Memorizing Melodies

Do you guys also experience that sometimes at random times you think of a melody which in your head sounds g r e a t. Then as soon as you get home you can’t remember how it was. I get this a lot when I am at work, by the time I get home I forgot it already :(

Hum the sequence into your smartphone once you have it in mind, so you can listen to it back later. Or buy a small dictator to record your idea into.

Happens to me often, though even if i note them or record them, afterwards when i listen to just the idea out of context, most of the time it sounds like crap.

Sometimes, I think in my head I imagine the melody as a performance and it sounds great, but when I try to work it out, I lose the idea because the life gets sucked out of it in the process of sequencing. This might be a slightly different problem than outright forgetting though.

Consider that this can happen even when some of the most powerful melodies ever written like “you are my sunshine” or “amazing grace” when someone gives them the Karaoke MIDI treatment - even they can sound stupid. If it can happen with melodies that are powerful enough to persist hundreds of years, my half-baked ideas are going to be even more fragile to such abuse.

In theory, I think it helps to work really quickly, to capture the energy of the idea as it happens, and to keep molding it before it starts to feel stale. In practice, it’s a constant, uphill battle to grasp fragile little ideas and alchemize them into something that stands on its own. That’s the reality of the human condition, of which music is just a reflection.

This is what i have quite a lot. I ditched the whole idea of transforming what i have in mind to music.
Instead i pick a bunch of instruments and fool around with them until i get a sound i like. I work that out and try to match the other instruments in.
This usually works great when you have larger periods of doing nothing with music, it fills your inspiration battery and usually nothing can go wrong when you get momentum during song writing.
If you have that:don’t quit until you finished the song, even if it will turn in the middle of the night else you won’t finish it later:trust me best advise ever.

i record song ideas on my smartphone or field recorder but generally don’t try to actually make songs out of them.
instead, when i’m working on a track already in progress, i will occasionally just go through the folder of hummed song ideas to see if any of the melodies fit.

I definitely suffer from both of the issues mentioned in the thread. Also, sometimes when I go to bed there is some kind of “classical music soundtrack generator” which starts to flow into my mind and I simply can’t stop it.

of course, if I dare trying to get up, everything vanishes all of a sudden

Melodies need a world to manifest in, otherwise they remain as abstract forms. This world is an over-arching song or album idea or plan. Context. Become one with this context. Then that gives opening to the emergence of melodies that are either spontaneous or systematically crafted.

not quite the same…but we always hit record when we are about to embark on a jam session. so much magic happens in a jam so it is great to be able to pick through it and pull the goods out. As for melodies and beats that come in and out of the brain through the day…if it was really that good for me i will retain it.


Or buy a small dictator…

Sorry, I don’t mean to de-rail, but I /HAD/ to.

Have you taken any Music Theory classes before? Practicing your sight singing and dictation (rhythmic, melodic, harmonic and two part) will significantly help with this. I recommend getting a good sight singing book, or even better take a theory class with an accompanying skills class.

It doesn’t need to be as complicated as this. While ear training techniques are important to all musicians, I wouldn’t go as far as recommending bookwork or taking a class, mainly because many people aren’t willing to take those steps and therefore will abandon the effort altogether.

Instead, I recommend getting familiar with writing and reading musical notation. This way, if you have a little piano on your smartphone that you can plunk out notes, you can write your melodies and ideas down and revisit them in a pure context rather than one that’s confined to the sounds of a machine. This works especially well if you get at least halfway decent with writing rhythms, because you can write down the rhythms of percussion and whatnot and not have to worry about knowing intervals and pitches by memory, which takes a lot of practice and quite frankly, the latter can only be learned well early in life.

I’m serious though, having your music on paper is so much better than trying to record it into a machine, at least for me. That way it remains purer in the fact that I am thinking more about the idea behind the sound rather than the physical sound of sequence.

Yes, I’d also recommend writing it down, as most of the time you can’t hum it to your phone because you are at work/school. I’m too lazy to figure out real music notation (I can do it but it’s anti-intuitive when you are not tained classical composer), so I write the notes names and try to capture a little the timing and then I go on my piano or keyboard for playing it over and over until it captures the feeling I wanted. Also, remembering it with your voice and singing it later also helps.
What is the main problem - I often think of melody played by certain instrument and apart from that instrument it sounds different from what I want to, quite confusing when replaying back with piano or own voice :(
Anyway, I never make sounds at my studio without the melodical idea in my head…

I do what Vv said, and have a kind of shorthand variant of “Nashville Numbers” I use if I can’t take my phone out or it’s too noisy to sing. Make up your own system if you want, anything will do if you don’t lose the idea.

Don’t be afraid of losing musical ideas. Let them flow naturally and you’ll always have a steady stream to pull from instead of trying to conjure something that’s already disappeared.

Its a pita when you’ve got something worth remembering, and you are not anywhere near your studio. IMHO, “the problem was much worse before these smart phones.” Also, as recently as 2006, hand-held recording devices were bulky and expensive.

I don’t see the problem existing in our, “smartphone society.” But lets pretend for a moment, you are stranded without a cellphone… ( this may not work for all people, I am not giving any science here. I am not a doctor. This is just how I feel about it. )

Keep any melody you want to remember simple… 8 or 16 bars.

“You have something you want to remember. This is just an idea while your running to dinner, or stepping off the elevator.” Do not try and think out a whole entire symphony, and remember it… LOL… We are not Mozart!!


Lyrics, lyrics, lyrics!! If I hum something… “great for me.” but when I want to remember it, I start adding some words.

“think about it.” In 16 bars, with a melody and lyrics, what do you have? A hook!! A chorus!!

Surely you can remember chorus? You know thousands of chorus’, for thousands of songs!! Trust me on that.


Repeat, repeat, repeat… So…

  1. Make the melody short.

  2. Add lyrics, and make it a chorus, “hook.”

  3. Sing out loud to yourself as much as you can… again, and again…

Chances are, “you are going to remember this.”

I actually agree with you, but really though I think the skills go hand and hand. I don’t think you can get better at dictation till you get better at reading. I think writing down what’s in your head IS dictation, only your dictating whats in your mind. I recommend learning to sight sing only because it’s a particularly good and fast way outside of joining an ensemble. Personally, I tried for years to learn to read on my own and got no where. It wasn’t until I went to school and had to be in an ensemble and was forced to actively read that I got better. Part of this is due to being self taught and having learned to play by ear. Playing music by notes was confusing and frustrating to me. Even after two years of cello lessons (as an adult), I couldn’t freaking read. Only now do I feel comfortable enough to say that, yes I can read music.

I fully agree! It sounds like things you’d learn out of a theory class or a theory book. Just sayin’. :P/>

hehe ye, i remember that back then in the 90s …

had a melody in my head … no cellphone, no nothing … at work … only a pencil and some paper and tried to put it on paper :D

You may also try solmization.

…or try Lisa’s suggestive method…