How to write a Counter Melody (5 tips)

You want to know how to write a counter melody in your music? Let’s first define what a counter melody is. Let’s skip the boring music theory, and I’ll explain it in a more fun and practical way. Because you just want to compose great music, right? =)

1. Supportive Actor

How to write a Counter MelodyHow do you write a counter melody in your music? Here is how I look at it. Melody is like the leading actor in a scene of a movie. While the counter melody is like a supportive actor, which role is to add contrast and dynamics to the scene.

Basically the counter melody (supportive actor) is there to enrich the scene, and make the performance of the leading actor even more amazing, meaning the melody.

So “the role of the counter melody is to support“, not compete. This is the main point you must learn. How can you play a counter melody in a way that supports the melody, instead of interfering with its performance?

2. Call and Response

Basically this means, that the counter melody only plays when the melody is not. Melody says one thing, the counter melody answers with another thing.

Add a counter melody in the pauses between the notes of the melody. It does not have to be a real pause though, it can be enough to add a couple of counter melody notes, when the leading melody is on a long sustained note.

3. Counter Melody vs Harmony

Another guideline I often use for the instrument playing the counter melody…is to switch back and forth between playing a counter melody and a harmony line.

A harmony line is also a way of supporting the leading melody, but it is even more powerful than a counter melody, since it adds depth and strength to the melody.

You can use this to your advantage as a composer, by choosing how much weight and strength you want to add to the leading melody in various sections of your composition.

Even simply accenting a few notes on the leading melody by having the counter melody instrument backing up those notes with a harmony.

So you can go from no counter melody, and no support. To adding a counter melody for extra details and variation. To making the supportive instrument play in harmony for even greater support.

So when going into the most powerful section of your song, your counter melody instrument can switch into playing a harmony to add that extra depth and power to your melody.

4. Less is More

What do I mean? Well simply to make the counter melody play only a few notes. It’s like having the supportive actor say less words than the lead actor.

The counter melody is there to add detail, variation and contrast…not to shadow the leading melody in any way.

5. Range is Important

Now where you actually place the counter melody range-wise (meaning which octave) compared to the main melody is also important. If you use the same range, make sure you use a instrument that is very different in tone and character from the main melody, otherwise they will just blend together.

However I recommend placing the counter-melody an octave above or below the main melody for added separation.

Now Take Action!

Great! Now go ahead and try this out for yourself. Learn by doing, from using these guidelines and practicing melody vs counter melody in your music compositions. I wish you great success on your professional journey in music! =)

My name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist, video creator, coffee lover, and true nerd…

PS. Level up your skills from my Courses on Music Composition, Production and Sound Design.