the same way and goes off in a new direction it's quite a nice balanced way of writing a pair of phrases and in fact sometimes if you don't repeat that material the whole thing can Rumble a bit and lose its sense of direction and identity so here's the first bit of this little plan we're going to copy bar one into power five don't worry about the other cruises just yet just look at bar one copy it into power five so here we go I'm just going to put those notes in here and remember when you copy these things across to copy them precisely it's very easy just to miss out on something like this turning this date into a semi quaver and then before you know where you are it's a quaver instead of a semi craven you've got the wrong number of beats on the bar and okay and then we've got this note and then we've got this boat so with copy bar 1 into bar 5 next thing we're going to do is copy bar 2 into bar 6 so here we go with that they can remember to put all the detail in so you don't miss out the accidentals for example and when you do these accidentals make sure they really belong to the space or to the line that is the note that follows them make sure you've got your stem Direction going in the right way as well okay so with copy bar 1 into bar 5 I'm with copy bar 2 into bar 6 you might need to remember as well look because bar 2 is short of a quaver bar 6 is also currently short of a quaver so little arrow there might just help to remind you about that before we go any further I want to deal with the unexplored are one this anacrusis will need also to come before bar 5 in other words it's going to come at the end of bar 4 so let's just put this G in at the end of bar 4 then we've got the same anacrusis in the second phrase as we had in the first phrase and at this point you might want to put in the phrase marks because bars 1 2 4 is one phrase 5 to 8 is another phrase I'm going to start the first phrase mark with the anacrusis I'm gonna take it across here and it's going to finish just before we repeat the UH necrosis because we started the first phrase a quaver ahead of bar 1 the second phrase to balance it will also need to start a quaver ahead of bar 5 so the second phrase actually begins here and then you can extend your phrase mark so that we just continue with it to the end of bar 8 so that's how the phrase marks work in relation to the a de Cruces so so far so good now we're going to do what we've done on the other film into melody writing and think about maybe outlining some chords in bars three and four and in bar seven and eight so that the melody belongs to what would be appropriate chords if you were accompanying it because if the melody doesn't really belong to chords that are sensible the melody won't sound right so we'll come back to that in a moment but before we decide anything else we need to be sure which key whirring now if we've got three flats you might know your keys really well or you might want to look at this circle of fifths and again if you don't know about the circle of fifths we've got another film out there that explains how the circle of fifths work and that's the whole system that explains all the keys when you look at a circular fist three flats tells you that you're either in e-flat major or you're in C minor now before we go any further we've got to decide whether an e-flat major or in C minor because if this piece of music is an e-flat major and then you start writing things in C minor it may sound a bit strange or vice-versa so how do we know if we're an e-flat major or in C minor well the big clues are in bar two because in bar two you can see some accidentals now if you were in e-flat major you wouldn't really need those accidentals but because we're in c minor when we're in a minor key we sometimes have to do things to certain degrees of the scale if you know about your minor scales you know in the harmonic minor scale we raise the seventh degree of the scale by a semitone going up the scale and coming down the scale when we're in a melodic minor scale we raise the sixth and the seventh degrees of the scale when we're going up and we just follow the key signature when we're coming down so I wonder what's going on here what's this a natural and B natural about in bar two well if you think about it natural be natural would not belong to E flat major so you can be pretty sure you're not in E flat major you're probably in C minor well the six degree of the scale of C minor is a actually it's not a it's a flat so if I take the six degree of a flat and I raise it by a semitone I get a natural B flat is the seventh degree of the scale if I raise that by a semitone I can't be natural so I've raised the six and the seventh degree of the scale in a passage that's going up using therefore the melodic minor why are we using them melodic minor because we're writing a melody and the melodic minor in a melody always works better than the harmonic minor because at the top of the harmonic minor scale you get a strange interval here's the harmonic scale so if you use the harmonic minor scale when you're writing a melody it can sound a bit strange so that's why we tend to use the melody – down because it just evens out that strange interval at the top of the harmonic minor scale so we need to know where in C minor otherwise this isn't gonna work and we're gonna have to think carefully about writing in a minor scale as we go okay if we're in C minor then the first thing we can do is fill up the last bar with the tonic note so if we're in C minor well the tonic note is C remember what we said about the anacrusis though we don't want to fill it up with six quavers worth of stuff we want to fill it up with five quavers worth of stuff so I'm going to put a C in the last bar we may decide to put this C in a different octave in the fullness of time that doesn't matter but for now let's put it there now I'm going to write C for a dotted crotchet because that fills up the first beat in 6/8 time remember those first three quavers give us a dotted crotchet beats so there's the first beat but I only need five quavers so I'm then going to have a crotchet that's not sorted and I'm going to tie those together so if I wanted to fit up the last bar with the tonic note there's the tonic note C because we're in C minor that's how I would write it because we're in 6/8 I need a dotted crotchet for the first beat and I'm going to tie that to a crotchet for the second beat now you may decide when you finish this melody that that's rather a long time to sit on a tonic mate in which case you could use any notes that belong to the tonic chord so the tonic chord is that chord one if you're not happy about chords again we've got another film that explains all about chords so you could have a look at that but basically to get the chords sorted you could write out a scale of C minor an above each note you can put a third enough in so C E flat G is called one or the tonic chord this is chord to called three called four core five pull six called seven so you could write those out if you wanted to now we want to get a cadence working at the end of our piece so it's not a bad idea to have five full of by what or you could have four followed by one why is this because five followed by one creates our perfect cadence four full of by one creates a play go games we want to finish on one because that will make the melody feel as if it's gone home to the tonic note at the end well for now we could decide we're going to use cool five you could use call for that's absolutely fine so discover what the notes are in chord 5 in C minor the fifth degree is G the core five is G and D be very careful that the middle later that Court is not be flat from the key to nature but it's be natural when you're thinking about chords thinking the harmonic minor scale if you're in a minor key because harmonic minor is about harmony it's about courts melodic minor is about melody so it's not G B flat D is G B natural T and what we want to be able to do here is to use any notes that belong to that court and work them out across the bar so we could for example just do something that goes G B natural D that's probably say the first half of that bar and then we could maybe come up to a top G and then maybe we could come back to a B natural and that to a d do you say I'm just trying to use notes that belong to that codified that G B natural D chord so at last but one bar and onto that C at the end I could decide to make the rhythm a bit more interesting we've had this dotted rhythm here only so we could save dot the first thing make it a little bit more interesting than just having six quavers running through the bar so we could do that for example okay well we've sort of sketched in the opening the the end of the piece quite happily what are we going to do here is going to have another cadence here and we're going to have notes that belong to call five at the beginning of bar four because we want to have an imperfect cadence and we've got a film out there about Cadence's if you want to be clear about Cadence's as well but an imperfect cadence is basically any chord followed by five it tends to be 1 2 5 2 to 5 or 4 to 5 it doesn't really matter which one you go for but we might go in this case for full of by 5 why not and let me get to bar for if we're using core 5 well probably we just want to use the root of that cause the bottom of call 5 is G so let's stick energy for the time being remember as well to think about the 6/8 time we're going to use a dotted crotchet G and then we're going to have to tie it so we get the grouping of these notes correct for 6/8 time so you can see now how this works because this takes up one dotted crotchet beat I've tied it into something that starts the second dotted crotchet beat and this quaver the anacrusis to the second phrase completes that second beat in bar three I'm looking for notes that belong to called for now in C minor call for one two three four is good to be built on F so it's F a flat and C remember we're working in the harmonic minor so F a flat and C so I really want to use notes in bar three that along to that chord form so let's see what we might use well I kind of came up the chord there so maybe here we could come down the court something like is possibly and then maybe so we don't have too much kind of jumping around doing arpeggios all the time we could do something that goes by step here and I'm going to use that dotted rhythm again this time I'm going to use it then the second half of the bar instead of in the first half of the bar just so we use them the same rhythm but we're doing something that varies it a little bit so you see what I've done there I'm just using those notes of chord for you notice here I used a passing Nate remember a passing note is just one of those little notes that passes by step between two names that belong to a chord so f at a flat belong to call for G's just tucked in in between as a passing note so then I've got I may decide I want to make the passing notes more interesting still whenever I've got a 1/3 in the melody there's the potential to put another passing note in there I could even put another one in there now we're really getting carried away with the passing no zombie but I could decide for example to make that a group have semi quavers they're just going a bit too far with that because obviously the last one want me to be a quaver there so you see what I've done though I started off with now I've got so it just makes this a bit more interesting and you see how quickly we've come on with this now what are we missing we're missing this last note of bar 2 aren't we even if you can't hear this melody I wonder if you've got some idea of a note that you think might fit they just try to imagine roughly how this sounds and then see if you can think of a note that would fit there and it may just be that going by stab is the answer you know that made live too complicated if we just go up one note there and come back I'll probably sound alright went it and then we could do the same thing here or we could make a different decision in bar 6 but remember we need to deal with the end of our six and the same way is the end of our two and maybe we'll do something different this time and just for argument's sake let's come down to an a I'm going to make it an a-flat there we had an a natural going up but melodic minor says going down use the key signature doesn't it so that's why I've made that an a-flat now what does this sound like let's put it together so if you wrote that as a melody it will be perfectly presentable and that will quite easily pass you may decide at the end you want to do something slightly more exciting than just holding on to this note forever in a day so without making life too complicated you could for example do something like this maybe just come down the arpeggio and finish on this bottom C that might just be slightly more interesting than what we were doing before interesting what happens isn't it when you get into stem direction having done that I now need to have the stems going the other way don't I so now I'm going to write this why does the stem go the other way because these two notes fall below the central line and I've only got one note that's above so really these two wind to 1 and we end up with the stems on balance going up so instead of just finishing on that tonic note as we did before which you could too all we've done now is calm down the arpeggio and it sort of carries on this little broken cord idea here makes the end of it just a little bit more interesting you could spruce it up even further with some passing notes if you wanted to you could put an F there between the G and the e you could put a D here between the ephah and the C so we just add a couple of passing notes to make it a little bit more interesting and of course that then sort of matches what we did by the passing notes there so now we've got this suddenly the last bar is really kind of liven up isn't it the other thing you may want to do at this point is to go back to bars 5 and 6 and ask yourself if you're quite happy for them to be the same as they were before I mean reward you've made a different decision at the end of bar to the end of our 6 or whether there's anything you want to do to spruce it up you can make life a bit too complicated with these things sometimes but if you wanted to do something else you could maybe do something with the length of this crotchet you could put a passing note in here for example just put a G in there because that would pass between the F and the a flat wouldn't it so we could possibly do something like that it's very slightly different the first time the second time very small difference isn't it but just makes a slight variation you could do a bit more if you wanted to and then of course don't forget when you've got the melody where you want it you can carry on tweaking with passing notes and thinking about whether you've got enough variety and the rhythm and so until you're happy with your melody by the way did you spot the deliberate mistake at the end I put a dotted crotchet at the end but of course we've got an anti-crisis so that will have to be a crotchet went it because we only want five quavers worth of notes in the last bar that's the easiest mistake in the world to make as they so watch out for that one don't forget we now need to get some expression into it so and not a bad idea just to write something like moderato because moderato just means that it goes at a moderate speed not too fast not too slow so nobody can take offence as something that's moderato then possibly some dynamics would be a good idea just to add to that and maybe to have a melody this does MP or MF why not and then have a bit of a crescendo possibly going up to the first cadence and then maybe we could start Forte at the beginning of the second phrase there in fact because of the uh necrosis is probably a better idea to put that Forte over the on a cruising note there and then in the last but one bar in bar seven if you want to impress the examiners by writing a an Italian sentence dim a chorale dim means getting quieter a means and morale means slowing down to the end so that just gives us a bit of expression there as well you may want to have a bit of phrasing inside the phrases where you might decide that you're going to have some stick cartoon notes you could for example have a staccato here followed by some legato notes another staccato so you could elaborate the melody in that sort of way if you wanted to don't get too over fussy but if you wanted to put a little bit of phrasing detail inside the phrases you certainly could do that and then don't forget if you're doing the great five theory question that you'll be asked to choose between two instruments so we'll say write a melody for oboe or violin or something so you have to choose one of those two instruments and then you know have a good look at your melody and think does that really feel like a violin melody or like an oboe melody if you're not a string player you may decide you want to go for a non string option because then you don't really have to worry about bowing and things that you might not know about but if you are a string player you may be very happy to go for a string option and to mark in some of that Bowie but I think what you end up with is a perfectly respectable melody that now sounds something like this you can carry on elaborating it in any way that you see fit but I hope that's given you an idea as to how to go about writing a melody that would fit that brief for the great fires theory and alongside the other film you can see some of the differences that we've explored you can see the other ones at a major key this one's in a minor key writing in a minor key presents particular challenges the other one was in simple time in 4/4 this one's in 6/8 time you've got to be very careful that you beam all of your notes to fit in with those two dotted crotchet beats and if you look at all the beaming here you see these three notes fit into one dotted crotchet beat this group of notes all fitting into one dotted crotchet beat so we're showing those dotted crotchet beats all the way through you've seen how in 6/8 we have slightly longer bars in a way than we do in say three four or four four times so maybe instead of just holding on to long notes we could do something using an arpeggio that you could then elaborate with some passing notes you may decide you don't want to have this long G here that you could do something similar to this here that would be easy to do there don't be afraid of the occasional long note somewhere hopefully you're now happy about dealing with the melodic minor but dealing with the harmonic minor when you're choosing your chords hopefully you're happy about having a perfect or a play goal cadence at the end and or having an imperfect cadence between bars three and four and hopefully we've also demonstrated how you know it's in a minor key not in a major key and we've also demonstrated how to deal with the anacrusis how that affects life at the beginning of a second phrase and how it affects life in the last bar so I hope that's helpful and if you're doing Grave five theory sometime soon the very best of luck with a melody writing question and indeed with the rest of the paper


  • Music Matters says:

    Learn Music Theory – Get the rest of this course here!

  • stefaan adriansens says:

    18:40 says bar 8 ends with tonic so understand, with any notes from chord one of the tonic C natural minor and for an example, he plays the harmonic minor. no issue because chord 1 was the one you need to see. but why he played the harmonic one as an example just after talking about the tonic. who knows?

  • Bruce Nawa says:

    Am happy to be here learning music harmony melody rhythm now composing wow

  • Megon Zhu says:

    Can an imperfect cadence start with chord5?

  • Sasha Zhang says:

    Also, for passing notes between thirds, I've noticed that sometimes there will be an accidental that isn't the key signature. How do you know what passing notes are between a certain third? Thank you again!

  • Sasha Zhang says:

    Why in the third measure the b is flatted and not natural if it is c HARMONIC minor. Please help. Thank you in advance 🙂

  • tasfa10 says:

    Whats up with having the major I chord at the end but keeping the minor 3rd in the melody?

  • pse ga says:

    I'm supposed to write a 24 measure melody out of 2 measure. How would you do that? Thank you

  • Yuh Harnie says:

    This video literally saved my 15 marks. Thanks so so much! my exam is coming in just 2 days

  • jimmy alderson says:

    Is it just my counting or does bar one only add up to 5.5 quavers?

  • Marcell A.D. says:

    I have a theory exam in the next 2 weeks. I have a question the melody time signature is 6/8 and it's tempo is moderato. In 6/8 a beat is counted as a dotted crotchet beat and moderato is about 100s. So the melody will be very quick or not?

  • Yucheng Bian says:

    good video though

  • Yucheng Bian says:

    Hello……. I can't find any ano crusice thingies in my ABRSM blue grade 5 theory book. The exercises just didn't have them.

    Does this apply in the actual exams?

  • Derek Turner says:

    You don’t use small-case Roman numerals for minor chords. Why is that? Not a criticism but a genuine question – is there any advantage/disadvantage to sticking to upper-case?

  • Lioudmila Kozlova says:

    THANKS !

  • Matthew Davies says:

    Are there any 'guidelines' about which keys are more ideal – in terms of key changes?

  • John Croall says:

    Hi, this video was posted two days before my Grade 5 music theory. Thank you so much – it was really helpful. Got a distinction!

  • Praveen Sriram says:

    Thanks a lot! I was quite nervous for this question, but now I've got some confidence. My exam is tomorrow. Hope I do well 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *