How To Develop A Melody

Some Strategies To Expand A Melody To A Whole Tune

In this lesson, I want to give you some ideas useful to elaborate a melody. Suppose you've just invented a cool melodic line, now, in order to turn it into a full-length song, you need to expand your ideas!

In the following, we will delve into techniques used by renowned composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and even popular songwriters like The Beatles.

We will focus on techniques like:

  • Transposition
  • Inversion
  • Retrograde
  • Rhythmic variation
  • Melodic interval variation

These techniques will enable you to create interesting and captivating melodies starting from a simple idea.


Transposition involves taking a short melodic motif and moving it to a different pitch.

This can be done by shifting the motif up or down the scale by a certain interval. For example, you can transpose a two-measure motif a whole step higher, two whole steps higher, a perfect fifth higher, and so on.

Transposition can be:

  • Diatonic: using only notes from a specific key
  • Chromatic: transposing all the notes without considering alterations, resulting in a more sophisticated sound, often found in classical or jazz music)

Note: when you move a bar chord shape up or down the neck, you are performing a chromatic transposition!


Inversion involves flipping the original motif, maintaining the same intervals but changing the direction.

For instance, if your melody ascends a major third, descends a minor second, and ascends a major third followed by a minor second, the inversion would involve descending a major third, ascending a minor second, and descending a major third.

Similarly with transposition, with this technique, you can use intervals that belong to the key, or you can introduce not diatonic notes for a more creative effect.

Classical musician J.S. Bach did a great job with the so-called mirror canon (alternatively known as a canon by contrary motion), which is a style that entails the primary voice being performed alongside its inverted counterpart, essentially flipped upside-down.


Retrograde, also known as "walking backward" or cancrizans (from "cancer", latin word for crab) is a simple technique where you play the chosen motif in reverse.

Take the original motif you have composed and write it from right to left, reversing the order of the notes. This can create interesting variations and unique melodic lines.

Rhythmic Variation:

Rhythmic variation involves keeping the original notes of the motif but altering the rhythm in which they are played.

Experiment with changing the note durations, introducing syncopation, or subdividing the rhythm differently. This technique adds excitement and diversity to your melodies while maintaining the core melodic material.

Melodic Interval Variation

In contrast to rhythmic variation, melodic interval variation focuses on maintaining the same rhythm while altering the notes.

You can replace the original notes of the sequence with different notes that maintain the same rhythmic structure.

This technique allows you to explore different harmonies and tonalities while preserving the rhythmic identity of the melody.


Developing melody techniques is an essential aspect of guitar playing.

By incorporating transposition, inversion, retrograde, rhythmic variation, and melodic interval variation, you can breathe new life into your melodic ideas.

Experiment with these techniques, combine them and apply them to your compositions and improvisations.

At the end of the day, it's important to be creative and keep exploring the endless possibilities of a beautiful melody.

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