How to Write a Non-Cheesy Festive Melody • Music Theory from the traditional Christmas carol "Noël Nouvelet"



How to Write a Non-Cheesy
Festive Melody



Download Tutorial as PDF
includes MIDI + WAV file examples




“Noël Nouvelet” is a traditional French Christmas Carol dating from the 15th or 16th century. So what on earth can we learn from a 500-year old holiday tune? A game-changing melody hack that will totally transform your festive season music!


You see, almost all Christmas songs are written in major keys. And as you can hear from walking into any shop in December, the results are usually very very very cheesy songs! And yes of course there are exceptions, but most of the new holiday music being released is blatantly trying (and failing) to cash in on the “happy holiday” song formula. That brings us back to our traditional tune…


The composer of “Noël Nouvelet” used the most innovative cheese-removal magic trick, as this Christmas carol is 100% cheese-free. And it could so easily have been cheesy because the melody is upbeat and uplifting (like most Christmas music), but it somehow stays far away from the cheese. It’s a Christmas miracle! So there you go, that’s what we can learn from a 500-year old Christmas carol.


And on that note, inspired by “Noël Nouvelet”, here’s our 4-step method for writing an upbeat and uplifting festive melody, without the cheese. But first… Tea!




Step 1. Festive Rhythm


First, regarding the tempo. As with most 500-year old music, you can more-or-less interpret the performance of it however you want. There are lots of breathtakingly beautiful versions of “Noël Nouvelet”, but our favourite is by Libera, a boy’s choir in London, UK. Libera’s performance is around 77 BPM, so we’ll use that too.


Now, create an eight-bar loop with a 1/16 note grid, then load up a piano sound on that track. And yes, piano, that’s not a typo. Piano is the perfect instrument for writing on, because it’s about as “neutral” sounding as you can get, and the attack of the instrument is instant (due to the piano’s hammer action).


Some choir plugins have a very slow attack, and we’ll be using some quicker notes in our melody because it’s a lively one, so we don’t want the choir plugin holding us back. At the end of the writing process, though, you can go through all your choir plugins and see which one works best for your final melody.


Right, spend some time writing a two-bar rhythm now, and be sure to use a vibrant combination of 1/4 notes, 1/8 notes, and two 1/16 notes. Regarding those 1/16 notes. Don’t make them syncopated. Approach them like an 1/8 note split in two.


Also, don’t use any rests within your rhythm. After your rhythm, though, you’ll use a rest. So, don’t play anything on beat 4 of your second bar. This 1/4 note rest is for phrasing (i.e. where the singers would breathe if your melody was sung). And lastly, remember that your rhythm needs to be an upbeat, festive one, so have fun!


Two-bar rhythm, ending with 1/4 note rest




Step 2. Cheesy Melody


Wait, what?! We promised you a cheese-free melody, and now we’re telling you to write a cheesy melody? Yep! That’s the genius of the “Noël Nouvelet” composer’s cheese-removal magic trick, but that will only be revealed in Step 4.


For the record, we obviously have no idea if this is how the anonymous composer wrote the carol, but when reverse-engineering this melody and trying to figure out their method (that’s the process we use to make all our PDF tutorials, by the way), it seems this method is certainly plausible. In fact, we can totally imagine the story…


It’s December 1st, 1499. Our composer turns up to choir rehearsal with their brand new carol, all pleased and proud of it. The choir gives it a run through. There’s an awkward silence as someone tries to think of a nice way to say it. Someone pipes up with “Erm… it’s very Christmassy!” More erms from the choir. Then a brave soul says: “Any chance of making it… erm… [silence] less cheesy?”


The composer storms out. Fast forward a couple hours. They’ve had a walk in the fresh December air and calmed down. Now, back in their study, they pull out the manuscript, dip their quill in the ink. And… Boom! A stroke of genius. They scream Hallelujah!, run out the room and back to the church, screaming Hallelujah! all the way. Choir sings it. Everyone cries. They love it. Composer sighs with relief.


The End.

[roll the credits]



Surely that’s a better story than the one where our composer walks into their study, sits down, then proceeds to write a non-cheesy Christmas carol in one go. Boring!


Alright, let’s write a melody. So we’re in the key of D major, and here’s our scale:


D major scale
















In order for this method to work, there are 5 rules you need to follow in this step…


For the rest of the tutorial, please buy the PDF. Supporting our work helps us to keep teaching. Thank you :)




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Lastly, are you new to music theory? Or are you experienced, but you want a refresher? Then download our FREE BOOK (link opens in new tab). It only takes 30 minutes to read, then you’ll have a solid theory foundation that you can instantly apply to your songwriting and producing. Enjoy!



Ray Harmony
Multi award-winning college lecturer