Q:  What's the #1 reason people
find it so hard to write a melody?

A:  We think of melody as a
series of single notes,
but it's really made of patterns.

Have you ever tried to listen to music one note at a time? It’s impossible. Try for yourself. See if you can focus on each individual note as you listen to "London Bridge."

“London Bridge is Falling Down,” performed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra 

ALT london-bridge-no-melodic-figures

It’s impossible to isolate notes as we listen or sing. It’s as if the notes automatically fall into patterns or "figures."

Not only that, those figures feel familiar because we’ve heard them countless times in other melodies. 

Don’t the figures I’ve marked below seem like old friends? (You can ignore the strange names for now.)


The problem is that we don’t compose like we listen or sing. When we go to write a melody, we don’t work with patterns, we revert to writing one note at a time.

Irving Berlin—who composed over 1500 songs, the scores for 20 Broadway musicals, and the music for 15 Hollywood films—recognized this tendency. And so he reminded us that

“There’s no such thing as a new melody. Our work is to combine the old phrases [figures] in a new way so that they will sound like a new tune.”

Figuring Out Melody
is the only composition method that shows how to compose with melodic figures—the very building blocks of melody.

The focus on melodic figures is only one thing that sets Figuring Out Melody apart. More importantly, it offers a more practical and intuitive approach than other methods!

In Chapter One, you’ll learn how to compose a pretty good melody by combining melodic figures into a rough sketch. 

The 29 chapters that follow show you how to develop that pretty-good melody to reach its full glory.  Each chapter covers an essential technique. Real-life examples show how to use each technique to create a variety of expressive effects. And you get step-by-step instructions for how to incorporate those effects into your own music.


IN THE STANDARD APPROACH, instructions for how to write a “good melody” are little more than generalizations drawn from theoretical melodies instead of real pieces.

BUT IN Figuring Out Melody, every technique and principle is set forth in specific terms drawn directly from well-established pieces. Audio examples are provided so you can experience the musical effect under discussion. And the graphics include highlights, labels, and annotations to help you pinpoint what the notes do to create that effect.


the main focus is on rules that are designed to make everything sound “smooth” and “balanced.” But think about this for a minute. When you and I listen to music, aren’t our favorite parts those notes that stand out—that capture a strong emotion? The standard explanation here is that great composers achieve such moments by “breaking the rules.” But these inspired moments feel calculated, not rash.

Shouldn’t there be “rules” (or better, “recipes”) for achieving every effect imaginable in music? As it turns out, there ARE! Wouldn’t you like to know them?

But in Figuring Out Melody,
you’ll not only find clear instructions for how to make certain passages sound smooth (and why), but you’ll also find thorough discussions of expressive moments in melodies, plus step-by-step instructions for how to achieve the same effects in your own music. You will learn:

  • that when you leap matters far more than the size of the leap or whether that leap is consonant or dissonant.
  • the most common situations that call for melodic “plot twists,” and how to set them up.
  • dozens of excerpts that show how changing just one or two notes in a melody makes the difference between a passage that sounds dumbfounding or dumb.


Check for yourself. Look around the web; look at other books on theory and composition. So much blah, blah, blah. And very little of it helps you know what to do with the actual notes.

Not with Figuring Out Melody! Nearly every page is bursting with musical examples and helpful instructions.

“… a clear, no-nonsense manual for what (of course in hindsight) is right in front every musician’s nose.”

-Mike Pillitiere, composer, guitarist, video game designer

How About YOU?

Are you satisfied with where you are as a composer? Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Stop doubting yourself! Dig in to Figuring Out Melody  and discover just how far you can go!

Listen with more insight.
Compose with more confidence.

Save a bundle on a bundle!

any two books

$40.00 $35.00

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all four books

$80.00 $55.00

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… for the still-curious …

More On What You'll Learn

a summary of sections and chapters

  • In Chapter 1, you’ll learn a simple, 3-step method to sketch and revise a basic melody. Without even realizing it, you’ll write several of the most basic melodic figures. The chapter also explains why we can hear harmony from a single line of melody.
  • Chapter 2 introduces the principle of “predictability.” Every effective piece of music includes parts that go exactly where we’d expect, and a few parts that surprise us. You’ll learn which figures produce which effects. You’ll also learn to write the most predictable melodic figures. 
  • Chapter 3 explores melodic motion in time: how melodic ideas align with beats. You’ll learn how to make melodies sound ultra-smooth or agitated. You’ll discover how to use steps and leaps to accent the exactly the notes you want to emphasize.
  • Chapter 4 introduces "fancier" (more impressive) figures and shows what to think about as you write them so you can compose more quickly and securely.
  • Chapter 5 helps incorporate “tendency tones” so that they don’t “stick out.” Then at the end of the chapter, you’ll discover several situations where it’s good to let those same tendency tones “make a fuss” because it’s a great way to add richness to your music!
  • Chapter 6 shows ways to vary rhythm to create  anticipation, momentum, and punch.
  • Chapter 7 shows how to make a single line sound like it’s being played (or sung) by two or more people.  Take your melodies from 2-D to 3-D (or even 4-D)!
  • Chapters 8-10 focus on all things repetition – not only what to repeat, but what to think about as you do. (See above for a few examples.)
  • Chapter 11 shows how to use material from Chapters 1-10 to  create subtle character and dynamic contrast in your music.
  • Chapters 12 & 13 show how to apply the basic principles of melodic figuration to create interesting and satisfying harmonic progressions.
  • Chapter 14 shows how to control pacing in your music by making strong or subtle cadences.
  • Chapter 15 shows why pivot chord modulation doesn’t work: because it is based on theory (faulty theory) rather than what actually happens. Here, you’ll learn an utterly new way to modulate – one that WORKS!   This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

Chapters 16-21 cover 2-part COUNTERPOINT, the art of combining melodies, or a melody and bass line. Unlike every other method, which focus on the intervals between notes,  Figuring Out Melody focuses on chord tones and melodic figures (i.e., what you master in Chapters 1-10). Think how "Karate Kid" learned to fight by waxing a car. Just by working through chapters 1-10, you’ll already know how to write counterpoint!

J.S. Bach wrote a set of 15 “teaching pieces” for his students. Many people assume that by students, he meant keyboard students, as these pieces provide just the right amount of challenge and reward to young fingers. But Bach’s preface makes it clear that his Inventions are to teach the art of composition. Chapters 22-25 break down what Bach has done so that anyone can master the compositional principles he sets forth in his Inventions. Working through this section will help you internalize a very high level of compositional mastery.

Anyone who enjoyed the challenge of writing an invention will want to continue with these more advanced applications: canon, 3-part counterpoint, and fugue. Dexterity is the mark of a true master musician. As with the more basic techniques covered in earlier chapters, Figuring Out Melody breaks "advanced" matters down to make them manageable and gratifying.
"… some of the clearest and most helpful material on fugal writing I have come across.” Michael R. Rogers, author of Teaching Approaches in Music Theory: An Overview of Pedagogical Philosophies
Finally, Chapter 30 shows how the principles and practices of melodic figuration apply to music beyond the Baroque era (where so many examples in Figuring Out Melody have been drawn).