Creating a Song – Melody and Skeleton Track

step 3

This is the second post about the top-secret song I’m producing with Freya. The last post covered how it came to me in a dream, and how I went about writing the lyrics for it.

I’m not really trained in music. I can read it, and I can find notes on a piano. I played violin and drums in my middle school orchestra, and I started to teach myself guitar.  I know a little about music theory, keys, and how to create harmonies, but I really just do everything by ear. I’m a singer, first and foremost.

If you know how to play piano and write melodies easily, my process will probably seem painful to you.

Casio Keyboarding – Melody Line

writing a song, producing a song


The image above is something I sent Freya during the writing of another song, (possibly Artificial Gravity?)  At some point in the 13+ years I’ve owned this keyboard, I actually wrote the notes on it with permanent marker.  Clearly the actions of a music prodigy, no? 😉

Anyway, I had my lyrics, and I had the very crappy windows sound recorder rendition of my dream-song. I needed to figure out my melody line.

I knew the melody for the first verse and part of the pre-chorus, but I didn’t have a melody for the chorus.  Our piano is in dire need of tuning, so I turned on my ancient keyboard and started singing, messing around with the keys until I found the right notes.   I grabbed some of my daughter’s art paper and crayons and scribbled all the notes down.

Then I got stuck. I still didn’t have a chorus, and the chorus is the most important part.

I took my daughter on a long walk and brought my phone with me. Near the end of the walk, I “heard” the chorus. So I sang it into my phone, and my daughter started singing too. I’m sure the neighbors thought we were cool. When I got home, I figured out which notes I’d sung.

Laying down the skeleton track

producing a song, making a song

Freya doing her thing.

I consulted my key “cheat sheet” to figure out what key I was singing in.  Then I googled the key and figured out which chords were in it. Chords are really Freya’s area of expertise–she’s awesome at finding the perfect chords for the bass line and other instruments. But I tried my best to figure out the chords beneath the melody line.

On almost all our songs, Freya and I start by making a skeleton track. The next time we were in the studio, we laid down the bare bones: piano chords and a simple tribal drum beat. I have a thing for tribal drums, especially for  my Legacy Code Saga stuff, but I’ll get into why in the next post.

I took my skeleton track home and began the process of figuring out how I wanted to sing the song–my vocal style and technique. I seem to have my biggest breakthroughs while chopping vegetables for dinner, and this time was no different. After a few nights spent blaring my skeleton track in the kitchen, I knew how I wanted to sing it. And then it was time to get back in the studio.

Update: We did not use tribal drums! After many moons and many attempts to “find” the instrumental… we did.

What did you think?


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